Right And Wrong Ways To De-Dust A PC

Our coverage on getting dust out of a laptop ( http://langa.com/newsletters/2004/2004-06-28.htm#1 ) generated some interesting mail, including this unusual note on the general topic of getting dust out of *any* PC— not just laptops:

…Vacuuming dust from air intakes shouldn’t pose any problems but perhaps you should warn against vacuuming out the inside of a computer. Vacuums can create a good deal of static electricity that could kill a system. The insides should always be blown clean not sucked clean.

Having dogs and cats around has forcibly made me proficient at cleaning computer systems. I try to do each of mine at least every month or two. I’ve also solved many computer problems for friends just by blowing the crud out of them. One had enough fuzz in it to make a whole ‘nuther dog. Here are some things I’ve picked up over the years.

There are several ways to clean the insides of a computer. Many would first reach for one of those cans of compressed air. IMHO they are garbage. They’re expensive, you can’t get them into areas you need to and they’re not nearly powerful enough. But, they are better than nothing.

Better yet is a vacuum in "blow" mode like you can do with many shopvacs and some uprights. A crevice tool will let you direct the air quite well and puts out a good stream of air but not enough to do harm. Just keep it a few inches away from touching anything. [A plastic nozzle or crevice tool also will help reduce the chances of electrical damage.]

My personal favorite is an air compressor with an adjustable pencil type blower nozzle that lets me adjust the pressure. 10 to 20 psi is enough to eradicate dust bunnies and dirt from the tightest corners. I’ve also used a blower end made by jamming an old Chevy pushrod into a male air hose connector. The small hole in the pushrod limits the pressure and gives pinpoint control. The important point is to control the pressure.

When blowing out a system, pay special attention to the areas between the fins of heatsinks. Fan blades should be held from spinning [from the compressed air you’re blowing through them] with your finger, a pen or something similar lest you over-rev them and they self destruct. The tough dirt on the leading edge of CPU, case and graphics card fans can be loosened with a toothbrush or small paintbrush and then blown clean. With power supplies and fans all you can do is shove a wooden pencil in the fan blades and blow away from all directions. I usually crank the pressure up a bit when blowing out power supplies.

Do I need to add that this should best be done outside? [The blown-out dust can make a mess.]

While you’re in there, socketed chips (getting rare these days) should be [gently] pressed back into their sockets… Check all cable connections by pressing on them firmly.

And if you really want to be thorough you can reseat cards or pull and clean the contacts with a pencil eraser before reinstalling them. Be sure to brush off all the little eraser bits and put the cards back in the original slots or Windows will go nuts finding new devices on your next boot up.

Well, what started out as a comment about vacuums turned into a little more. —Steve Gonnella

Thanks, Steve!



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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.