After a long winter, spring has finally sprung (in most parts of the U.S. – sorry, Colorado!), which means it’s time to throw open the windows, let some fresh air in, and start cleaning. It’s not just your home that needs to be spruced up; your computer could use some cleaning as well – both on the outside and the inside. You may not think cleaning your PC is important, but listen to us when we say that you’ll find some seriously gnarly things in your keyboard if you don’t routinely clean it. Cleaning your computer will help extend the life of the physical components and ensure that your system is running as efficiently as possible.
It’s usually not until you start noticing flecks of dirt on the screen that you think about maybe cleaning your desktop or laptop. However, there are many easy things you can do to keep your computer running in tiptop shape and extend the life of your machine.
With desktops, there’s obviously more physical parts to dust and clean, which is why a can of compressed air will be your new best friend. We recommend performing your cleaning on a table or a floor without carpeting or rugs. Static electricity can build up on a rug and accidentally short out your computer. For the same reason, stay away from Swiffer-like dusting pads.CPU Case
First, shut down your computer and move the main CPU case so you can access the back of it. See the fan vents? If you haven’t looked at the rear of your computer since purchasing it, the vents are probably filled with dust bunnies that are quickly growing into dust buffalos. If you have a vacuum cleaner with a small hose attachment, use it to suck the dust out. Otherwise, use the compressed air to blow away the dust bunnies – just make sure you don’t blow the dust further into your computer. The same method applies to laptops: blow the dust around the fan away from the inside of the machine.
Feeling adventurous or have the need to obsessively clean? Unscrew and remove the panel that allows you to access the guts of your machine and use the can of air to blow away all the dust that’s collected on the components and the fan blades. Do not use the vacuum cleaner, and don’t forget to blow the dust away from the ports, too.
For more on cleaning your computer’s vents, check out our guide to speeding up your PC.Display
Next, give the display a gentle once over with an ultra-soft microfiber cloth. Don’t use a paper towel, tissue, or T-shirt as these can leave lint behind and make small scratches in the display. A cloth used to clean your HDTV or to clean eye glasses would work well. If the display isn’t a touchscreen, don’t press too hard on it as this can cause dead pixels. In other words, be careful. To clean the screen, spray computer screen cleaner or a mixture of equal parts distilled water and white vinegar onto the cleaning cloth. Never spray the cleaner directly on the display as this can cause permanent spray marks or leak into the bezel. Additionally, do not use Windex or other cleaning products containing ammonia or alcohol.
Keyboard and mouse
The last part of cleaning the outside of your PC is actually the grossest: your keyboard. Even if you’ve never munched on potato chips while working, your keyboard is still filled with bits of lint and dead skin cells. To clean it, turn it upside down over a garbage can and shake it like a Polaroid picture. Next, grab your can of compressed air and spray it in between the rows of keys and let all the junk fly away. If you want to get it really clean, use a cotton swabs moistened with the vinegar mixture to clean between the individual keys.
Laptop users shouldn’t skip this step. Just make sure the machine is off and gently shake out the loose particles before taking the air can to the keyboard. Likewise, the cotton swabs and vinegar mixture may be used to clean the touchpad, too – just make sure you’re not over-saturating it with cleaner.
Don’t put away the cotton swabs just yet! Your mouse is also really, really gross. Clean between the buttons, around the seams of your mouse, and around the pads on the base of it.
Now that the physical components of your computer are spick-and-span, it’s time to journey inside. No, we’re not talking about the hardware, we’ve already tidied that up; we’re talking about the software. Most of us have more than a few programs on our computers that we downloaded, installed, and only used once or twice. Just like cleaning experts advise with clothes: if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it.
On a Mac, open the Applications folder and sort by date to discover what you haven’t used. On a PC, open the Control Panel > Programs and Features. To sort programs by install date, change the view to Details and click on the Installed On column to sort them. Then uninstall the programs you’re not using.
How’s your desktop looking? Is it cluttered with files and large folders? Sorting and filing away items on your desktop will instantly give your computer a boost at startup. Take a few minutes and put away the files you don’t frequently use.Browser clean up
Now that there’s some breathing room on your desktop, it’s time to delete the cache and download history from your browser. You may also want to delete your browsing history and cookies. While this gives you more of a “clean slate” on your browser, you will have to login to your favorite sites again. Here’s how to delete the cache in the four major browsers.
- Chrome: Go to Settings > Advanced Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data. A window will pop up asking about the deletion time period and what items you wish to obliterate.
- Firefox: On a Mac, go to Preferences > Advanced, then click on the Network tab. Under Cached Web Content, Firefox will state how much space your cache is currently using and give you the option to delete it. On a PC, click on the Firefox drop down, then History > Clear Recent History. Select the time frame for deletion and what types of items you want to delete.
- Internet Explorer: Open the Control Panel > Network and Internet > Internet Options. Under the General tab, you’ll find the option to delete your browsing history which will clear the cache.
- Safari: Go to Preferences > Privacy > Remove All Website Data. Note that this will also delete all of your cookies.
The next step is to clear out programs that automatically start when you boot up your computer. Many programs, like Spotify, don’t need to be running when you first start up your machine. You’ll be surprised by how much faster your machine boots without trying to simultaneously load several programs. For both PCs and Macs, the changes will take effect after you restart.
To access the list of startup programs on your PC, type “msconfig” into the search box and press Enter. Click on the Startup tab and uncheck the items you don’t want to run when the machine boots. A word of caution: only disable programs that you are familiar with or that you installed yourself, such as Dropbox or Google Music Manager. Disabling unfamiliar startup items could result in other headaches.
On a Mac, head over to System Preferences > Users & Groups. Click on your username, then the Login Items tab. From here, use the minus sign button to remove items. The checkbox next to each item gives you the option of hiding items in the background on login.
Once you’ve eliminated the programs and excess files on your machine, it’s time to ensure the programs you regularly use and your operating system are up to date. Some programs, such as Chrome, automatically update, but if you’ve been putting off installing updates for other software for a while, it’s time to do it. Frequently updating your OS and virus protection software is especially important as both will help protect your computer from malicious intruders and security vulnerabilities.
By now, our computer should be organized, clean, and running in tip-top shape. Preserve this moment for eternity (or at least a week) by backing it up. Whether you use Time Machine on a Mac, or Backup and Restore on Windows, now is a great time to establish a regular backup schedule if you haven’t already. Both programs perform regularly scheduled backups as long as the external backup drive is connected. While its tempting to perform backups for times when you know you’ll be using the machine and the backup drive will be attached, the process tends to slow down whatever you’re working on. Instead, plan to leave your machine on and the drive connected at least one night a week and set a calendar reminder.
Now that you’ve spring cleaned your computer, go outside and enjoy the weather. Or clean your basement. On second thought, the basement can wait. Go outside. You look like you could use some sun.