How to Clean Your Computer

=== by Bob Sutherland ===

Because I am a Computer teacher I often get asked to fix someone's computer. Usually the first thing that I have to do is to clean the computer and the area around the computer before I can fix anything. Computers work much better in a clean, dry, air conditioned (20° Celsius), dust free environment.

Here are some instructions on how to clean your computer.

Dry Methods for Cleaning Computer Equipment

  1. Unplug the electric power cords. If it is a laptop computer you should remove the battery if that is possible. Some of the thin new laptops in stores now do not have removable batteries. You do not want any computer equipment accidentally turning on as you try to clean it. Do everything possible to avoid any electrical sparks or short circuits from happening as you are cleaning the computer equipment.
  2. A long thin pair of tweezers can be very useful for removing tiny bits of torn paper from a printer. Paper jams in a printer are often caused by tiny pieces of torn paper blocking the path of the sheets of paper that are trying to feed through the printer.

    I have found the tweezers generally available for sale in drug stores to be too short for the task. I have had better luck finding long thin tweezers with good gripping power in university bookstores. Look in the section where they sell dissection kits for biology, nursing and medical students.

  3. A paint brush about the width of your finger or thumb can be very useful for removing bits of dandruff, hair, dustballs and paper from around the keys of a computer keyboard. If you remove the cover from a computer tower or desktop computer then a paint brush can be useful for gently wiping the dust off the circuit boards and out of small spaces where your fingers cannot reach.
  4. According to, Q-tips are also know as cotton swabs (American English) or cotton buds (British English) or ear buds (British, Australian and South-African English). I have tried using the little Q-tip toothpicks with a bit of cotton swab wrapped around both ends for cleaning computer parts. I often find that bits of the cotton swab break off creating a bigger mess then they clean up.
  5. A dry micro fibre cloth can be used for wiping fingerprints and dust off the computer screen and the rest of the computer.
  6. A pressurized can of air purchased from a camera store can be used for blowing dust out of tiny spaces inside a computer. A less expensive tool is the squeezable rubber bulb for blowing little bursts of air that can be found in camera cleaning kits. The squeezable rubber bulb often has a removable brush attached to it. I have often used a vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool attached to the hose to try to suck or blow dust, hair, bits of paper and other contaminants out from under computer keyboard keys and other tight spaces inside a computer.

Wet Methods for Cleaning Computer Equipment

  1. Dip a dishcloth into clean water and then wring it out as tight as your hands can twist it to remove all drops of water. The damp dish cloth can be used to clean fingerprints and dirt off the external parts of a computer including the mouse, keyboard, computer screen, insulated wires, modem and printer.
  2. If a damp cloth dipped in plain water is not getting your computer clean then add a small amount of regular kitchen dish soap that you use for hand washing dishes to the water in the sink before you dunk in your dishcloth. The dish soap will make it a lot easier to scrub fingerprints off the keys of the keyboard. You should never need to use a cleaner more powerful than dish soap and water to clean the parts of your computer unless you spill the ink in the printer.
  3. Printer ink will gradually corrode the tiny metal circuits found in computer parts if left for a few months without being cleaned up. It is therefore best to remove printer ink from a printer before leaving a printer in storage for a few months. Otherwise the printer ink is likely to corrode the tiny electric circuits of the printer head resulting in an expensive repair bill.
  4. Make sure your computer is completely dry after cleaning before you plug in the power cord or attach the laptop battery.

In some small restaurants and auto mechanic shops in rural Canada I have observed that workers whose hands are frequently dirty sometimes cover their keyboards with clear plastic in an effort to keep their keyboards clean. I have found them using a clear garbage bag, Saran or Glad type plastic cling wrap film, or a clear plastic keyboard cover they bought in a computer store. If you consider this to be a good idea for your situation then make sure that you are not blocking any air vents or preventing heat from escaping from your keyboard.

Cleaning up Your Files and Directories

Many things have changed since desktop computers first entered the school classrooms. What we refer to as directories are now often called folders. What we refer to as files are now often called by some name that identifies what type of file it is such as documents, pictures, videos, songs and applications.

While you are cleaning up the inside and outside hardware of your computer you may as well clean up the software file system as well. When I first turn on a computer I can quickly tell if the computer was being used by someone with little formal computer training because the computer desktop I see on the screen will be covered with file icons. The only directories I am likely to see will have been downloaded from the Internet or created by accident. The Recycle Bin or Trash may be overflowing with hundreds or thousands of files. There is very likely to be a pile of files in a corner someplace where they have been piling up because there is no longer any free space available on the desktop for the files to spread themselves out. Instantly I know that here is someone who needs a computer lesson.

The first priority is to empty that Recycle Bin or Trash! It is okay to keep a few files in the recycle bin or trash for a few days just in case you change your mind and want to retrieve them. But preferably sooner rather than later you have to empty the recycle bin or trash. Keeping files in there may be slowing down your computer by distracting it from the work you want it to do.

There once was a time in the early days shortly after desktop computers first entered our school classrooms that you could save the files of your work just about anywhere in your computer's directory tree. That is no longer true. Modern computer operating systems on Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers all have a standard pattern now of how everyone in the world should be organizing their files and directories. It makes it a lot easier to create new software programs if the programmer knows exactly where different types of files are stored on everyone's computers.

It is possible to have a computer with just one user account or you can create separate user accounts for the various people who will be using the computer. If you intend to save a lot of files or even just a few important documents such as your school homework assignments you will probably want your own user account separate from other people who will be using the computer.

Each user account when created will have its own Home directory that contains separate folders for your Documents, Pictures, Movies, Music, Downloads, Desktop and Public. On Macintosh computers stay away from any folder called Library as it contains operating system files. On Macintosh computers one of the folders in your home directory is called Movies but on Ubuntu (a popular version of Linux) computers the folder is called Videos. It has been a while since I used a Windows computer but the last time I checked each user's home directory had the word "my" before each of the folder names such as My Documents, My Pictures and My Music.

All the files you see on your desktop when you start up your computer are located in the Desktop folder of your Home folder. It is time to organize and move the files into the other folders according to whether they are documents, movies, pictures or music. It is also time to learn how to create your own folders so that within your Documents folder you can group all of your History homework assignments into a folder called History schoolwork and all of your Science homework assignments into a folder called Science schoolwork.

Try to keep your computer screen's desktop relatively clear with at most about six file or folder icons when you start up your computer. The desktop is suppose to be a handy location where you can save the files and folders you are working on today. Your desktop should not be cluttered with all of the files and folders you downloaded or created over the past six months!


Follow the advice in this article at your own risk. The article describes how I have cleaned computers, keyboards, screens, mice, printers and other computer parts in schools, homes and small businesses over the past quarter of a century. I take no responsibility if you damage a computer trying to follow my instructions.