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How to Safely Clean Your Filthy Computer & Laptop

Three purple microfiber cloths, someone cleaning a keyboard with a pointed swab, and someone using a rechargeable air duster.
Screen Mom/Chinco/Koonie

When was the last time you cleaned your computer? If you’re anything like us, it’s probably way past time. We’ll help you banish all that nasty dirt, grime, and bacteria from your computer or laptop, without causing any damage.

There’s a bit more to cleaning a computer than just dusting it off. It has delicate parts that can be permanently damaged if you use the wrong cleaning agents. Even a few drops of water on a laptop keyboard can knock out the entire system or a few keys, leaving you with some pricey repair work or the need to buy a new laptop.

Armed with these tips, though, you can clean all the parts you’ve been touching with your grubby fingers without fear of harming any of the delicate parts inside.

Your Computer-Cleaning Shopping List

A laptop screen being cleaned with a microfiber cloth.
Screen Mom

If you’re only planning to do some simple surface cleaning to get the germs, smudges, and grime off your lap- and desktop computers, here are a few things you’re going to need:

Microfiber cloths: When it comes to cleaning computers, TV screens, and even your cellphone, microfiber cloths come in handy. You can get them in single or multipacks, but pass on the kits that come with the screen cleaning spray—you don’t need it.

Electric air duster being used to clean dust from a keyboard.

Compressed air: You can get cans of air for under $10 each, but you can get more bang for your buck if you opt for an electric rechargeable air duster. Your laptop keyboard isn’t the only place you’ll be using forced air, so one of these babies will come in handy for years.

Swabs being used to clean computer keyboard.

Rubbing alcohol and foam swabs: This won’t kill every single germ living on your keyboard, but it’ll get rid of most of them and leave you with a much cleaner surface. Aim for 90-100% rubbing alcohol. And, rather than applying it with plain cotton swabs that might leave a residue, invest in some of these cool pointy-headed swabs. They make cleaning between the keys on your keyboards much easier.

How to Clean Your Desktop Computer

Your computer is probably extra dirty because you’ve likely been using it a ton over the last few years. Fortunately, we can point you to some helpful tutorials if you want to take it apart (safely) and really get in there to clean the fans and the whole nine yards.

First, though, when it comes to screen cleaning, you can give both your lap- and desktop the same treatment. Just grab that microfiber cloth we mentioned previously, and then follow the instructions from How-To Geek on how to clean all of your LCD monitors.

One of the most important things to remember is to never spray any liquids right on a screen. Also, you should avoid both ammonia- and alcohol-based cleaners as these can strip the protective coating from your monitors (sorry, Windex).

But you don’t need to purchase any expensive specialty cleaners. In fact, you might already have what you need in the kitchen. Just prep a 50/50 mixture of distilled water and white vinegar. Dampen (don’t soak) your microfiber cloth in the mixture, and then gently wipe your computer screens.

If you’ve spilled anything sticky on your keyboard, or if crumbs of food have gotten stuck in there, you might have to remove the keys to really get your keyboard clean. This helpful tutorial will walk you through the process of thoroughly cleaning your desktop keyboard.

How to Clean Your Laptop

A woman cleaning a laptop keyboard.

If you’ve been hauling your laptop everywhere from the kitchen table to the park over the last year, it’s probably looking a bit worse for the wear. Perhaps you even braved the coffee shop just to get out of the house for a bit.

Think of all the germs, bacteria, and dirt that are hanging out on that screen and keyboard. Grossed out yet?

This tutorial will guide you through cleaning your laptop from the inside out. The instructions are all super-safe for your machine, so you won’t fry it and end up with a very expensive paperweight. You’ll also feel much better (and safer) knowing you’re working on a squeaky-clean, germ-free computer.

One other thing you might want to do when cleaning your laptop is temporarily disabling the keyboard. It’s a good idea because just a couple of drops of liquid can short out the keys and leave you with a huge repair (or replacement) bill.

Spring is an excellent time to clean the germs and dirt that have accumulated over the last year (or more) off your computers. If you’re afraid you might harm any moving parts, no worries—we’ll walk you through it step-by-step, so your gear will stay safe and be clean as a whistle before you know it.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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