Clean Your Laptop Safely

Remember the last time you washed your car? You took it to the car wash or broke out the hose and blasted off layer after layer of grime. And afterwards, you beamed at how good it looked. Heck, you might even have thought it ran better, too.
But when was the last time you cleaned your laptop computer?
If you can't answer that question, you're long overdue and could be headed for major performance issues. All that accumulated dust and dirt affects how your laptop runs, which in turn can strain your eyes, slow down your data processing, and reduce your productivity. Not to mention all the sticky hands that may have touched it over the holidays.
Take heart—it's easy to give your laptop a first-rate clean-up. With the right tools and a regular schedule, you can keep your multi-keyed friend purring along for years to come. Here's how to get started :
Computer dirt pretty much sneaks up on you, especially with your laptop's LCD screen. You probably won't even see the visually detracting dust or fingerprints that accumulate literally before your eyes (see Figure 1). But then one day you notice it's a little harder to see your onscreen work. Save yourself eyestrain by taking these monitor-cleaning steps every week:
  1. Make sure the computer is off (and unplugged, if applicable).
  2. Gently wipe the LCD screen with a dry, soft cotton cloth, lint-free lens wipes, or a microfiber cloth duster. Apply consistent pressure, but take care to not press your fingers into the cloth and screen.
  3. If the dry cloth does not completely clean the screen, spray an ammonia-free, diluted window cleaner or lightly apply a diluted solution of 50 percent rubbing alcohol onto a clean, non-abrasive cloth. Gently wipe the cloth across the screen, as above. Avoid using paper towels, as they can scratch the monitor.
  4. Because certain plastic and glass cleaners can leave a film on your screen, experts recommend use of computer monitor cleaners, available online or from computer supply stores. Avoid using tap water for cleaning, as it can cause mineral spots.
  5. Avoid spraying anything directly onto the monitor, as fluid can trickle into the bottom of the screen and damage the computer's circuitry.
  6. Make sure everything is dry before you turn the computer back on.

Keyboard cleaning 101

When it comes to getting work done, your keyboard is the voice of your computer. It's also the dirtiest and most overlooked item on any machine. Thanks to everyday use from naturally oily fingers, and typical office habits such as eating while working, the keyboard can have a mix of hair, crumbs, and spilled drinks underneath the keys that can stop them from working altogether.
Every one to three months, take these keyboard-cleaning steps:

  1. Make sure the computer is off (and unplugged, if applicable).
  2. After laying down a piece of newspaper on a table, turn the keyboard over and shake out any loose debris.
  3. Use a can of compressed air to loosen and remove dirt by directing the air stream between the keys . Then invert the keyboard and shake out the keyboard again.
  4. Remove finger oils and other dirt from the keys by using a soft cloth dampened with a mild cleaning solution, such as a diluted, 50-percent solution of isopropyl/rubbing alcohol or watered-down window cleaner, a non-abrasive brand name cleaner, or professional keyboard cleaner. If the keys are not very dirty, plain warm water will suffice. Wipe the keys with a dry cloth.
  5. To remove remaining dirt, use the dusting brush on a standard vacuum or a small computer vacuum.
If you normally work with multiple keyboards—such as one on a laptop and another connected externally—remember to clean all of them regularly.
PC hygiene helpers

Follow this checklist of items to help you keep your laptop clean:
  • Canned, compressed air (available at computer and photo dealers)
  • Lint-free cloth, photographic wipes, or microfiber duster
  • A mild cleaning solution such as isopropyl/rubbing alcohol (potentially diluted), an ammonia-free window cleaner, or professional keyboard cleaner
  • A non-abrasive cleaning product such as Simple Green* or Formula 409*
  • Vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment, or a computer vacuum
  • Cotton swabs
  • Several soft cloths (clean white cotton t-shirts may be substituted)
  • Professional laptop screen cleaner (optional)
  • Unused (new) soft child's toothbrush (optional)
Good mousekeeping
Newer PCs use mice with optical sensors, which rarely need cleaning. Occasionally the mouse's LED sensor needs a quick wipe with a lint-free cloth. If so, follow the manufacturer's cleaning directions.
However, if you are part of that shrinking contingent with the old-fashioned trackball mouse, every one to two months—or as soon as your mouse stops tracking normally—you'll need to perform some routine cleaning.
Taking a spill (and cleaning it)
With all the work people do on their laptop PCs while away from their desks—such as in cars, on airplanes or in public waiting areas—accidentally spilling liquid onto the keyboard seems inevitable. Most keyboard makers now seal off the back of the laptop keyboard to prevent fluid from leaking into the computer circuitry, but it's better to be safe than sorry: Spills are one of the major causes of laptop deaths. Here's how to minimize damage if a spill occurs:
  1. Immediately turn off the machine. If necessary, do a hard shutdown by pressing and holding the power button.
  2. Use a soft cloth to blot up—not wipe up—excess liquid. A wiping motion will merely push the liquid around.
  3. Remove any external cables, drives, network cards, and bays. Blot up liquid that may have gotten onto the removable media.
  4. Don't take apart the casing. This can damage internal components and void your warranty.
  5. Tilt the laptop gently from side to side to allow liquid to drain out. Do not shake the machine.
  6. Turn the laptop upside down to drain remaining excess liquid.
  7. If you have one, use a blow dryer on the coolest setting and carefully dry the keyboard and any parts you have removed. Keep the dryer moving over all parts.
  8. Let the laptop dry upside down for at least one hour; 24 hours is preferred.
  9. When the laptop is dry, reattach the removable components and start up the machine. If it starts with no problems, test-run several programs and try using the external media

While most people use a computer mouse to make their way across the screen, laptop computers include a motion-sensing (and travel-friendly) touchpad (see Figure 3). Because it may not be used as often as your external mouse, the touchpad can be one of the most overlooked items during cleanings. Touchpads are sealed, meaning dirt and dust won't enter your laptop. But grease, oil and other substances from your fingers can still affect the touchpad's efficiency.
To keep the touchpad in good working order, remember these steps:
  1. With the computer off (and unplugged), tilt the keyboard up and to the side, and spray compressed air to dislodge dirt or crumbs.
  2. Using a damp, soft cloth, carefully clean the surface with a mild cleaning solution, such as a diluted, 50-percent solution of isopropyl alcohol or watered-down window cleaner, a non-abrasive brand name cleaner or professional keyboard cleaner. Don't press too hard during cleaning, as the touchpad is fragile. Also avoid over wetting the cloth before cleaning.
  3. If your touchpad includes a pointer, soak it in cleaning solution for 30 minutes to an hour. Wash off the cleaner and let the pointer dry completely before returning it to its place.
If the touchpad ends up seriously wet from the cleaning, and it does not respond normally, let the area air dry for a day or more before attempting to use again.
Seven ways to kill (or seriously disable) your PC
Almost any "How to" situation has its "I can't believe someone actually tried this" moments. The cleaning of your computer is no exception. As you work away the grime of time from your laptop or desktop PC, remember these points:
  • Never put your laptop (or any PC) in the dishwasher.
  • Should you spill liquid on your keyboard, don't dry it in your clothes dryer.
  • Never set off a bug bomb inside your PC's case to kill ants.
  • Car wax will not give your monitor screen a glossy finish.
  • Ultra-soft cleaning sponges and ultra-fine steel wool are anything but gentle on your computer's case, screen or keyboard.
  • Spray painting your laptop a different color—inside and out—will not give it a "more contemporary" feel (least of all when you try to type).
  • Drawing X's (kisses) in lipstick on your significant other's laptop keyboard will not bring you closer together—except maybe in court (see Figure 4).
Beauty on the inside
In addition to cleaning the exterior, remember to tackle your laptop's inner workings. You don't need to open the casing to suck away dust and debris as you should with a desktop model, but you can keep your computer running smoothly by performing regular, routine system maintenance.



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