While laptops are great for portability, they end up sitting on sticky restaurant tables, germ-laden kitchen counters, and infrequently washed bed linens. In addition, your hands can dirty the interior of the laptop, and when you think about where your hands have been, you'll realize the need to clean the entire computer.
How Often to Clean Your Laptop
Needless to say, laptops should be cleaned regularly to keep them germ-free and working at their best. Ideally, a laptop should be cleaned at least weekly to remove bacteria and dust that can cause it to malfunction. The keyboard is usually the germiest, crumbiest, and dirtiest part of the laptop. Skipping regular cleaning can lead to frequent illness from bacteria and even diminish laptop performance.
Before You Begin
Before you do any cleaning, turn off your laptop and, if needed, unplug it. If you have a laptop with a removable battery, take that out, too. Electrical current and liquids don't mix well.
Equipment / Tools
- Two microfiber cloths
- Small brush or dry toothbrush
- Small vacuum (optional)
- Dishwashing liquid
- Cotton swabs
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Compressed air (optional)
- Melamine sponge (optional)
- LCD monitor-cleaning towelettes (optional)
- Toothpick (optional)
Mix a Cleaning Solution for the Outer Case
Now that your laptop is turned off and unplugged, mix a solution of one part dishwashing liquid to five parts lukewarm water.
Wipe Down the Case
Dip one of the microfiber cloths in the solution and wring it out well until it is just damp and not dripping. With the laptop closed, wipe down the outside with the damp cloth. If the bottom of the case has heavy grime, you may need to use the melamine sponge to gently scour away the dirt.
Rinse and Dry the Case
Finish by rinsing the cloth in plain water, again wringing it out until it is just damp, and wiping the entire case one last time. Allow to air-dry completely before using it.
Clean the Ports and Cooling Vents
Take a look at the ports and vents to make sure they are free of dust, debris, and a build-up of other particles—this is especially important if you smoke, have pets, and use your laptop at home. You can quickly clear them by using compressed air. Just be sure to spray from an angle so that the dust is blown away from the opening, not deeper into it.
The fan behind the cooling vents is essential to keep the laptop from overheating. But spraying an excessive amount of compressed air into the blades can cause them to over-spin and damage the fan. Use a toothpick or cotton swab to hold the blades in place as you give the fan a quick blast of air to remove dust.
Use Short Bursts of Air
Spray short bursts of compressed air into a laptop. Avoid long bursts of air that can create moisture inside your computer.
Clean and Polish the Screen
Use a clean, dry microfiber cloth to wipe away dust on the LCD monitor. If there are smudges or other matter on the screen, dip a clean microfiber cloth in plain water and wring it out until it is only slightly damp. Wipe the screen carefully from top to bottom to remove grime, just as carefully as you would a flat-screen TV.
Avoid Items That Damage the Screen
- Do not use a paper towel or any abrasive cloth to wipe the screen. They can cause scratches and leave lint.
- Do not spray any type of window cleaner, ammonia, vinegar, or rubbing alcohol on the screen. Damage will be done that may be irreversible.
Remove Loose Debris From the Keyboard
Start the cleaning process by using a small brush, a dry toothbrush works great, to loosen any debris between the keys. You can then wipe the debris away with a barely dampened microfiber cloth. You can blow away debris with compressed air. But you need to be very careful and blast the air in at a steep 75-degree angle or else the debris will be blown deeper into the keys.
Disinfect the Keyboard and Touchpad
To disinfect the keyboard and pad, use cotton swabs and isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Dip the swab in the alcohol and give each key and the touchpad a good cleaning. The alcohol will cut through the oils left by your fingers and also disinfect the area by killing any bacteria. Isopropyl alcohol evaporates quickly and will not harm the electronics.
Remove a Key for Deeper Cleaning
Most laptops will allow you to remove individual keys that may need some extra cleaning. Use the cotton swab and alcohol to wipe the entire key and even the area beneath it. Allow the key and area to air dry for a minute and then replace it.
Clean Laptop Peripherals
If you use an external mouse, keyboard, trackpad, or earbuds, they need to be cleaned too. Use the lint-free microfiber cloth and a bit of rubbing alcohol to give everything a good cleaning.
And what about the bag or backpack you use to carry that laptop around—when was the last time you cleaned it? Getting rid of dirt, dust, and debris in your bag will help keep your newly-cleaned laptop working its best.
Tips to Keep Your Laptop Clean Longer
- If you spill liquids on your laptop, shut it down immediately and use a dry microfiber cloth to absorb the moisture. Set the laptop so that the keyboard is facing downward to drain any remaining liquid. Allow the laptop to dry completely before completing any additional clean-up that is needed and before restarting.
- Spilled liquids that you have wiped up can still lurk inside your laptop and cause corrosion. Immediately take your laptop to a repair shop so it can be opened up, examined, and fully cleaned.
- If your laptop has a lingering odor even after cleaning, it's probably inside. Place your laptop and a cup of kitty litter (in a bowl) inside a large plastic bin or bag. Leave the bin or bag closed for 24 to 48 hours. The activated charcoal in the kitty litter neutralizes the odor.