Gunk happens! Here’s how to clean up your laptop’s act—from the top bezel to the bottom fan—without inflicting harm. (It’s easy, and you can use products you have around the house.)
Source Charles JefferiesApril 6, 2021
To be sure, the last year has made all of us more suspicious than ever of the surfaces we deal with every day. The constant hand-washing. The wiping-down of groceries. And the scrambling for that rarest of treasures: a legit can of Lysol on a store shelf. But that’s all to deal with invisible, harmful invaders. What about the gunk and grunge you can see?
Dust, coffee stains, oil from your fingertips, food particles, plain old grime: If your laptop shows any of those, it’s time for a spring cleaning and disinfecting. Basic cleaning supplies and 15 minutes of time can make your laptop look brand new again. This guide goes through all aspects of laptop cleaning, including how to deal with its screen, the keyboard, the outside surfaces, the vents, and the ports. We show you what to do and what to avoid, as well as share some handy tips on keeping your laptop looking clean all the time—not just when it achieves grunge “critical mass.”
On Your Marks, Get Your Cleaning Supplies
Most of the cleaning supplies that you need may already be in your home. A proper cleaning cloth is first. Instead of a cotton rag or paper towels, which can leave behind dusty debris (some brands are better than others, that way), use microfiber. It’s easily found from major e-commerce sellers like Amazon, or in grocery, automotive-supply, and dollar stores. The least expensive microfiber will work fine.
Next, invest in a can of pressurized canned air, found online and in grocery and electronics stores. It’s quite effective for blasting debris from hard-to-reach spaces—with a key caveat we’ll get into in a moment. You’ll also do well to buy a packet of plastic dental cleaners, the type with tiny bristles, like a miniature bottle brush. They can coax hairs, crumbs, and other stubborn debris from their hiding places. (Oh, and the leftovers are great for teeth, too.)
For cleaning solutions, tap water or distilled water can be used for just about everything. However, simple water doesn’t disinfect, or remove oil and other substances particularly well by itself. Dish soap (a strong mix at first, diluted 50/50 with water) or vinegar are appropriate for any surface. In addition, isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are effective for disinfecting the keyboard. The alcohol has the nice side benefit of drying quickly.
Definitely avoid ammonia and bleach-based products. These are too harsh for many surfaces, especially the screen. For the laptop panel, electronics stores sell dedicated screen cleaner solution (usually in a pump-spray form) if you prefer a specialized product. (One such example is CleanScreen.) When in doubt, stick to products that are skin-safe.
Let’s get going. Completely turn off and unplug your notebook before cleaning. It might seem obvious to do that, but you’ll be inadvertently pressing many keyboard keys while cleaning. You wouldn’t want to accidentally hit Delete over an important document, or wipe out desktop shortcuts due to key-mashing.
If you’re working with cleaners or compressed air, do the job in a ventilated area. Also, use a hard, flat surface, such as a table or desk for your venue. Put a clean towel (preferably microfiber) down, then place your notebook on top so it has some cushioning and protection from scratches when you flip it over on the lid.
Last, wash and dry your hands before you start and after you’re done. If you intend to use cleaning products other than water and have sensitive skin, consider wearing latex or plastic gloves.
Before You Begin: Pro Tips for Handling Your Notebook
Though your notebook will be stationary while you’re cleaning it, you’ll need to manipulate it in unnatural ways throughout the process to get at every surface. Doing so improperly can damage or break it. Observe the following tips even when you’re not cleaning your notebook to keep it in running order.
The ground rule for notebook handling is to put as little pressure as possible on its surfaces. Respecting this principle helps avoid one of the most common causes of notebook failure: cracked circuit boards, or at least broken solder traces on a board. These usually occur not because the notebook was dropped, but because the chassis was flexed or pressed too much.
Use both hands to support either side of the notebook while picking it up or moving it, especially if grabbing it by the keyboard deck. This more evenly distributes pressure from your fingertips, creating less stress on the chassis. Avoid picking up the notebook by one of its corners, since doing that concentrates extreme pressure in one area.
Lifting the notebook by any part of its lid is another no-no. Close the lid before moving it to make its footprint smaller. A closed notebook is also less likely to get damaged if dropped.
Another often-ignored rule? A no-liquids perimeter! Keep open liquids out of spill range of your notebook. This is especially important if you have pets or children who tend to surprise you at odd moments. Accidents occur all the time.
Remember, you won’t be holding the notebook while cleaning it. Not only would that be difficult, but it would violate many of the “Don’t do this!” guidelines outlined above.
Square One: Clean Debris With Canned Air
Particles, dust, and hair can lodge themselves anywhere that gaps exist in your notebook: under the keyboard keys, around the screen edges (inside the bezel), and both in and around the touchpad buttons, the physical ports, and the cooling vents. Clearing that debris before doing anything else is logical; you wouldn’t want to clean a larger surface only to scatter dislodged crud from crevices all over it a moment later.
Start with the canned air. Follow the directions and warnings on the canned air package. If a straw is included, insert it into the nozzle to concentrate the air stream. Use short bursts (of less than a second), keeping the can at about arms’ length. Crucially important: Keep a slight distance between the nozzle and the target of the airflow, and close in only as much as you must to dislodge the material. Touching the target with the nozzle or sticking it in a port, then letting the can rip, can cause condensation, a dangerous side effect of canned air. You definitely don’t want moisture forming, say, inside a USB port, on the contacts under a keyboard key, or inside the chassis through a seam. Err on the side of safety.
Also, another important tip: Never use the canned air with the can in anything but an upright position, to avoid water vapor from coming out. If the can gets too cold, let it rest for a few minutes before continuing. One spot to be prepared for is in the exhaust vents, where clotted dust tends to accumulate in the fans and heat spreaders. Be ready for a little burst of dust if you blow the canned air into the vents. Don’t inhale.
To clean the keyboard, start at the bottom row and work your way up. Two bursts per key ought to produce results. You might need to approach the keyboard from different angles, such as from the side, to get everything. Some bagel crumbs are really stubborn.
Canned air isn’t an end-all debris clearer. Try the dental cleaners if a few bursts don’t do the job. Focus on gently loosening debris with the brushes; you can use canned air to blast gunk out, if needed, once it is stirred up. A key thing: Like with canned air, don’t overdo it or get too aggressive. Don’t force the cleaners into places, poke too hard, or pry under the keyboard keys.
Mild scrubbing around the edges ought to do most of the job, if your cleaners have bristles. Plus, if pet hair is a factor for you, guiding the bristle brushes along key edges can grab hairs and pull them out.
Removing the debris was half the battle. Now, let’s focus on cleaning surfaces.
Don’t Type Another Word! Clean and Disinfect That Keyboard
The touchy-feely keyboard is an obvious candidate for a thorough cleaning. Dirt, grime, oil from your fingertips, and lots of bio-critters live here. Use microfiber for this.
The (potentially) wrong way to clean the keyboard is to simply wipe your microfiber (or any) cloth straight across it. Depending on the keyboard design, the towel can catch on key edges and rip them clean off. (Ouch—not the kind of clean you are looking for!) Instead, spend a couple of seconds on each key.
Start by lightly dampening a quarter-size area of the microfiber with your preferred cleaning product—and we do emphasize “lightly.” (For disinfecting power, use vinegar, isopropyl alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide.) If liquid drips out when you squeeze the towel, you’ve used too much. You don’t want the chance of droplets getting inside anything.
Put the dampened portion in gentle contact with a key. Use just enough pressure to depress the key, then slowly move the microfiber in a circular motion with a finger.
Watch the microfiber as you clean. As the section you’re using gets soiled (don’t be embarrassed if it does…cleaning is a good thing!), dampen another section and keep going. Clean between the keys, too, if the keyboard is the “island”-style shown here.
Clean the Chassis and Touchpad
The next phase is cleaning the laptop’s outer surfaces. Dampen a larger section of your microfiber with your cleaning product (again, not to the point of dripping). Moving outward from the keyboard, start with the palm rest and touchpad, then move to the screen border or bezels. (You’ll clean the screen itself in the next section.) After that, close the laptop and work on the lid and underside.
As with the keyboard keys, circular motions are effective. Never rub too hard, but only use about as much pressure as it takes to push down a keyboard key.
For stubborn stains, especially coffee, you can apply a tiny amount of diluted dish soap directly to them and let it sit for a minute to break down the stain. Only try this on level surfaces, so the soap doesn’t run or drip anywhere. Afterward, work the stain with microfiber dampened with water. Remove any soapy residue, and be liberal with using clean sections of your cloth.
Last, Clean the Screen
Cleaning the display panel is the final, and most delicate, task. Dampen a fresh section of your microfiber with water and see how much you can accomplish with just that. Start from the edges and work your way inward, to avoid lodging cleaner or gunk bits under the bezel as you wipe.
It’s important to support the notebook’s lid with your free hand behind where you are cleaning, so the laptop doesn’t flip backward and the lid doesn’t twist. And use no more pressure than is required to make the microfiber contact the screen. (The towel should do the work, not pressure.)
Like with cleaning the chassis, diluted dish soap works well for tough stains or marks. You might try a dedicated screen cleaner as noted earlier. Whether water or that, be careful not to let any liquid drip into the edges of the screen. And most important: Never, ever spray the screen directly with any cleaner or water. Always apply it to your cleaning cloth first, and test for non-saturation and dripping before you apply cloth to screen. If you spray your liquid straight on, runoff can easily get under the screen’s bottom bezel, and critical electronics often live right there.
Tips for Always Keeping Your Laptop Clean
Now that your notebook is clean, there’s no need to use any protective product, such as wax, on any of its surfaces. Don’t think of it like a car finish! In fact, using something like that might cause problems, especially if it were to get on the screen. Bear in mind, for example, that when the laptop is closed, depending on the design, the keytops or the keyboard deck may make contact (or near-contact) with the display. And any material on there could transfer to the panel.
However, a laptop is like a car in a different sense: Cleaning a notebook takes much longer if you put it off for a long time. So save yourself time and have a cleaner-looking notebook all the time with regular attention. You don’t need a calendar reminder. Simply keeping microfiber within reach (in your laptop bag or on your desk, for instance) will give you little excuse to ignore sticky food and coffee spots. Tap water should be all you need if they aren’t allowed to dry.
Nonetheless, a little disinfectant is always handy for keeping the keyboard sanitary. These days, peace of mind can be hard to come by, and keeping your laptop free of invaders you can see—and those you can’t—is an easy way to regain a bit control in your world. So show those germs who’s boss!