I got a great tip from a reader that I thought I’d share with you. Thanks so much for sharing Patricia!

My tip starts with moment of disaster.  My desktop tower shut itself off.  Just dropped dead, in an instant.  And it wouldn’t power back on.  Talk about a moment of total panic!  Fortunately, I have good back ups, but considering the prospect of buying a new computer, retrieving all the data, etc., was certainly unappealing.  Eventually, I tracked down the problem to  failure of the outlets on the backup battery unit, certainly easier to manage than the failure of a computer.

In the meantime, though, there was another journey through ComputerWorld.  I slid the side panel off the tower and noticed the grime.  Opening the box is sort of an instinctive action, like opening the hood on the car if it won’t start, even if you know next to nothing about what to do.  “Yeah, well, that certainly is an engine.”  I live in the dusty Las Vegas Valley and have carnivores of the feline persuasion.  For those reasons, I also have an extra dust shield, but it only helps so far.

I had previously noted the tower starting to be noisy, with a lot of fans running, but everyone had a tough year, and I didn’t get around to doing anything about it.  I have performance and temperature-monitoring software, and everything was operating within tolerances, but I was starting to hear some struggling to keep up.  That’s your first clue.  Is the puppy starting to bark?  It might be time to clean.  It’s not all that difficult.  Warning:  This information is only for tower configurations.  Please don’t open your laptop, tablet or phone unless you are really certain about what to do.  These are very different.

I try to clean out my own computers every year or so, and I help out a few machine-intimidated friends.  I have seen some really sad interiors.  There are demonstration videos available online, if you want to watch some.  Here are the steps:

Gather up your tools.  You may need a screwdriver to open the case.  I use a tiny, about ½”, crevice tool attached to my hand vac.  I also use an air duster or other blower.  A tiny, softish probe is good for difficult-to-dislodge debris.  I use a toothpick.  Please don’t use an opened paper clip.  I use isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs to wipe off readily accessible spots, such as the backsides of unused card slots.  I have somewhat poor eyesight, so I also use a small headlamp and a penlight to see what’s going on.

First, blow or vacuum all the vents you see.  You don’t want them clogged up.  You might need to do a little probing to dislodge everything.  Then, detach the side panel and slide it off.  Remove any exterior accessory filters.  The panel and other filters can usually be rinsed in clear water and, if needed, brushed out with a soft brush.  Don’t put them back until they have thoroughly dried.

Blow out the rest of the dirt from the inside.  (If it’s feasible to do so and it’s really dirty, you might want to take it outside.)  Wipe down whatever interior case parts you can easily reach.  Don’t touch anything with circuits printed on it, but you can blow the dust off them.  Try not to hit anything or drop anything, but a mistake isn’t necessarily a catastrophe.  Be careful around the fans.  They are delicately balanced, and you don’t want to knock one off balance.  Pay special attention to the thingie called the “CPU heat sink.”  It will typically be sort of centered, a fan with a grill under it.  Blow, pick or carefully vacuum all the junk out of the grill.  Vacuum up the case floor with your little vacuum.  Slide the side panel back into position and reattach it.  Reattach any additional exterior filters.  You’re done!

Power up the unit and listen to it purr instead of scream!

Most computer shops offer cleaning.  Many will clean gratis, or need to clean, if there’s another repair.  It’s possible for the only needed “repair” to be a good cleaning.  Last idea, order in some pizza and call a friend!  

Again! Thanks so much for the great cleaning advice!