Cleaning the Inside of a PC’s Tower

Written by:  Joli Ballew • Edited by: Tricia Goss
Published Jul 27, 2008
• Related Guides: Computer Case | Motherboards

When the inside of a PC’s tower is not cleaned regularly (twice a year at least), the dust, grime, smoke, and pet hair particles build up around the components. This buildup can cause numerous problems, including computer lockups, memory errors, and more.

Introduction

Cleaning the inside of a PC’s tower is just as important as cleaning the outside and its connections. If your tower is dirty on the outside, you can bet it will be dirtier on the inside. No matter how hard you try to keep your PCs clean, they will attract dust like a backyard woodpile attracts mice.Particles that are collected inside the tower can build up. This build up can cause the computer to malfunction, and can also keep cooling fans from spinning properly, thus creating a hazard for the CPU and other components. Small dust particles can impact your media drives, which can create all kinds of problems too. Therefore, it’s important that these tasks make your spring and fall cleaning to do list.

Opening the Case – Step I

First, disconnect everything from the Tower, including printers, cameras, the mouse and keyboard, and other peripherals. Next, take a look at the computer case. See if you can find some way to open the case. (Don’t open it yet though; you have a lot to learn about static electricity first.)When looking for a way to open the tower, in most cases there are four to six screws located on the back of the case and you’ll use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove them. Once they’re removed, the entire case usually slides off, from front to back. Sometimes, the panels move independently. You’ll have to be patient while working your magic here. Not all cases open the same way, and it isn’t always easy. If you can’t find any screws at all, you’ll need to search for the following:

  • See if the computer’s faceplate pops off. If it does, chances are you’ll find a couple of screws under there. If this is the case, you’ll usually pull from the bottom of the faceplate outward.
  • Check for hex screws or bolts. These odd-shaped connectors require a specific tool such as an Allen wrench or a hex key to unfasten. You’ll have to hope you received some with your computer and know where they are; otherwise, you’ll need to take a measurement and head out to the local computer store to purchase a set of tools for that purpose.
  • If you still can’t get in the case, see if the top of the case slides forward and off. Sometimes there are screws located underneath the top plate.

Opening the Case – Step II

Now you can take off the case. Unplug the power cord from the wall if you haven’t already though. Listen carefully now, don’t touch anything yet! You need to read about electrostatic discharge.Tip: Some people will tell you to leave the computer plugged in when cleaning the inside of the case. It has to do with electrostatic discharge (ESD), which we’ll talk more about next. Most experts, though, including us, believe that unplugging and taking the appropriate precautions is the best choice.

Cleaning the Inside

Now that you’re finally inside the case and grounded properly, take a can of compressed air and blow short bursts onto the components. Position the can so it’s as upright as possible and blow the dust out of the case. There’s no point in blowing the dust and dirt from one area of the case to another. Make sure you’re in a place where you don’t mind dust flying about though; there will be a lot of it!Tip: Before using compressed air make sure that no loose screws or other items have fallen into the case.If you don’t think the compressed air got all of the dust, grime, hair, pollen, and other contaminants, there are other ways to attack it. You can use a vacuum cleaner and a brush or other attachment to pull dust off the motherboard and components. This is a bit more dangerous, though, because you could pull components loose and damage the computer. If you do decide to vacuum, keep the attachment a few inches away from the motherboard. When moving a vacuum, use slow movements and take your time.Finally, you can use a small paintbrush to remove stuck-on dirt and grime. Be careful not to leave any brush hairs inside the case or loosen any wires or other components though. Use the brush as archaeologists do during a dig. If you are not careful, you’ll have a hard time figuring out where a stray jumper or wire goes if one comes loose.After cleaning the motherboard and components, take a look at the tower itself. The inside of the air vents may be just as dirty as the outside was. Use a vacuum or compressed air to clean these areas.When cleaning the inside components, remember these tips:

  • Never use anything wet on any component.
  • Work slowly and deliberately. Working too fast will likely cause errors in judgment.
  • Don’t leave anything inside the case when you’re done. Stray screws can cause damage to components and cause problems that are really difficult to diagnose.
  • Perform these tasks twice a year.

Putting It All (Back) Together

Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the tower inside and out, you can start putting the computer back together. Take these steps slowly and carefully or you’ll create more problems than you solve. Most problems that occur during this process occur because a cable is plugged into the wrong connection, something isn’t plugged in at all (the computer’s power cable to the wall outlet), or something is plugged in incorrectly (network cable to wrong port of a hub, such as the uplink port).


 
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