How do I clean dust from my PC?

Dusty CPU AM4 Socket

Desktop PCs are a magnet for dirt, fibres and fluff. Fortunately, cleaning dust from a PC is very straightforward with the correct tools and procedures, so this is our guide to removing the dust, and allowing your PC to breath again.

A screwdriver free cleaning process

I repair many machines which have been disassembled for cleaning only for something catastrophic to occur during the re-build. PC components are expensive, fragile and likely to last longer if they’re not removed and dusted with a paintbrush. We’re aiming for a screwdriver-free clean which is fast and efficient.

Picture of a dusty CPU fan.
Dusty Intel CPU

What tools should I use to clean dust from my PC?

We need air and lots of it. Compressed air in a can is reasonably cheap and perfectly adequate. Just keep them well shaken as the propellant can leach out of the can and cover your components. Don’t panic if it does – this will evaporate quickly, but slows down the process. Also, prolonged use will make the can extremely cold, so have a few cans on the go and keep switching and shaking.

A much better solution is to invest in a small hand-held electric duster. Over many years, these will easily work out more cost efficient than the tin cans and are much better for the environment. Many come with nozzles to help blast air into close-space crevices like keyboards.

If you want to treat yourself, then I can heartily recommend the DataVac ED500 air duster. It’s 500w of pure air blasting goodness and makes light work of even the most dust riddled PCs.

You may also need a small plastic spudger, but a wooden lolly stick will do.

Picture of a pile of plastic spudgers.
Never leave home without a Spudger

Before you begin to clean the dust from your PC...

There are a few things that I’d advise before you hit your PC with the rapid air generator of choice.

  • Turn it off. Electronics don’t react well to rapid changes in temperature in unexpected places.
  • Disconnect the machine and take it outside. Dust gets everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It also doesn’t smell nice, so just trust me on this one.
  • Make a note of where the fans are. The aim of this exercise is to remove the dust without damaging the machine. Compressed air and fan blades don’t mix.

How to clean the dust from your PC efficiently

There isn’t any magic to this but there are a few things to watch for. Remove as many side panels from the machine as possible to let the air that you’re blowing into the PC chassis out again. When you target an area with a fan, hold the fan in place to prevent the fan from turning. I know it’s really fun to see how fast your jet of air can make the fan turn, but the bearings inside the fans won’t cope with the intense speeds (particularly if you’re using an electronic duster). Hold the blade and manoeuvre the nozzle to blast the dust from the underlying heatsinks on the CPU, GPU and motherboard. Also keep them still so you can give the blades some attention.  If your PSU is dusty, and most are, then you should be able to hold the fan steady with a plastic spudger or a small wooden lolly stick – just far enough to stop the blades from spinning. Don’t use anything metal or conductive for this.

Air duster cleaning GPU
Keep shaking that can!

Once the inside is blasted then blow in from the outside, through the case vents to dislodge debris hidden behind structural panels. Many cases allow for the font panels to be unclipped and removed, and this can give much better access.

PC components are designed to function within certain thermal parameters and the excessive build up of dust will raise the temperatures inside the machine. This can lead to performance degradation, excessive noise and premature component failure. This whole dusting process will only take ten minutes, but it’s a critical and often overlooked part of PC maintenance.

If you’re on a technology cleaning spree, your laptop might want some attention. Find our guide on how to clean your laptop screen here.

About the author

Lee Grant

I can normally be found attacking things with screwdrivers in my small computer repair business or writing a column for PC Pro magazine.

I am also trying to solve a mystery involving David Bowie.

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