Overheating laptop? Here’s how to clean out the fan

image of a smoking laptop on a table
Overheating laptop? We can help.

Laptops are one of the most badly named products ever invented. Using one on your lap is a sure-fire way to block the air inlet and send the temperatures skyward. Repeat this for too long and the fluff from your overheating thighs will find its way inside, making the problem much worse. If your laptop’s getting too hot, this is how to clean out the fan.

Can a laptop get too hot?

shot of laptop blocked fan

Uncomfortably so. The components inside most modern laptops generate a phenomenal amount of heat. As laptop design has miniaturised and slimmed the machines, the space inside to install a decent sized cooler has reduced. Unless you know how to clean out the fan, the laptop will continue getting too hot.

This also reduces the lifespan of the laptop’s components. As the fans are required to spin faster to cope with the extra heat, they become more noisy. If your fan becomes so blocked that it can no longer produce sufficient airflow to cool the machine, the laptop will shut down.

How to clean out the laptop fan?

This is where the fun begins. You’re going to need a small Philips screwdriver, tweezers, a supermarket loyalty card and a tea towel.

The only way to clean out the fan is to get inside the laptop. You may have seen articles on other websites which advocate blowing compressed air into the fan outlet. DON’T DO IT!! This often makes the problem worse as the fluff and debris is blown together into clumps, often preventing the fan from spinning.

image of exposed laptop fan

I understand that wrenching your laptop apart may seem daunting, but on modern machines, it’s a straightforward process. If you’re unsure, have a look at this YouTube film, where I tear apart several types of laptop. I apologise for the quality. One year, Father Christmas will bring me a new camera and I’ll have another stab at it.

The basic process is this. Place your tea towel on your work area and invert your laptop into it. The tea towel will protect the lid from scratches and you’ll be able to dab away your tears should it all go wrong. 

Remove the screws (check for ones under rubberised feet) and put them to one side. It’s a good idea to map them out to their position, as not all screws are born the same. A magnetic screw mat such as this one from iFixit (much loved by one of this site’s editors) is well worth buying if you’re worried.

Next, locate the seam between the two halves of the unit. Carefully, run the supermarket loyalty card around the gap to loosen various plastics clips and, after some horrifically disconcerting noises, the back should come off.

Golden Rule: Don’t force things. If the laptop’s bottom won’t budge, check that all the screws are out. You’d be amazed where manufacturers will hide them.

Removing the fan

image of tweezers being used to remove laptop fan plug

Most fans are attached with a couple of easily removable screws. Fans attach to the main circuit board via a plug connector which should be carefully removed. Don’t yank the wires as breaking them won’t make anything cooler. Instead, persuade the plug to detach using the tweezers.

Examining the laptop’s fan

image of broken laptop fan with fracturered blades

Obviously, if you see dust, remove it. Spin the fan blades to ensure that it’s not catching on anything and that dust bunnies are not hiding out of sight. In the image above, the fan has broken fins which decreases efficiency, raises temperatures and fan noise as the poor thing attempts to compensate. Taking a longer view, as the fan is unbalanced, the wear rate on the spindle will increase, so my advice would be to replace it. There will be products numbers on the fan and most are cheap and easy to track down.

The other part of the laptop to clean out is the grille attached to the heatsink, which gathers dust exhausting from the fan. Also look inside the case that you removed and remove the dust around the intake louvres. Depending on your laptop, there may be more than one fan inside the chassis. Occasionally these are different sizes, but they all work the same way, so if in doubt, dust it.

Maximum Cooling Solutions

If your fan has rattled and whined excessively for some time, then it’s possibly not the sole reason that your laptop is getting hot. Sandwiched between the laptop’s CPU (and GPU) and the heatsink, is a thin layer of heat dissipating paste. High-quality paste remains functional for up to a decade, unlike the cheap muck basic pastes used by many laptop manufacturers.

Over time, heat dries the paste, reducing its ability to transfer heat between the CPU (or GPU) and the heatsink. Excessive heat, generated in laptops struggling to breathe because of blocked fans, accelerates the desiccation of the paste. If you’ve come this far, changing the thermal paste is worth doing. Remove the old paste with cotton-buds, kitchen towel or similar and apply a little (seriously, not a lot), fresh paste.

image of thermal compound being applied to laptop cpu

We’re not endorsed by Akasa, Arctic and Thermal Grizzly, but their products are good and we’re always open to sponsorship deals and freebies.

Take your time putting things back together and your laptop should now be silent and cool. Finally, stop using your laptop perched on your knee. It’s a bad habit and you’ll only cry when it slips off and fractures the screen.

Fix the noisy fan inside a desktop PC.

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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