Gunk accumulates! Here’s how to clean up your laptop’s messes, from the top bezel to the bottom fan, without causing damage. (It’s simple, and you can use items you already have.)
If your laptop has dust, coffee stains, oil from your fingertips, food particles, or plain old grime, it’s time to clean and disinfect it. Simple cleaning supplies and 15 minutes can restore your laptop’s luster. This guide covers all aspects of laptop cleaning, including how to clean the screen, keyboard, outside surfaces, vents, and ports. We show you what to do and what to avoid, as well as some helpful hints for keeping your laptop clean all the time, not just when it reaches grungy critical mass.
Get Your Cleaning Supplies Ready!
The majority of the cleaning supplies you require may already be in your home. The first step is to use a proper cleaning cloth. Use microfiber instead of cotton rags or paper towels, which can leave behind dusty debris (some brands are better than others). It is widely available from major e-commerce sellers such as Amazon, as well as grocery, automotive supply, and dollar stores. The cheapest microfiber will suffice.
Next, purchase a can of pressurized canned air, which can be found online as well as in grocery and electronics stores. It’s quite effective for blasting debris from difficult-to-reach areas, with one important caveat we’ll discuss shortly. You’ll also need a pack of plastic dental cleaners with tiny bristles, similar to miniature bottle brushes. Hairs, crumbs, and other stubborn debris can be coaxed from their hiding places. (The leftovers are also good for your teeth.)
Tap water or distilled water can be used for almost any cleaning solution. However, water alone does not effectively disinfect or remove oil and other substances. Dish soap (a strong mix at first, diluted 50/50 with water) and vinegar can be used on any surface. Furthermore, isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are effective disinfectants for the keyboard. The alcohol has the added benefit of quick drying.
Avoid ammonia and bleach-based products at all costs. These are too abrasive for many surfaces, particularly the screen. If you prefer a specialized product for the laptop panel, electronics stores sell dedicated screen cleaner solutions (usually in a pump-spray form). (CleanScreen(Opens in a new window) is one such example.) When in doubt, stick to skin-safe products.
Let’s get started. Before cleaning, turn off and unplug your laptop. It may appear obvious, but you will be inadvertently pressing many keyboard keys while cleaning. You don’t want to accidentally delete an important document or delete desktop shortcuts by key-mashing.
If you’re using cleaners or compressed air, work in a well-ventilated area. For your venue, choose a hard, flat surface, such as a table or desk. Place a clean towel (preferably microfiber) on the floor, then place your notebook on top for cushioning and scratch protection when you flip it over on the lid.
Finally, wash and dry your hands before and after you work. If you have sensitive skin and intend to use cleaning products other than water, consider wearing latex or plastic gloves.
Before You Begin: Pro Notebook Handling Tips
Though your notebook will remain stationary while you clean it, you will need to manipulate it in unusual ways to reach every surface. Improperly done, it can be damaged or broken. Even if you’re not cleaning your notebook, keep the following tips in mind to keep it running smoothly.
The general rule for handling notebooks is to apply as little pressure as possible to their surfaces. This principle helps to avoid one of the most common causes of notebook failure: cracked circuit boards, or at the very least broken solder traces on a board. These are usually caused by excessive flexing or pressing of the chassis rather than by dropping the notebook.
While picking up or moving the notebook, use both hands to support either side, especially if grabbing it by the keyboard deck. This distributes pressure from your fingertips more evenly, putting less strain on the chassis. Picking up the notebook by one of its corners is not recommended because it concentrates extreme pressure in one area.
Another no-no is lifting the notebook by any part of its lid. Close the lid before moving it to reduce its footprint. A notebook that is closed is also less likely to be damaged if dropped.
Another frequently overlooked rule? A liquid-free zone! Keep open liquids out of your notebook’s spill zone. This is especially important if you have pets or children who have a habit of surprising you at inopportune times. Accidents happen all of the time.
Keep in mind that you will not be holding the notebook while cleaning it. That would not only be difficult, but it would also violate many of the “Don’t do this!” guidelines listed above.
Square One: Debris Removal Using Canned Air
Particles, dust, and hair can become lodged in your notebook anywhere there are gaps: under the keyboard keys, around the screen edges (inside the bezel), and both in and around the touchpad buttons, physical ports, and cooling vents. It makes sense to clear that debris before proceeding; you wouldn’t want to clean a larger surface only to scatter dislodged crud from crevices all over it a moment later.
Begin with canned air. Follow the package’s instructions and warnings. Insert a straw into the nozzle if one is provided to concentrate the air stream. Keep the can at arm’s length and use short bursts of less than a second. Most importantly: Maintain a slight distance between the nozzle and the target of the airflow, and only close in as far as necessary to dislodge the material. Condensation, a dangerous side effect of canned air, can be caused by touching the target with the nozzle or sticking it in a port, then letting the can rip. Moisture should not form inside a USB port, on the contacts under a keyboard key, or inside the chassis through a seam. Always err on the side of caution.
Another important tip: Never use canned air with the can other than upright to prevent water vapor from escaping. Allow the can to rest for a few minutes if it becomes too cold before continuing. Prepare for clotted dust in the exhaust vents, where it tends to accumulate in the fans and heat spreaders. If you blow canned air into the vents, expect a small burst of dust. Inhale nothing.
Start at the bottom row and work your way up to clean the keyboard. Two bursts per key should yield results. To get everything, you may need to approach the keyboard from different angles, such as the side. Some bagel crumbs are particularly tenacious.
Canned air isn’t a panacea for debris removal. If a few bursts aren’t enough, try dental cleaners. Focus on gently loosening the debris with the brushes; once the gunk has been stirred up, you can use canned air to blast it out if necessary. Important note: As with canned air, don’t overdo it or get too aggressive. Don’t squish the cleaners, poke too hard, or pry under the keyboard keys.
Most of the work should be done with gentle scrubbing around the edges. If you have pet hair, guiding the bristle brushes along key edges can grab and pull hairs out.
Getting the debris out of the way was half the battle. Let us now concentrate on cleaning surfaces.
Don’t type anything else! Disinfect and Clean That Keyboard
The tactile keyboard is an obvious candidate for deep cleaning. Dirt, grime, oil from your fingertips, and a slew of bio-critters call this place home. For this, use microfiber.
The (potentially) incorrect way to clean the keyboard is to simply wipe it with a microfiber (or any) cloth. Depending on the design of the keyboard, the towel may catch on key edges and rip them clean off. (Ouch—not the kind of clean you’re after!) Instead, take a few seconds to focus on each key.
Begin by lightly dampening a quarter-sized area of the microfiber with your preferred cleaning product—we stress “lightly.” (Use vinegar, isopropyl alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide to disinfect.) When you squeeze the towel, if liquid drips out, you’ve used too much. You don’t want any droplets to get inside anything.
Make gentle contact with a key with the dampened portion. Apply just enough pressure to the key to depress it, then move the microfiber in a circular motion with your finger.
As you clean, keep an eye on the microfiber. As the section you’re working on becomes soiled (don’t be embarrassed if it does…cleaning is good! ), dampen another section and continue. If the keyboard is the “island” style shown here, clean between the keys as well.
Ensure that the chassis and touchpad are clean
The following step is to clean the laptop’s outer surfaces. Using your cleaning product, dampen a larger section of your microfiber (again, not to the point of dripping). Beginning with the palm rest and touchpad, work your way outward to the screen border or bezels. (In the following section, you’ll clean the screen itself.) Then, close the laptop and work on the lid and bottom.
Circular motions, like keyboard keys, are effective. Never rub too hard, and only use as much pressure as it takes to press a keyboard key.
Apply a tiny amount of diluted dish soap directly to stubborn stains, especially coffee, 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. After that, work the stain with a dampened microfiber cloth. Remove any soapy residue and use clean sections of your cloth liberally.
Finally, clean the screen
The final and most delicate task is to clean the display panel. Wet a new section of your microfiber and see how much you can get done with just that. Start at the edges and work your way inward to avoid getting cleaner or gunk under the bezel while wiping.
To prevent the laptop from flipping backward and the lid from twisting, support the lid with your free hand behind where you are cleaning. And apply no more force than is necessary to make the microfiber contact the screen: The towel, not the pressure, should do the work.
Diluted dish soap, as with cleaning the chassis, works well for tough stains or marks. As previously mentioned, you could try a dedicated screen cleaner. Whatever you use, be careful not to let any liquid drip into the screen’s edges. Most importantly, never, ever spray any cleaner or water directly onto the screen. Before applying it to the screen, always test it on a cleaning cloth for non-saturation and dripping. If you spray your liquid directly on the screen, runoff can easily get under the bottom bezel, where critical electronics are often located.
Tips for Keeping Your Laptop Clean at All Times
Now that your notebook is clean, there’s no need to use a protective product on any of its surfaces, such as wax. Don’t compare it to a car finish! Using something like that could cause issues, especially if it appears on the screen. Keep in mind that, depending on the design, the keytops or keyboard deck may make contact (or near contact) with the display when the laptop is closed. And whatever is on there may transfer to the panel.
However, a laptop is similar to a car in another way: Cleaning a notebook takes much longer if you put it off for an extended period. So, with regular attention, you can save time and have a cleaner-looking notebook all the time. You do not require a calendar reminder. Simply having microfiber on hand (in your laptop bag or on your desk, for example) eliminates the need to ignore sticky food and coffee stains. If they are not allowed to dry, tap water should suffice.
Finally, a disinfectant is always useful for keeping the keyboard clean. Peace of mind can be difficult to come by these days, and keeping your laptop free of invaders you can see—and those you can’t—is an easy way to regain some control over your world. So, show those germs who are in charge!