Heat & Dust In Your PC

The interior of your computer’s case is not the place where the accumulation of dust should be “out of sight, out of mind.” The inside your tower should be kept clean before dust builds up to problematic levels. Dust stuck on your fan blades will stop your case fans from working at their most efficient while vents and grilles that are clogged with dust will ensure that the heat output of your components exceed your computer’s cooling capacity.

There are several components inside your machine that are susceptible to temporary malfunction or permanent failure if overheated. Although modern day processors are designed to cut out or reduce clock speed/voltage if their internal temperature exceeds a specified limit, if your HDD gets seriously overheated you could literally fry your data out of existence. Components inside a computer that has been forced into frequent, dust provoked thermal shutdowns are well on their way towards a reduced life span and even permanent damage.

Obviously, critical processes have also ended suddenly if they were running on a computer that shut down unexpectedly. Suddenly stopping critical processes can cause harm to your system.

A good rule of thumb for dust control is to look over the outside of your computer’s case about once a month. If the computer is located in a dusty environment this check should be done perhaps every two weeks.

A computer that is on the floor by one's desk will attract more dust more quickly than that same computer in the same place that's raised about 30cm above the floor. If while checking you can see more dust in the vents than you can see of the vents themselves then it’s time for a little housekeeping. Before doing any work on the interior of your PC you will need to power it off.

The creation of static discharge is the reason that most experts don’t recommend using a household vacuum cleaner to dust the outside of a computer case but I see no problem with it if your vacuum comes with a plastic hose end and if one applies a light, fine mist of water to the cleaning brush on the end of the vacuum hose. With the vacuum cleaner switched on, use short, slow, one-way strokes to remove the dust from the sides and the rear of your tower. The slight misting of water on the vacuum brush (do not spray water directly on your PC) and this careful method of stroking the brush on your PC’s case will prevent the creation of static discharge. If you’d prefer you may remove the sides of the case to blow the dust off the case sides with compressed air.

You will need to take care with removing the front of the case because that’s usually connected with wiring to the insides of your computer so you may find you are only be able to remove the case front and stand it a little to one side. If the front of your case is connected in this way lean it against the PC so that it does not fall over and pull at any of the connected wiring.

After removing the dust from the vents on the outside of your computer case and removing the front of the case you should have a look inside your tower.

Because a PC case is an enclosed space, interior heat cannot radiate away through natural convection so you will observe that there are a number of fans inside your machine. You will have one on your CPU, one inside your power supply, your Northbridge chipset may have one, your hard drive may have one, and you may have one or more on your graphics card.

In addition to that nearly all computers have a series installation of two fans which, simply put, is one fan bringing outside air into your case (usually at the bottom front) and another blowing interior case air out of your tower (usually at the top rear near the power supply). Some computers may have more than one series of fans, and/or additional fans in a parallel arrangement (two fans side by side).

Work slowly and carefully when doing anything inside your computer. Fan blades, any air intake/outflow vents, and all heat-sink fins (cooling grilles) should have any build-up of dust removed by gently brushing with a small ½ - 1 inch wide, dry, spotlessly clean paintbrush while holding the suction end of a vacuum cleaner hose nearby to whisk away any loosened dust. If the paint brush has metal ferrule you should cover the ferrule with several layers of masking tape. It might be necessary to use a clean wooden toothpick to gently encourage out any dust trapped between grille fins. Please don't force, shove, jab at, or hurry anything when working inside a computer case.

An old toothbrush that is dry and clean may be used to gently swipe dust from hard to reach areas. Most series/parallel installed PC fans are held in place with up to four screws which can be easily removed to get to any dust that may be built up on the vent/grille behind them. Avoid using a magnetic screwdriver to do any work on your computer.

After this, ideally one would use compressed air in short, repeated blasts from perhaps two feet away to blow out the remainder of the PC case interior. If you don’t have access to a compressor it is especially important to use short blasts when using canned compressed air because while the can is discharging it gets icy cold at which time a long, continuous blast will blow condensed water out of the can along with the air. After all your sterling efforts you certainly don’t want to be blowing water into your computer’s case! You should never expel your own breath to blow dust out of a computer.

Sometimes you may open your computer's case and discover, because you already thoroughly dusted its interior a month ago, that this time only the case rear & sides need to be cleared of dust. If this will be the first time you are dusting your computer and it really needs it, because it's necessary to work carefully and methodically when doing anything inside a computer, you may find this task could take from 30 minutes to an hour.  

When you’re done with cleaning the case interior, any interior cables you may have moved aside to aid in cleaning should be moved back into their original positions. Ensure that nothing is obstructing any of the fan blades which should always be able to move freely. Next put the front and sides back on the case. At this time a cotton towel-type cloth that’s been wrung out thoroughly after being dipped in warm, slightly soapy water may be used to wipe the outsides of your computer’s case.

While your computer is still powered off would be a good time to vacuum your keyboard with the vacuum brush attachment; dust and gently wipe (with a cloth wrung out thoroughly) the computer display monitor; and dust the mouse & mouse pad. Your mouse and keyboard may need spot wiping with your damp cloth. When wiping any LCD display screen you should take care not to press the screen while wiping. After wiping the computer display screen with the damp cloth, the screen should next be lightly wiped dry, particularly around the display edges & display edge corners, with a crumpled, clean paper towel.

After this your refreshed, dust free computer may be powered on. Your system will now run cooler, you will have done your part to ensure your components live a full life, and you’ll feel a lot better using your machine having made this effort to care for it.