Fact Sheet: the Safe Way to Clean Computer Components

Like a lot of people, you probably use your computer every day – typing on the keyboards, shifting the mouse around, using your printer and scanner, burning CD’s without once giving a thought to cleaning these computer components. Keeping your computer peripherals in good clean condition, however, is actually an important part of keeping them in good working order and potentially saving yourself a lot of money in expensive repairs and replacements – not to mention disease! In fact, a study done by researchers at the University of North Carolina found that most keyboards were infested with bacteria – with many testing positive for staphylococci!

Cleaning Tools

Certain computer components may require specially designed cleaning tools and products but most computer peripherals can be cleaned simply with general household cleaners and cleaning tools. Here are some things to have handy when planning to clean your computer components:

  • Soft cotton cloth (or microfibre cloth in some cases) – preferable over paper towels.
  • Water – despite the host of cleaning solutions available, water is generally the best. If you must use a cleaning agent, try to make it as dilute as possible and always apply to the cloth, rather than spraying directly onto the computer component.
  • Rubbing alcohol – useful when plain water won’t do the job. However still best to be applied to a cloth first. Remember, other solvents may damage the plastic parts of the computer components.
  • Portable vacuum cleaner – very useful for extracting dirt, dust, hair and food particles from hard to reach places. Better than a normal vacuum cleaner which creates too much static electricity and could harm the computer.
  • Cotton buds or swabs – again great for reaching hard to access areas; can also be moistened with water or rubbing alcohol to wipe in those areas.

Cleaning the Different Components


N.B. This information applies to standard desk-top keyboards and not to lap top keyboards.

Why clean? In the course of daily usage, all sorts of things fall into the spaces between the keys and get trapped under them, leading to a gradual build up of grit, dirt, dust, hair and food particles which can cause your keys to jam and stop functioning properly. Even worse is if you spill a liquid on the keyboard as this can lead to complete circuit malfunction and the need to buy a completely new keyboard.

How? There are various ways to clean a keyboard. You could simply turn it upside down and give it a few good shakes – this will often dislodge some of the particles. You could also use an old toothbrush to get into the crevices between keys and extract some of the dirt that way. But the best way is to use a can of compressed air with a long nozzle. All you need to do is aim the nozzle between the keys and the compressed air will blow all the embedded dust and debris. You could also try a vacuum cleaner although be careful as some loose keys may become detached under the suction pressure from the vacuum.

If you have spilt a liquid onto the keyboard, then it is best to act quickly. Switch the computer off and the turn the keyboard over to let any excess liquid drain away (and also prevent it penetrating the circuits). Shake the keyboard to get rid of as much liquid as possible and then – keeping the keyboard flipped over – use a cloth to clean all areas that can be reached. You can even use cotton swabs for the harder to reach areas. Finally, leave the keyboard upside down overnight to let it dry completely before using it again. Remember, though, that if you spill a sugared liquid (e.g.. Coca-Cola) onto the keyboard, then this may result in sticky keys which may be very difficult if not impossible to fix.


Why clean? Dust, dirt and oils from finger marks can interfere with the clarity of the screen.

How? Different types of screens will need different cleaning methods. If you have an old style glass monitor, you will be able to use ordinary household glass cleaners to clean the screen. Make sure to spray the cleaning solution onto the cloth and not directly onto the screen, as the liquid can leak inside the monitor and damage electrical components.

If you have a modern LCD/flat-panel type screen, this is not made of glass and will therefore require specific cleaning products – no cleaning liquids but ideally a microfibre cloth or specially designed duster for the screen. A lot of modern screens come with anti-glare coating and using ordinary household cleaners on these will damage this coating. If a dry cloth or duster is not enough to remove the dirt, you can us rubbing alcohol moistened onto the cloth first.


Why clean? Dirt and debris trapped under and within the mouse can affect its ability to move properly.

How? With the old-fashioned optical-mechanical mouse, you will need to remove the bottom over of the mouse and take the ball out, so you can clean the rollers within using a cotton swab. You will usually find a small line of dirt or hair in the middle of the roller. If you have a more modern type of mouse without the mechanical ball, just give the mouse a good wipe all over with a soft cloth, possibly dampened with rubbing alcohol or water. Don’t forget to also wipe the mouse mat and make sure that there aren’t any particles stuck on that which is interfering with the mouse’s receptors.


Why clean? Dirt and dust trapped in a CD-ROM drive can interfere with the reading of CD’s and can even lead to software installation issues or problems running a programme.

How? The best way to clean the actual CD-ROM drive is to use a specifically designed commercial CD-ROM cleaner which can be purchased from an electronics or computer superstore. This will clean the CD-laser of any dust, dirt and hair. Meanwhile, you can clean the ejected tray yourself using a soft cloth dampened with water – just make sure that the tray is completely dry before pushing it back into the drive.

A little bit of time and effort spent cleaning your computer components and keeping them free of dust and dirt will go a long way to keeping them in good working condition for a long time.

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