Here's your all-inclusive guide to keeping your laptop clean
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Here's your all-inclusive guide to keeping your laptop clean
CNN —  

Let’s face it, cleaning your laptop is probably not high on your list of priorities. But whether you’re complacent or intimidated by the task, it’s worth doing. And, contrary to what you may believe, it’s not a difficult process to give your laptop a thorough cleaning. Just look down at all that dust and grime and know it will soon be gone. Whether you want to work quickly with some soft cloths and cotton swabs or dive in with a can of compressed air and some cleaning solution, we’ve got the tips for you.

Throughout this living guide, we will walk you through the best and safest methods for cleaning your laptop. We start with screen-cleaning, then work down to the keyboard, ports and vents. Finally, we recommend some laptop cases and sleeves, as well as preventive measures to avoid buildup in the first place. Spoiler: Washing your hands before using your device is a great place to start. For everything else, read on.

Cleaning your screen

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Naturally, one of the things you’ll want to clean up is your display. When dust, fingerprints and smudges build up, it can hinder your viewing experience, plus it just doesn’t look good.

First thing first: Whether it’s a Mac or PC, shut it off and disconnect your device from any power cables. It also doesn’t hurt to make sure no liquids are nearby.

Once your device is powered off, you can start cleaning with a cloth or towel, preferably one that is soft and lint-free, such as a microfiber cloth. If your screen is a touch screen, you’ll definitely want to avoid using more abrasive items like bath towels or paper towels. With cloth in hand, wipe across the display in one direction.

It’s likely that a dry cloth will not cut it when it comes to smudges and grime. If that’s the case, you can dampen the cloth with a screen cleaner or water and then wipe the display with that.

Be sure you don’t soak the cloth, as excess liquid can drip down and cause serious computer damage. Likewise, you should never spray a liquid directly on your device — it should always be applied to a cloth first. Finally, you should shy away from cleaners containing ingredients like acetone, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide or other harsh substances. Examples of these include all-purpose household cleaners and window cleaners.

Not everybody has a microfiber cloth or a screen cleaner, but fortunately, there are plenty of kits out there that come with them.

There’s the Bryson Screen Cleaner Kit for starters ($16.95; amazon.com). This kit includes a 16-ounce bottle of screen cleaner that’s safe for even touch displays. You’ll also receive a microfiber cloth.

For something a little more portable, there’s the Whoosh! Screen Cleaner Kit ($15.99; amazon.com). Included are two spray bottles of screen cleaning fluid (3.4 ounces and 0.3 ounces) as well as three microfiber cloths. This kit is easy to travel with, so you don’t have to worry about having a dirty computer screen on the go.

Finally, there are the ammonia-free iCloth Lens and Screen Cleaner wipes ($22.32, originally $23.49; amazon.com). This set contains 100 individually wrapped wipes. They’re soft and aerospace-approved, coming premoistened with a 75% purified water formula. Anything from dust to grease and grime comes right off with a few wipes. Plus, it’s easy to tuck a few into your laptop case or pocket.

Cleaning your keyboard

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As you look down from your sparkling display, you may realize your keyboard is just as dirty. This cleaning job may seem more intimidating, but we have some tips that will make it easy.

When it comes to cleaning a keyboard, you’ll want to deal with both the spaces between your keys and their surfaces. It also doesn’t hurt to try to dislodge dust and particles that have built up beneath your keys with compressed gas, as such buildup can eventually interfere with the affected key’s function. Just to be safe, be sure your computer is powered off and unplugged.

Before you scrub your keyboard crevices, you can dislodge a lot of dust and crumbs with a can of compressed gas. Cans of air are widely available, such as this 4-pack Falcon Dust-Off on Amazon ($16.99; amazon.com). A few safety tips for these: This is a container of highly compressed gas. Do not heat the can, shake it excessively or rupture it. Importantly, be sure you are holding the can upright and using short bursts.

To begin, find the thin red tube attached to the can and insert it into the nozzle. Next, point it at the space between a row of keys on the opposite side of the keyboard from yourself. In short bursts, or one quick burst of up to three seconds, pull the trigger while moving the can along the crevice. Do so for each horizontal gap along the keyboard. You can also hit the vertical lines between keys with quick bursts for a more thorough job. If you want, you can carefully stand the laptop up on its left or right side so the dust falls out more easily as you spray.

After extended use, the can may become very cold or even frosty. This is normal — just give it a minute to return to its normal temperature for maximum effectiveness. If you aren’t holding the can upright, this cooling will happen much more quickly.

You can’t go wrong with a cotton swab for cleaning between your keys and wiping up whatever you dislodged with the can of air. You may have some at home already, but brands like Q-tips are available on Amazon if you don’t ($9.59, originally $14.89; amazon.com). With swab in hand, methodically wipe between the keys. You will likely need to swap sides on the swab or replace it with a new one occasionally, depending on how dirty the keyboard is. Do your best to wipe up particulate rather than bulldoze it under a key.

If you’re having trouble with some intense grime, or want a disinfecting effect, you can very slightly dampen your cotton swabs with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). A toothbrush can also be an effective tool for removing tougher buildup. And you can also use that microfiber cloth with a bit of alcohol on it to clean both the casing of the laptop and the trackpad itself. Just ensure you’re rubbing gently, with only a slightly dampened microfiber, on the trackpad, since it can be a sensitive area, especially on MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. And yes, isopropyl should get grime and dirt off the case.

Last but not least are the surfaces of your keys. For these, we once again recommend a soft, lint-free cloth for the best results. Take the cloth and simply wipe gently along the keys in one direction. We do not recommend you dampen the cloth with water, as it could drip into the laptop and cause damage. A cloth lightly dampened with isopropyl alcohol can be helpful at removing grime and disinfecting the surface, but in rare cases, this can damage the lettering on some keyboards. We recommend using wipes or solutions designed to clean such surfaces.

One kit that fits this description is the Tech Armor Pro Cleaning Kit ($14.95; amazon.com). Included are two microfiber cloths, 20 pre-moistened cleaning wipes and two spray bottles of cleaning solution (4 ounces and 2 ounces). The solution on the wipes and in the bottles is alcohol- and ammonia-free, making it safe for keyboards, tech and even displays. Pack away some wipes or a cloth and bottle to clean both your keyboard and screen wherever you go. The iCloth wipes mentioned above are also great for cleaning your keyboard, though they do contain alcohol.

Ports, vents and cases

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Ports and vents are often overlooked when cleaning tech. When too much dust and particulate builds up in a port, the contacts inside can be blocked, preventing it from working. Vents can get clogged too, which can interfere with your laptop’s ability to cool itself down. Too much buildup there could potentially cause more dust to settle on your laptop’s inner components too. Below are some tips and techniques for cleaning these vital spots, as well as keeping your laptop case clean.

For both ports and vents, you can’t go wrong with a can of air, like the Falcon Dust-Off mentioned previously. To get started, attach the thin red tube that comes with the can onto the nozzle. To clean your ports, point the tube at the port’s entrance and spray a few quick bursts. This will blast away most dust and loose particles. For vents, move the nozzle along at an angle as you fire off some short bursts. If a vent is really caked with dust, alternate between the can of air and a gentle stroke with a soft, lint-free cloth, preferably a microfiber cloth. Do not allow any liquids into the vent.

For a majority of hard-shell laptop cases, you don’t have to be as cautious with your cleaning. Unless the directions specifically instruct you otherwise, you can wash them with a damp cloth with soap or disinfecting wipes, for example. Just be sure the case is completely dry before you reattach it to your laptop.

Preventive care

There’s a lot you can do to prevent the buildup of dust, grime and germs on your laptop in the first place. If you don’t have a case or laptop sleeve, you’ll want to start there. A case will not only protect your computer from scratches, but it can absorb some of the buildup like oil and dust that would otherwise stick to your laptop. Keeping your laptop in a sleeve when not in use can also keep it from collecting a lot of dust.

Incase makes a variety of laptop cases and sleeves. Most of them are for the MacBook family, but the sleeves can accommodate other laptop brands as long as the dimensions match up. You can take a look at its cases here, and you can find its sleeves here. Below we’ve listed just a few that MacBook users will want to check out. Most come in a wide range of colors.

  • Incase MacBook Pro 13” Hardshell Case ($49.95; incase.com)
  • Incase MacBook Air 13” Nylon Sleeve ($24.98; incase.com)
  • Incase MacBook Pro 13” Woolenex Sleeve ($49.95; incase.com)

We also have some tips that may seem obvious, but the reminder is worth it.

The best way to prevent the buildup of grime, grease and fingerprints (not to mention stopping the spread of bacteria to your device) is by washing your hands. It also helps to carry your laptop in a safe container, such as a backpack, carrying case or sleeve, so it isn’t exposed to the environment. And, of course, try not to eat or drink near your laptop. Even if you are a paragon of coordination, everyone makes mistakes.

Keep an eye on this living guide to laptop cleaning as we update it. Don’t let dust and grime take over your laptop. Try our tips and techniques to keep them at bay.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.