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Say I open a desktop computer case and it's very dusty -- not an uncommon situation. However, Oh no! I forgot my vacuum! What else can I use to thoroughly clean the inside of the computer?

I considered compressed air as this is available in most offices, but simply blowing the dust in all directions will mess up my clothes and/or the person's office, so that is not an option.

  • Do you guys have swiffers in the office? The cloth that goes on the sweeper attracts dust pretty well. I assume you don't have any swiffer dusters or you wouldn't be asking this. – Nick Morgan Aug 11 '15 at 13:16
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    @NickMorgan, be careful using swiffers or anything using static electricity inside a computer – holroy Aug 11 '15 at 14:24
  • @holroy a very good point. thanks for that! – Nick Morgan Aug 11 '15 at 18:57
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    Note: do not use vacuums to clean computers, unless they are specifically designed for this. Not only do they generate static electricity, but with a bit of bad luck you could cause a component to break off. Compressed air is the recommended method. – user3757614 Aug 18 '15 at 0:01
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    It is actually strongly recommended to not use a vacuum to remove dust since it can generate static build up and potentially cause a damaging discharge on to your components. The other posts are correct in saying that you should use compressed/canned air OUTSIDE a building to clean. – ShrunkenHeads Aug 28 '15 at 20:16
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Blow the dust out with compressed air OUTSIDE the building.

Word for the wise: place a soda straw or similar object between the cooling fan blades in a manner to prevent them turning, as blowing the fan with compressed air may cause the motor(s) to generate voltage and feed it back into the motherboard ...

  • The voltage prevention is brilliant! I'm guilty of using both a vacuum and an air can to clean fan blades. – l0b0 Jun 11 '17 at 10:19
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When sitting at my desk today I emptied an 1.5l plastic bottle, and by accident squeezed it a little and let go. This created a small, but efficient vacuum, which can be used to suck up dust and small debris.

Went to find some dust, and the following does actually work:

  • Squeeze the 1.5l plastic bottle
  • Move the end close to the dust at a slight angle
  • Release the squeeze, and as the bottle goes back to the original shape it sucks up the dust
  • Repeat operation, but be careful when squeezing it not to blow out the dust again :-)

When executed properly it has the suction to vacuum a few peanuts! Will the computer be thoroughly cleaned? Maybe not, but you'll get most of the dust away, and the rest could be wiped away with some non-static cloth.

  • That's how engineers do adjustments – Fennekin Aug 27 '15 at 12:18
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Another good method is to use various sizes of soft bristle paintbrushes, dependent on where you want to clean. Once the case is opened, tilt the computer at an angle holding securely in one hand, and gently brush downwards in the areas you would like to clean with the other hand. You will find clumps of dust will drop out easily, especially in areas such as the fan, and the soft bristles of the brush won't damage anything inside.

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Go outside the building and use a fan to blow the dust away.

Of course, don't make the fan too strong or this might just backfire on your computer... Use a portable fan, which are nice and small with sufficient energy but not too strong. You could also try making your own little vacuum by using suction. Use a handkerchief, put it over your mouth and suck the air in. This will suck the dust in similar to a vacuum. As a matter of fact, this was the inspiration for the first ever vacuum!

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A hair dryer on the cold setting will do the job nicely and good quality ones will even allow you to adjust the strength of the air flow.

Yes, they might not be as precise as compressed air but way more cost effective than buying cans of air and a lot safer than vacuuming in small parts.

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Compressed air is perfect, but I have spent one can just cleaning one PC thoroughly. Now I use a dust remover for SLR cameras (you can buy one cheaply in any store that sells such cameras), and it works for all heatsinks etc. It doesn't have enough pressure to do it from 15cm, but that's never an issue. I only use compressed air for keyboards now.

Camera Dust Remover

Never use a vacuum cleaner unless you can be absolutely sure you don't touch components. The metal tube may accumulate and hold significant static charge from moving air and dirt/dust. Always turn off the PC by switching the PSU off, or remove the mains cable. Then discharge the system by pressing the power-on button once. Never use 'brushes' or anything capable of generating an electrostatic charge. That charge will find somewhere to live, and it loves RAM and similarly delicate chips.

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