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Just When You Had It Figured Out: Common Computer Maintenance Misconceptions Part 3

Don't stick your vacuum right inside your computer
Make sure you don’t use your outside vacuum to clean the inside of your computer!

Well, it looks like we inadvertently skipped a day on Friday. The construction we’ve had going on for over a week now required us to move stuff around and the blog post became a casualty of time. But never fear, we will persevere. Stiff upper lip and carry on and all that. Today, we’re looking at the second part of the compressed air myth, and hopefully teaching you a little more science. Because, you know, Science!

#3: “All you need to clean the inside of your computer is some compressed air! It’s so easy a cliche television commercial motif can do it!”

We’ve already gone over most of the issues with compressed air in the last post, so I won’t bore anyone with more principles of fluid dynamics and heat transfer. Instead, I will point out that if you keep your computer clean and tidy on a regular basis, compressed air will generally do the trick just fine, as most of the stuff building up inside your box will be light particulate matter, also known as dust. However if it’s been a while since you cleaned your case, or you smoke, or you’ve spilled things (liquid or Cheetoh) around your computers case, things get a little less hairy and a little more “stuck-on gunky”. See, it gets very hot inside your computer (well upwards of 100 degrees), and all the stuff that happens to fall in there undergoes some physical change. Oily substances (like hair, snacks, etc) and sugary substances (snacks, soda, you get the idea) will actually slowly melt at those temperatures, and attract other matter that ends up sticking together into clumps of dust, grease, and hair. Or alternately, the aforementioned dust and hair will pick up a slight static charge and cling to other dust and hair, creating large dust bunnies.

So what?

Well, these greasy balls and dust bunnies are too heavy to be easily blown out by a shot of compressed air. Even if they weren’t, unless you’re being very careful with how you spray, odds are you’ll do more to dislodge the dust and blow it around rather than blow it out of your case. You need something that will pick the dust up after you spray it, and suck it out your machine. Some sort of device that possibly creates a vacuum used for cleaning things. Or to paraphrase the Bard, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the Dust Devil of cleaning”.  Having a vacuum in conjunction with the spraying of air will do wonders at actually getting the dust out of your computer, as opposed to merely moving it about a little. But wait! Before you slip on the narrow cleaning nozzle and start poking your RAM with the thing, keep in mind that under no circumstances do you want to touch anything inside your computer with any part of your vacuum cleaner. There is a good reason for this: plastic is an excellent insulator, but occasionally in the manufacturing process (and more rarely, after the vacuum is purchased), little pockets of ionization could develop inside the plastic of the nozzles and attachments. If one of these pockets happens to get close enough to the components inside your Mac or PC, it could discharge and fry any number of delicate bits and/or pieces. Instead, keep the opening of the vacuum about 4 inches away from the inside of your ‘puter, and let it suck the dust and dirt out of the air as you spray it loose. You’ll still get most of it, but without the hassle of a hefty repair bill.