When you’ve bought different types of thermal paste and want to be able to use them for as long as possible, proper storage of thermal paste is essential. Poor storage can degrade its quality and efficiency, essentially making it useless. 

To properly store CPU thermal paste, keep the cap tightly closed and place the tube in an airtight container. Store the container in a cool area, away from heat sources like sunlight. You should also put the paste tube upside down to avoid any separation of the fluid. 

This article will give you an in-depth guide to properly storing CPU thermal paste.

I’ll discuss storage tips and answer frequently asked questions to help you make the most of your paste by storing it well. 

Temperature affects the durability of thermal paste 

Thermometer is placed next to a thermal paste dispenser.

One factor you should consider when storing your CPU thermal paste is temperature. You should keep the paste in a cool place and avoid places exposed to extreme heat. 

Places you should avoid storing your thermal paste include: 

  • A storage drawer near a window that receives direct sunlight. 
  • Your car, where temperatures can rise significantly, especially during summer. 

Excess heat makes your paste dry up faster and become ineffective sooner. When the paste is dry and brittle, you can’t apply it. 

Should you store CPU thermal paste in a fridge? 

It is a general rule to store the thermal paste in a cool place. This is because heat past a certain point will accelerate the drying up of the paste, and keeping it somewhere cool will keep it in liquid form for as long as possible. 

Storing the thermal paste in a fridge makes sense if the goal is to keep it cool. However, there’s a belief that storing the paste in a refrigerator can cause problems

You should not store CPU thermal paste in a fridge. When using the paste, it will be cold enough to condense surrounding air, resulting in the formation of water droplets around your CPU. Furthermore, thermal paste doesn’t need chilly temperatures to last long. Room temperature does just fine. 

However, storing the paste in a fridge can help reduce separation in the fluid. Some manufacturers even advise it. 

If you store your paste in a fridge, allow it time to get to room temperature after removing it. Only then should you apply it to the CPU. 

Why you should keep the thermal paste lid tightly closed 

A thermal paste dispenser with the lid tightly screwed on.

Thermal paste consists of a particular combination of chemical elements. The mixture is ideal for thermal conductivity and viscosity. However, it may not conduct heat if you don’t take care of the paste.  

If the integrity of the thermal paste’s chemical composition is compromised, it loses one or more of its intended qualities, making it ineffective. 

Failing to close the lid of the thermal paste tube properly can cause changes in moisture levels and oxidation, which can alter the composition of the thermal paste.

Such decomposition is accelerated if you expose the paste to ambient air instead of keeping it in an airtight container. 

Use of Desiccant

If you have a lot of thermal paste, you could store it with desiccant to reduce the moisture around it.

In addition to keeping the paste container tightly lidded, desiccant helps prevent the entrance of water, which could alter the integrity of the paste. 

It is advisable to keep the desiccant at room temperature. If the storage area is too hot, the heat will accelerate the drying up of the paste. 

How long can you store CPU thermal paste? 

A calendar is placed next to a thermal paste dispenser to indicate storage time.

If you bought thermal paste a while back and still have it, you are probably wondering whether you should just buy a new tube. 

The determining factor should be whether your thermal paste is still good. If it is, why buy new paste? 

Some people prefer to err on the side of caution, reasoning that since the thermal paste is cheap and you are applying it on a relatively expensive CPU, you should buy a new tube.

To some people, using old paste only to find that it no longer works is not worth the risk. 

You can store and use thermal paste for as long as ten years. Multiple users have reported using their paste after a decade without any problem. As long as you store your paste well and as long as it is still thoroughly mixed, you can use it for as long as a decade. 

The duration you can successfully use your thermal paste depends on how well you store it. It also depends on the company you buy your thermal paste from and the type of thermal paste you have. 

If your paste contains silver, it will likely be more durable. Silver is generally not perishable and will thus last longer. 

Certain CPU thermal paste brands are more susceptible to drying when stored out in the open. While they may still be usable, the paste is likely unstable. 

Manufacturer-stated shelf life

One of the factors you should consider when determining how long you can store your thermal paste is the manufacturer’s shelf life.

You should take this number as the guaranteed minimum period for which you can expect the paste to last. 

Most manufacturers give a two-year shelf life for their thermal paste products. However, some, such as Arctic, give up to eight years for some of their products. 

The durability of your paste depends on how well you store it

If you opened your thermal paste container and left it unsealed, or if you haven’t followed other storage best practices discussed in this article, you should consider buying a new tube. 

If you’ve never opened your thermal paste tube since purchase, there is a higher chance that it’s still suitable for use. That is because the paste usually comes with an airtight seal. 

One indicator that you should get a new thermal paste is separation.

If the paste has separated into different layers, you might find yourself applying a coating that doesn’t have active components like silver, which will be ineffective. 

Paste mostly separates when you store the tube on its side. To avoid separation, consider keeping the container vertical, with the tube’s outlet facing downwards.

This way, the paste accumulates in one place and is less likely to separate into layers. 

You can test your old thermal paste before buying new paste 

If you’re reluctant to purchase new paste, you could test out the paste you have. Apply the paste correctly and observe whether it has the intended CPU cooling effect. If it works, then you’re good. 

If you notice that the paste is not effective in cooling the CPU, you can proceed to buy and use a new paste. 

This Arctic Silver 5 AS5-3.5G thermal paste from Amazon.com is an excellent choice if you need to replace yours. It can last up to a decade, as you will see from multiple Amazon reviewers. 

Additionally, it is made not to run, migrate, separate, or bleed. So you’ll probably be able to use it until it runs out. Another bonus is that it is easy to apply and remove. 

How to use thermal paste that’s been stored for too long

Thermal paste is applied to a CPU.

While applying thermal paste, there are best practices you should follow for the thermal paste to work effectively.

These include balancing the amount of paste you use so that it’s just enough to cover the surface but not too much to flow over the sides. 

You should follow additional steps when using a thermal paste that you’ve stored for a while. 

To begin with, ensure that the paste is in usable condition. If the paste is crumbly or dried out, don’t try to use it. 

If the paste is still in liquid form, there’s a high chance that it will have separated into multiple layers.

Avoid applying the first liquid that comes out when you squeeze the tube. It will likely be a clear liquid that doesn’t have functional elements like silver. 

The paste you eventually apply should be well mixed. You’ll probably have to do some manual mixing. 

General tips to help you properly store thermal paste

A thermal paste dispenser is placed inside a zip lock bag.

In addition to the advice I have discussed in depth in this article, there are other general tips you can use to ensure you get as much life as possible out of your thermal paste. 

Here is a list of the tips: 

  • Use an airtight bag. If you’ve lost the lid or cap of your thermal paste tube, you can find an airtight bag and place the paste inside. Before sealing it, ensure you remove as much air as possible. 
  • Don’t pull the plunger back. Avoid pulling the plunger back if you use a paste tube with a built-in dispenser. Doing so would create a pressure deficit that would cause air to be sucked into the container, contaminating the paste. 

When to change the applied thermal paste

Going to the trouble of knowing how to store thermal paste indicates that you intend to use it in the future. Once you apply the thermal paste and it works, how do you know when to use it again? 

You should change the applied thermal paste when: 

  • You notice that it’s dried out. 
  • You notice your CPU overheating. 
  • You change the cooler. 
  • Two or three years have passed. 

You notice that it’s dried out

Old dry and hard thermal paste left on a CPU.

Sometimes, applied CPU thermal paste can dry out. It’s something that you can easily observe when you open up the system unit of your computer. 

Dry thermal paste is ineffective and is likely to cause overheating problems. Therefore, you should change it as soon as you notice it has lowered in quality. 

You’ll have to remove all the dried paste. Use thermal compound remover in this case and refrain from scraping the hard paste off, as you will do more damage than good.

Here is an example (link takes you to Amazon) of a very effective thermal paste remover with a surface purifier to ensure the surfaces are properly cleaned before applying the new thermal paste.

The integrated heat sink (IHS) surface should be clean when applying the new paste. Otherwise, it will be ineffective. 

You notice your CPU overheating

If your CPU has been running fine and it’s suddenly overheating, it could be due to various reasons. One culprit could be a thermal paste that has grown ineffective. 

If your CPU is overheating and it’s been a while since you applied the thermal paste, consider reapplying. 

Replacing old thermal paste can be an inexpensive solution to a problem you can spend a lot of money trying to solve. 

There’s a good chance you’ll notice your CPU temperatures drop. 

You change the cooler

If you change your cooler for any reason, it is best to change the thermal paste. 

Reusing the thermal paste will reduce its effectiveness. For example, it could introduce bubbles into the paste, messing with its conductivity. 

Before applying the fresh paste, clean the cooler’s surface and the CPU heat sink. Using thermal paste remover on a lint-free cloth will make the cleaning process quick and easy. 

Two or three years have passed

It is wise to periodically refresh your CPU thermal paste, preferably after two or three years. You can also consult the manufacturer of your thermal paste for an appropriate reapplication schedule. 

One reason why you should periodically reapply thermal paste is the pump-out phenomenon

The CPU heat sink and the cooler are often at different temperatures and will have varying thermal expansion and contraction rates.

Over time, this causes the thermal paste to ooze from between the two, reducing the efficiency of the heat conductivity process

Reapplying thermal paste helps counter any pump-out effects. 

Conclusion

Proper storage of CPU thermal paste is essential if you want to use it again in the future. With proper storage, the paste quality will stay the same and be effective when you use it. 

For proper storage, temperature and hermeticity are the most critical factors. Therefore, keep the paste at room temperature.

It is crucial to ensure that it doesn’t come into contact with excess heat. If it does, it will dry up and become unusable. 

Keeping the paste tube airtight also prevents decomposition through chemical processes such as oxidation.