How To Properly Store Thermal Paste (And For How Long)

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

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

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

How to Properly Store Thermal Paste

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

How to properly store thermal paste.

Temperature affects the durability of thermal paste 

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

Places you should avoid storing it 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 it 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 it, 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 it in a refrigerator can cause problems

You should not store CPU thermal paste in a fridge. Using it will be cold enough to condense surrounding air, forming water droplets around your CPU. Furthermore, it 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 it 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 it.  

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 tube lid properly can cause changes in moisture levels and oxidation, which can alter the composition of it.

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 container tightly lidded, desiccant helps prevent the entrance of water, which could alter the integrity of it. 

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 probably wonder whether you should buy a new tube. 

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

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

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 it 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 it depends on how well you store it. It also depends on the company you buy it 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 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 it 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 haven’t followed other storage best practices discussed in this article, you should consider buying a new tube. 

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

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

If it 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 a new product 

You could test it out if you’re reluctant to purchase new paste. Apply it 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 ineffective in cooling the CPU, you can buy and use a new tube. 

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 it 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 thermal paste you’ve stored for a while. 

To begin with, ensure that it’s in usable condition. Don’t try to use it if it’s crumbly or dried out. 

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 tube, you can find an airtight bag and place it inside. Before sealing it, ensure you remove as much air as possible. 
  • Don’t pull the plunger back. Avoid pulling the plunger back using 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 it. 

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 it 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. You can easily observe it when you open up your computer’s system unit. 

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 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.

Thermal paste remover with a surface purifier is a very effective way to remove the old stuff and ensure the surfaces are properly cleaned before applying the new 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 it, 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 cleaning 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 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 it helps counter any pump-out effects. 

Conclusion

Proper storage of CPU thermal paste is essential if you want to use it again. With proper storage, the 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 it 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.