Keeping Dust Out of Your Computer (And How to Clean It)


Making your home spotlessly clean like a lab is not a realistic solution for keeping dust out of your computer. Here’s how to avoid excessive maintenance and how to clean your computer.

In order to keep the dust from entering your computer case, you will need to install intake filters where necessary.

Depending on the type of air pressure you have in your computer’s case, will determine the location of your intake filters.

It is recommended that your computer case is elevated up off the floor if possible. This will reduce the number of times you will need to clean your intake filters per year.

Keeping dust out of your computer

There two types of air pressure systems. We will cover how to deal with both.

While it’s not recommended to have extremes of either type of setup, this article assumes that you have a gently biased cooling system whether it be toward a positive, or negative air pressure cooling setup.

Adding filters to a positive pressure cooling system

120mm computer fan filter

Positive air pressure cooling means that your intake fans are blowing in a greater volume of air per second than the amount being blown out.

This means that the intake filters will only have to be installed in front of the intake fans.

If your case doesn’t have filters built into the fan intake area, you can simply purchase fan filters that are specific to your fan type.

I recommend the screw mount filters over the magnetic type where possible.

Adding filters to a negative pressure cooling system

magnetic computer case filters

Negative air pressure cooling works the opposite way. The exhaust air is being blown out at a faster rate compared to the inlet fans.

With the negative air pressure cooling method, you will have to install intake filters in front of any intake fan, cooling holes, grills, or other openings.

You will find filter material and magnetic framed filters in stores. They are available in various sizes so you should find filters close enough for most situations.

For this type of filtering method, consider low air resistance filters to ensure that the air still draws in through the intended areas.

If your filters restrict airflow too much, the air will draw in through little gaps and holes elsewhere in your case instead.

Things to avoid with filters

Sometimes you will see or hear about recommendations on using old stockings or rags as filters, but I’d like to advise against that.

Not only is it always better to use the correct solution for a task, but there are other finer technical details that come into play when using something other than proper filters.

  • Having to clean these makeshift filters from time to time will be more difficult.
  • Can you ensure that the material has an acceptable amount of airflow resistance?
  • How quickly will the filter material become clogged with dust based on the size of filtration holes?

How to clean your computer

Before starting, make sure your computer is fully powered off and all connectors are disconnected from it.

1. Remove all case lids and filters

Remove all lids from your case and all the filters that can be easily removed.

2. Remove graphics card and any other cards with a fan(s)

Unscrew the single screw that holds the card in place.

Sometimes, depending on the case manufacturer, you might find a release clip or a knurled screw that you can undo with your fingers.

Be careful not to touch the edge connectors that fit into the expansion slot.

3. Use compressed air to blow out all the dust

Info Nibble: Before you begin, please consider using safety glasses and a filter mask. Also, do it outside, you will thank me later.

Use an air compressor, or a can of compressed air to blow any dust out of your computer.

Make sure that you blow every inch inside and out.

Pay particular attention to your CPU fan and heatsink.

Take a dry old toothbrush, and brush over all the blades of all the fans. Be careful not to put any excess pressure on the fan blades.

Give everything a final blow out out just to make sure that any final stray particles of dust are gone.

Give the card slots the final blow out. You want these slots to be nice and clean before reinserting the cards that you removed.

4. Clean the case lids and filters

Use your compressed air to clean the lids and filters. If you need extra cleaning on the filters, soak them in lukewarm water and use some hand soap on your hands to give them a light wash.

Afterward, give them a good rinse under the faucet using cold water.

Just make sure that the water isn’t hot. This could warp any plastic framing on your filter and you will have a hard time getting it to fit again.

Leave them to dry, or dry them off faster by using a hairdryer on a cool setting.

5. Clean the graphics card

Take the compressed air and blow out the fan area and any other vents or heatsink areas that you can see.

Give the contacts of the edge connector the final blow, to make sure that they remain dust-free.

If you accidentally touched these edge connectors (or if you think they need cleaning), complete the following steps:

  1. Take a high-quality pencil eraser and rub the contacts carefully until you can see a clean surface.
  2. Take some lint-free cloth and clean off all the eraser debris. You may need to shift to clean areas of the cloth a few times until you can feel that there are no more eraser deposits.
  3. Give the connectors a blow with compressed air to make sure they are dust and lint-free.

Please make sure you pay particular attention to step 2. It is very important that you don’t have any eraser deposits left on the contacts.

The very same procedure can be applied to cleaning RAM. However, be very careful not to erase over any small surface mount components.

6. Install the cards and filters and case lids back in place

Now that these parts are nice and clean, reinstall the graphics card, filters and finally the case lids.

Congratulations, your computer is now clean.

Related questions

How often should you dust out your computer?

This obviously depends on how well your case is filtered. However, you don’t want to wait longer than a year, and ideally, every six to eight months.

Can dust damage your computer?

If your computer gets badly clogged up with dust in vital areas that cause overheating, damage can occur from long term overheating. When dust is combined with dampness, corrosion is possible, thus causing damage.

Marlo Strydom

Marlo is a full time professional computer programmer, electronics engineer and computer technician.

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