How to Safely Clean Your Dirty Gadgets
Don't let your smartphone make you sick.
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We tend to think of modern technology as dependable, convenient, and... sterile. Ads show us gleaming renders of sleekly designed metal-and-plastic devices—commercials crafted to make our laptops, tablets, and phones look impossibly clean and wholly immune to age, wear, and gunk.
But in reality, our gadgets are breeding grounds for all kinds of nastiness. Think about it: We touch all kinds of gross things all day, and then what do we touch after that? Yep. Our laptops, our tablets, our phones.
If you care about cleanliness, you really ought to be cleaning your tech, too. But don't worry, it's less of a hassle than it sounds, and it could even save you headaches (both literal and figurative) in the long run.
We know how nerds think, because that's how we think. So don't consider these chores: Call them "performance upgrades."
This is the easiest item on the list.
Clogged print heads will make any pages you print look unclear, and ink may even start spotting on the page. Luckily, this chore can be accomplished semi-automatically by the printer itself.
On a Windows machine, search the Control Panel for Printers, right-click on the printer in question, and look for the Maintenance menu. Every printer is different, but eventually you'll come across a Clean Print Heads option.
On a Mac, open up System Preferences, then Printer & Fax, then Options & Supplies, once again you should eventually find the appropriate option. Run the cycle two or three times.
If that doesn't work, you can clean the print heads manually by opening up the printer and using a cotton swab to rub isopropyl alcohol directly onto the print heads. This should clear up any dried ink. If the heads are out of reach, drip 10 drops of the alcohol into the ink receptacle, then run the printer's cleaning program a couple more times. If you use alcohol to clean your print heads, let your printer sit overnight to dry.
A quick Googling will reveal plenty of techniques for optimizing your computer's performance, like defragmenting the hard drive(s), reinstalling the operating system, and regularly sweeping for malware. But physically cleaning your computer is just as important, and ridiculously easy. Heat is the enemy of electronic components, so insulators of heat—like dust—should be removed.
Sadly, you cannot—well, should not—simply vacuum out the inside of your PC. Vacuums have a tendency to build up static charge, and there's a chance you could end up accidentally frying internal components. Instead, take your case to a well-ventilated area, remove the outside panels, and use compressed air to blow away any dust. Pay special attention to fans and fan filters.
Laptops are more difficult to clean, but twice as important to keep clean, since tight form factors make heat dissipation a limiting factor. The process will involve removing some screws and taking a few pieces apart, but there's no one-size-fits-all method. Consult your owner's manual for cleaning instructions and be careful not to void any warranties. (Unless that's how you get your kicks.)
Keyboards deserve their own section because these things get just ridiculously filthy. One study has even claimed keyboards are dirtier than toilets. We spend all day covering our keys in a fresh layer of skin oil, while the dark gaps below the keys give germs and bacteria at least 26 letters' worth of places to grow. Gross.
Unplug your keyboard, tip it upside down above a trashcan, then shake away any loose crumbs, skin, and other gunk. For phase two, it's safe to use a lint-free, lightly dampened cloth to scrub away the remaining gunk. Alcohol-based cleaners are best.
In a University of Virginia study, researchers investigated the homes of 40 adults exhibiting early symptoms of the common cold. Fully half of the remote controls used by these adults tested positive for the cold virus.
Most stock remotes are fairly resilient, since they're destined to be dropped on the floor, gnawed on by toddlers and pets, and squeezed between couch cushions. Therefore, a quick wipe with rubbing alcohol should be sufficient, and not very risky to the internal circuit boards.
If you were grossed out by the keyboard section, you won't like this one either. Studies show a whopping 92% of phones have bacteria on them, and the E. coli bacteria—you know, the one found in human and animal feces—lurks on 16% of phones.
Most phones aren't waterproof, so you'll need to clean carefully. Remove your case, cover, and screen protector. Shut the phone down and remove the battery.
Use a dry cotton swab to clean lint and dust from the battery compartment or any other tricky areas behind the rear panel. With a different cotton swab lightly coated in diluted isopropyl alcohol, clean the keyboard and/or screen, taking care not to let the alcohol seep beneath. Replace your cover and screen protector with brand new ones and, just in case, leave the phone to sit overnight before powering up the phone again.
Tablets are just as dirty as phones, and a bit more difficult to clean. You'll want to keep all liquids away from your favorite tablet, especially if it's a unibody Apple product like the iPad. Still, it's okay to use slightly moist, microfiber cloths to wipe away oils that've accumulated on the screen. Just make sure to avoid any openings like the power or headphone connectors, and of course power off your tablet beforehand.
Hero Image: Flickr user "schofields" (CC BY 2.0)