PCs

Dirty computers: Revenge of the dust bunnies

Very dusty computer

Break out the canned air, anti-static wipes, and mini-vacuum--these computers are dust-covered nightmares. It's hard to tell whether some of the machines in this photo gallery are computers or lint traps. See what happens when the dust bunnies take over.

Compiled by Bill Detwiler

?Cheryl's computer being attacked by the dust monster

© Webshots - meggers5

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

69 comments
bansidhar9
bansidhar9

Horrible! Do they behave like this- atrocity towards computers.

slave4mzpatti
slave4mzpatti

I  Open it up and dust at least every six months.

Treknology
Treknology

The worst offenders I've encountered were the early almost direct copies of the original IBM PC cases which only had one fan sucking the air out through the power supply. One good look, and it didn't take much to realize that the only air entry was THROUGH the floppy drive!

defecta
defecta

Speaking of blowing computers with compressed air and the cool whizzing sound fans make when you direct air at them, here's another reason I heard it's wise to stop them spinning. Spinning a fan with compressed air can turn the fan into a dynamo and generate potentially damaging current back into the component its connected to so I have made it good practice to do stop fans spinning where practicable.

NOTE: I just realised I had everything I needed to test this at work here and did so. The most voltage could get out of a Cooler  Master case fan and a can of compressed air was 1.8 volts. Disappointing. lol.

andrewlano
andrewlano

If cannot get compressed air can, just use an empty clean rubber bottle of tomato sauce or anything similar. Squeeze and release( repeat) aim the nozzle to where you want to blow the dust off.

gelfling6
gelfling6

I just recently had to give last rights to my brother-in-law's Compaq that he's had for close to 5-6 years, because the cooling fan/heatsink of the CPU was caked in dust. He called me when it stopped working, and sometimes, the cooling fan inside would speed-up just as the machine ground to a halt. I removed the dust, but found the OS (Win-XP) had been corrupted by forced shut-downs when the machine stopped all together.  He's back up & running with a new machine, with XP, but only 1/4 the RAM, but I was able to transfer the hard drive from his old Compaq, to the new machine..

xScarbanex
xScarbanex

 Some of the old Dell Home entertainment models had a fan in front , driving air to the back of the machine.

We had some video cards so covered with dust in them. That they would fail. Once , vacuumed of the dust. They would work fine.

I like both PC's & Macs. But when I saw this :

http://www.apple.com/mac-pro/?cid=wwa-us-kwg-mac-com

I'm like...isn't that design going to just suck all the dust , hair & dirt directly onto the new Mac's boards???

scotttt
scotttt

Re: "Dirty Keyboard" - ah the joys of hot-desking.

whitewolf60
whitewolf60

PART 1

Canned air is great for quickly blowing off small & not-to-dusty items (a CD, for example), but any attempt to blow a system out with it while indoors is counterproductive, not least because you're just recycling the dust.

I use compressed air (from an air compressor; even a small "pancake" unit works like a charm) and take the unit outside. Use a dust mask (not the 5-for-a-dollar type, but something north of $2 a pop) and don't neglect to pinch the metal clip to close the gap between the nose and eyes. Something about the lingering taste that remains after inhaling "computer dust" tells me that it is something you don't want in your lungs!

A "pencil" type blow gun is ideal (Milton P/N S115, for example), because you can adjust the flow by turning the barrel from "mouse breath" to full-force, thus eliminating the need for pressure regulation. Excessive pressure can damage components, so use common sense.

whitewolf60
whitewolf60

PART 2

If your compressed air contains moisture, use a moisture filter designed for painting. Mine traps the moisture in replaceable paper filters that resemble small rolls toilet paper, though the paper appears to be kraft paper.

And, yes, use a non-metallic object to prevent fan rotation while blowing them out; the "whizzing" sound is cool but is actually the sound of the bearings being tortured. Blocking fan rotation also allows you to increase the pressure used to blow out the fan (within reason) thus doing a better job of cleaning the blades without disassembly.

Don't get me started on the systems that smell like they are chain-smoking when they are running...long story short, I won't work on them anymore! The last one made me sick, literally! The only upside is that they present an opportunity to incentivize the user to kick the habit. : )

lweldon
lweldon

I own a repair shop. We have a can of Lysol spray for use after the "lysol people" leave. Their computers usually come from an environment where the cats, dogs, spills, and cigarette tar create a loathsome smelling tarry dust interior which smells up the shop as soon as the computer is turned on. Often the CPU fan has been so plugged the motherboard is fried.

Most, though, respond quickly to the canned air.


krisoccer
krisoccer

Some of these look like the inside of my furnace. Dust bunnies have no bounds!

tehurley
tehurley

I used to maintain about 50 computers.  At first the workstations sat on the floor and sucked in everything. I found an easy way to clean.  I disconnected, took outside, took the cover off and blew them out with my leaf blower. I did knock loose a cable or two over 15+ years and I did put my pocket screwdriver through some grids so as not to blow the bearings out on the fans. It is fast and efficient.  Also, be sure to station your body upwind or you will be dirtier than the computer.  I have taken many keyboards apart and washed in the sink with a scrub brush as the ladies liked to put hand lotion on just before they started the day. I have had some keyboards recently where this process does not work.

JeffDeWitt
JeffDeWitt

I used to work on RAMAC's (DASD boxes the size of a refrigerator).  I opened the door on one a dust rat, not bunny, fell out (it was a HUGE and nasty glob of dirt).  I think I spent an hour cleaning the thing before I could get to work on it.  As I recall the machine had spent the previous five years or so at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York.

But with all of that the thing worked perfectly.  I swear you could take a shotgun to one of those suckers and still get your data out.

Odd that this article from 2009 in making the rounds again.

mgravel, I had the same problem, try reloading the page, it worked for me.

mgravel
mgravel

I click on the arrows, nothing happens... what give?

Spannerz
Spannerz

Love these galleries, always nice to see that somewhere, other IT specialists also deal with dirty machines. Always gives me a feeling of satisfaction once they're cleaned, running quieter/cooler, the customer is happy, and my wallet is full. Haha!

wundrwoman30
wundrwoman30

I am a help desk tech so i deal with these things daily... I recently started a new job , with a boss that doesn't really work in IT.. Famous last words of my boss.. Computers can clean themselves.. He wont order me canned air so i have to improvise and use a vacuum cleaner....500 employees and i am running around with a vacuum cleaner.. I love my job

QldTech
QldTech

I used to deal with this sort of thing every day

fab
fab

a while ago a disk of a RAID unit failed.

upon removal, i noticed that the lower side of the failed disk was covered by many ovoid-shaped "things". I think they were eggs laid by some insect ot other bug. Incidentally, there were none on the working disk. I still have to understand whether the eggs were the cause of the disk failure, since many of them had been laid on the disk electronic board. maybe they were conductive enough to cause a short that led to the disk failure... but since the mess was rather disgusting I never went on with the investigation...

morke2
morke2

After 20 years in the computer industry I am amazed that this has even got a comment. Most sites do not ever open up their computers. Perhaps, my most memorable 'case opening' was a mouse nest complete with 4 baby mice only hours old in an old Compaq server.  In addition I once had to replace a motherboard on a server where mouse wee had corroded/rusted the pins on one of the chips.  So dust does not even rate.

ingvar_e
ingvar_e

I build my stationary computers. A trick to avoid 80% of the dust is to reverse the main chassie fan. Instead of sucking out air resulting in sucking in air from lots of other places I reverse it so it sucks in air. Then I place a filter on the outside where the fan is. Easy to clean,  Simple and effective

jcqs.bchrd
jcqs.bchrd

3 years ago I passed a suggestion to Lenovo for the fan of the laptops : make it easy to clean, meaning one click to acces the fan, remove and clean, then one clack to put it back.

Still waiting for the implementation...

grassi
grassi

a long time ago... I found a rat inside!!!

jayngel.cat
jayngel.cat

If I ever let my computer get like any of those above, I'd kill myself. I'm glad I married a computer techie. I'm a real nut when it comes to keeping my computer clean. Hubby does the cleaning for me every couple of months whether it needs it or not. I've seen loads of computers come in to our place to have them "fixed" When hubby opens them up and sees all the gook and gunk we automatically know what 3/4 of the problem is. If people love their computers so much, why don't they take care of them, or at least learn the do's and dont's of their computers. I've never had a problem with my computer, and that's just the way I like it.

jedmonds905
jedmonds905

Primary reason why I blow out my desktop's case twice a year, check all the cable, adapter card, and memory module connections and seating, run system clean up weekly, scan for viruses and malware, and backup my working files. This is a prime example of pay me now, or pay for it later. I did the same thing for the warehouse computers in a dusty environment for a previous employer. Nice company, but extremely cheap when it came to upgrading old systems. Don't really know if they appreciated the preventive maintenance.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Body shop dust is really sticky and thick. The old 133mhz computer running in the back room had nearly an inch of dust in it (one of those lay down computers with the monitor on top). Fortunately, the system was fanless and only had a tiny heatsink on the processor. It never got hot. The dust probably helped keep it warm in the winter, the back room had had its heating lines broken for a couple of years and in the winter it was often -10C in there, colder if the door was closed. +30C in the summer, no air-conditioning. I don't know what happened to that machine, I think we sold it in a garage sale in 2010 still working perfectly. You can just imagine the keyboard and mouse..... with everyone touching it with the grease, paint, dust, etc. It was truly disgusting.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Seriously, that's of my computer

sightsandsounds
sightsandsounds

Come On,,, We now have liquid cooled pcs, Just Design, ( and Patent ) a box that has filters "replaceable" at the air inflow of the PC,, DUH !

jose.noriega
jose.noriega

I've seen some of those wonderful entities inside computers (dust, insects, etc.) while servicing them. And, in the tropic (or in a boat) you get oxide and rust. And that, my friends, means a certain repair of some sort.

lennyblake
lennyblake

I supported an industrial environment in the American West several years ago, very dry conditions, very dusty......when we opened cases to make upgrades, the dust literally was compacted so much that it filled all the spaces inside the case, you had to pull it out by the hand fulls.

murraye3
murraye3

Automotive shop with black soot and dust bunny colonies.... Or that dentist office using the same equipment for 11 years and wondered why that tape back stopped working using the original tape....

tfbonline
tfbonline

These are all fairly standard, not by any means the worst. I've seem motherboards covered in over 3/4" of muck. The absolute worst though was one (actually two) from a chinese takeaway where the grease from frying had entered the computers and the dust was stuck to that! They asked me to clean it, I tried with some isopropanol but that wouldn't even touch it. I finally gave up, returned the computers to the customers and told them "no charge" get a new one, but not from me!

dukethepcdr
dukethepcdr

For years and years, I've been telling friends, family and customers to clean their computers at least once a year. Thank you for making this article. I've posted it on my Facebook and sent via email it to people I know who aren't on FB. I've been cleaning computers for years and have seen horrors as bad and even worse than the ones in these pictures. I've even found roach colonies in them before. I'd add to this article that it is vitally important to wear an anti static wrist strap when they clean computers. Also, if they use any liquid at all, it needs to be the highest % or proof alcohol they can get their hands on so that it evaporates quickly. These precautions are fairly inexpensive but can save your computer. A $20 wrist strap will save your multi hundred dollar computer from static shock. If they have some one else do it for pay, they should only have someone do it who has CompTIA A+ certs. Would you rather have a shade-tree mechanic or Mr. Goodwrench to take your car's engine apart and clean it?

andrew232006
andrew232006

I'd throw that keyboard out, or burn it.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Having done many service calls as a subcontractor for an computer company that built their own POS for resturants and bars, I dug many a foreign object from units. Cockroaches and dead mice become the most horrifying when they begin to offer you food and drink while you work. I don't think so, thanks. UUGGHH. I'll never eat there, or any number of chains of cantinas. Goodness, don't let the patron see that. I participated in a fire investigation that the cause was centered in a PC roll around cabinet. Turned out a mouse got in and built a nest of tractor fed paper in the power supply of the printer. Caught a box of fanfold paper on fire and his cremated remains were still hanging over the heatsink. This was at a pesticide manufacturer and shows just how good their products are.

popper
popper

I was thinking the same thing, as I had a heavy smoker bring his computer in one day so I could look at it for him. It was disgusting, yellow, sticky and dust filled.

mark
mark

Opening a computer from a heavy smoker and finding the inside is covered with a sticky yellow film of tar and nicotine. We once opened a case and there was a perfect spiders web spun behind the case with dead bugs in it.

banzairunner
banzairunner

For the real bad machines I use my leaf blower! Don't laugh. It's amazing! But be careful and make sure you lean the case up against something. You don't want to do it indoors nor near any loose gravel. Also lean it upwards like against a wall or railing that way you don't pick up anything in the air flow that will fly into the case and cause damage. Start with the blower on low and don't hold it close. As you see progress being made and you're sure that the air flow won't pick up anything to harm the PC, move in a little closer. Move the blower around. There's no where for the dust to hide! It cleans out a PC in less than a minute! Hasn't failed me yet and cheaper than canned air! Also I don't have to pay for a compressor.

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

Was a computer used by a dog trainer/kennel. I opened up a constantly overheating computer to find a layer of Dog hair and Dust 1 inch thick. It came off in single matted sheet. I have no idea how that machine didn't burn out, but it sure as hell got a lot faster after I removed it. I had to have a shower after that call, I felt itchy for quite a while!

sarai1313
sarai1313

friend call said hi system was acting up .pull the cover and the whole machine was a block of dust bunnys you could not see anything but this gray mass filling the whole thing

ChiefEngr
ChiefEngr

I think we can agree that we've all found some pretty disgusting things inside (and outside) various computers. My worst was on a system that shutting down for overheating. When I opened the case and got past all the grime, I found that something was entwined in the processor fan and keeping it from running. As I began to free it from the fan, I realized it was a condom. I don't know why. I don't want to know why. A bottle of hand sanitizer later and it still creeps me out to think about it. But I did charge double for the service.

Tim_Lasson
Tim_Lasson

..the obligatory summer "fluff piece"?

jasonahoughton
jasonahoughton

While those are pretty bad (especially the first picture), ive actually had worse. I went to a persons house because their desktop PC had stopped working. I knew it was going to be bad when I could see something very much like the first picture without opening the case. To cut a long story short, it had dust, dog hair, and what looked like talc. the house was humid, so the moisture had allowed all of that to congeal and get hard as the PC was pulling the air through the case. It was like cement. opening the case, that "cement" was on any area that had an opening, no matter how small. Every fan had it in there to the point none of the fans worked. In some places it was (and im not joking) between 1 inch and 1.5 inches deep. The PC stopped not from over heating, but ants had made a nest in the Power supply, and some lucky ant slept in the wrong place. That was the desktop PC. The keyboard was another matter. it had so much disgusting human stuff (finger nails & boogers for a start) and also bit of food, that most of the keys stuck a little (the user said she was used to it and didnt mind it, figure that out) I touched a few keys and my finger tip would stick to the keys! I pulled my own keyboard out of my bag. Funny thing, she wasnt embarrassed a bit about how disgusting it was. it took me several hours to clean it up before i could even replace the PSU. She paid me in cash, and yes, the money was really filthy, covered in who knows what.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

I work in a printing plant. Most of our machines are run by servers that are basically PC's in a hard, multiventilated industrial casing. They have multiple inlet filters nevertheless we clean them every 2-3 months. You wouldn't believe the paper lint we take out of them. Same goes for the office computers.

sura.jan
sura.jan

to suck so much dust from outside when circulating air inside the case to cool disks. Take the cover of the old CD drive, drill 2 holes near the back edge for holding the fan on one side and fasten assembly to the free 5inch slot. The fan blows slantwise down to the disks in the 31/2 slot. Two screws to hold the fan are enough. Circulating air is cooled partly through the case walls, partly refreshed by the fan in the power supply.

BruceAnd
BruceAnd

@wundrwoman30

As an electrical engineer with more years experience than most IT techs are old, canned air or air compressors are the last thing you want to use to clean electronic equipment.  The blast of air can blow dirt into all those small places you absolutely do NOT want it.  Like the pc slot connectors, RAM connectors, optical drives, and yes even hard drive thru the wee small vent hole.

Spannerz
Spannerz

@jcqs.bchrd I would absolutely love to see this implemented in laptops and desktops... Even if it was a simple tray-designed filter!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen moderator

It's a VW, not a GM And how old is the A+ cert?. Mine is over ten years old and although I've done the best I can, I haven't had to stay current because it's not relevant to my job. How many other people are in that same boat? If I wasn't going to do the work myself, I'd look for a good electronics shop rather than take the PC to some tech with an A+, but no understanding of why the PC works the way it does.