10-point cleaning checklist for keeping equipment healthy

Boring it may be, but cleaning is an essential part of any regular system maintenance schedule. You can stretch equipment life, reduce repairs and service calls, and keep users happier by periodically running through the steps on this list.

Boring it may be, but cleaning is an essential part of any regular system maintenance schedule. You can stretch equipment life, reduce repairs and service calls, and keep users happier by periodically running through the steps on this list.

Even if you support PCs in a spanking clean environment, your equipment will accumulate dust -- the arch-enemy of electronics. Of course, most environments fall well short of spanking clean. So while it doesn't have the glamour of, say, protecting your company from a crippling security breach, regularly cleaning PC equipment plays a big part in preserving your systems. The following list covers 10 best practices for keeping dust at bay and equipment functioning optimally.

Note: This list is also available as a PDF download.

1: Clean the exterior

Keeping the environment clean via regular dusting and vacuuming will help reduce the amount of crud that finds its way into your equipment. It's not enough -- but it's a start. Many experts also advise that you keep equipment off the floor, where the dust is most likely to settle.

Along with patrolling the environment, regularly clean the exterior of the PC case, cooling vents, and IO ports. You can use a dry cloth to dust the case, and a water-dampened cloth to wipe it clean. If the surface has gotten sticky, go over it with a lint-free cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol. For removing dust and debris from the cooling vents and ports, a batter-powered vacuum cleaner will come in handy.

The monitor case will benefit from the same treatment: Dust and wipe it down as needed. And don't forget to remove dust buildup from the monitor vents. A battery-powered vac does the trick here, too.

2: Clean the display device

Use a cleaner on the surface of the display unit to remove fingerprints, dust, and/or other imperfections on the screen. Always spray the cleaner on a cloth to clean a monitor rather then spraying cleaner directly on the screen. If you're cleaning an LCD, use a product designed for that purpose and don't press too hard on the screen.

3: Degunk the keyboard and mouse

Paperclips, staples, hair, and food can collect beneath the keys, preventing them from working properly. The keyboard can become unsightly and even send erroneous keystrokes if foreign particles become lodged between keys. Use a dust vacuum and the alcohol/water solution to clean these dust- and dirt-collecting components.

Mice can also get grungy in a hurry. Clean the exterior and cord with cleaning wipes. For a rollerball mouse, remove the ball and wipe it clean. You can use an alcohol-dipped cotton swab to clean the rollers inside the mouse. To prevent a laser or optical mouse from becoming sluggish and unresponsive, drag it down and then across a sheet of white paper to rub the accumulated dust and wax from the contact points on the bottom.

4: Perform a periodic full system cleaning

Take the system apart and have a canister of canned air available. Remove all dust and clean the external and internal surfaces of the computer to get rid of dust and any other particles. Don't neglect the power supply and CPU fans, which are especially prone to accumulating dust. If you do not have an electronics cleaning product, you can make a simple solution of 1:1 rubbing alcohol and water for external surfaces. Be sure to unplug the electronic components when introducing a solution and allow it to dry fully. As always, when working inside the case, make sure you dissipate static electricity.

5: Run a CD-ROM/DVD cleaner

As with audio systems, CD-ROM/DVD drives can be cleaned with special kits and/or discs. This is especially useful if you are in a dusty environment.

6: Clean the floppy drive with canned air

Okay, you may not run across too many floppy drives. But when you do, a good blast of air can remove dust collections inside them. Use covers/panels if available to help keep dust out of the drives.

7: Run a cleaning tape

If your systems have tape drives, run the cleaning tape through to keep the tape heads clean.

8: Keep it covered

Use a keyboard, CPU, and monitor cover to keep dust out of systems when not in use. If a system is used only partly during the day and turned off most other times, plastic covers can keep dust and airborne particulate out. Just be careful not to cover up a powered-on system in a way that will block airflow, as this may cause thermal damage.

9: Don't overlook the surge protector

Most surge protectors lay forgotten on the floor. Dust bunnies, popcorn, even paper clips congregate around them. The dust that accumulates there could cause a fire. Disconnect the surge protector from the wall outlet and blow it off before reconnecting the PC.

10: Clean the printer

Printers are often overlooked during PC cleaning time, but they need a little bit of care as well. Obviously, different kinds of printers will need different kinds of attention. You should refer to the manufacturer's instructions before diving into the guts of the equipment. Laser printers should be blown out each time the toner is replaced. Many printers come with the ability to clean themselves. If yours do, clean the print heads according to the manufacturer's instructions.

A little spit and polish

Cleaning PCs may not be the most interesting or challenging part of your job, but it can improve performance and stretch the life of your equipment. It's best to set up a schedule to clean all the systems on your network on a regular basis. This can translate into happier, more productive users, fewer repairs and replacements, and less downtime.