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Ken Fermoyle &

The Art of Computer Maintenance

Keep It Clean! (Part 1)

A cardinal rule of computer maintenance

If cleanliness is next to godliness, we computer users are an irreverent lot! That's the considered opinion of many computer maintenance and repair specialists.

Dennis Orloff, a computer service engineer in Southern California for more than 10 years, is one. Lyle Woods, who services computer equipment in Victoria, British Columbia, is another. Technicians I know in several L.A. area computer shops agreed that dirty equipment is a common problem.

Time after time when he was called in to fix failed machines, Orloff reports that he had to tell clients: "It's not broken. It's dirty!"

"Computers are a magnet to dirt; they can suck in dust from the air and major parts that need to be kept cool get coated with it. The result is overheating and poor performance, data loss, or even system breakdowns," notes Woods, honcho at the aptly named Ounce of Prevention Computer Services, (, which now has franchises across Canada.

"I've seen computers so full of dustballs the motherboard and central processing unit overheats, the computer starts to act erratically and fries itself," he said. "I've also found everything from staples, fingernails, muffin crumbs, paperclips, bugs, skin and even mouse droppings inside keyboards."

According to Woods, ink-jet printers can be clogged with ink and the fans on laser printers can be so full of toner and dust they won't work anymore: "A laser printer creates a lot of heat to melt the toner so it will adhere to paper. If the fan isn't working, there can be paper jams or even failure of the circuit in the laser, which means costly repairs." Several service technicians told me of finding roaches that got into computers and caused short circuits, frying both them and the computers!

"There is a common misconception among individual and corporate computer users that their machines are indestructible," says Orloff. "They don't realize that dust residues, skin oils and adverse environmental conditions do a lot of harm" to sensitive electronics and plastic materials.

Experts agree that simple cleanliness and regular maintenance can mean longer, trouble-free life for computers, peripherals, and other office machines. It doesn't require a lot of time or money, either.

All it takes is perhaps an hour of your time, a vacuum cleaner, CD and disk drive cleaners, compressed air duster, brushes, swabs, plus cleaning products available at most large computer and office supply stores, or via mail order.

Orloff started ComputerBath, a company that offers a line of products designed to cover most cleaning needs. He developed Power Cleaner, a non-flammable, non-butyl, wipe-on wipe-off formula that "cleans, removes stains and shines, all in one step." The firm's Starter Kit ($12) includes a can of Power Cleaner, special two-sided cleaning cloth, keyboard brush and long swabs for hard-to-reach places.

ComputerBath also has the most complete set of tools on the market in its Comprehensive Maintenance Kit ($49.95). Check for details. (The Marine Corps Information Systems requested a rugged "all-terrain" version for use in the field.) User Groups might consider investing in the kit and recouping its cost by having periodic "Keep It Clean" sessions in which members' computers are cleaned for a modest $5 to $10.fee.

Other companies that sell computer cleaning and maintenance product include ACL Staticide (, Allsop (, Kensington (, Keysan ( PerfectData (,

Never use ammonia-based or abrasive household cleaning products on your computers or other office equipment!

Start your cleanup by shutting off power. Dust computer system and work surfaces, including under the monitor, keyboard, printer, etc. Vacuum around the work area,. Vacuum vents on the computer case and all peripherals. Remove the case cover and ground yourself by touching the metal computer chassis or, even better, wear a grounding strap.

Blow out all debris from inside the case with a compressed air duster, being careful not to damage any of the wiring or electronic components. Concentrate on the vents, fan(s), power supply, diskette and CD-ROM drive openings. Use long cotton swabs to get into crevices. Replace case cover.

Unplug your keyboard, turn it upside down and shake gently, then use a brush to clean between the keys. Remove screws that hold on the bottom and blow out dust and debris from the innards with the air duster. Replace the back. Follow a similar procedure with your mouse or trackball, except that you should use swabs and a safe cleaner made for the job to clean the ball and positioning rollers.

Clean your printer, too. Follow directions in your User Manual because different types of printers require different care. (This could be a subject for a future column if enough readers are interested.)

Now that the insides are clean, go over the exteriors. A cleaning product like ComputerBath should not be sprayed directly on surfaces. Spray it on a cleaning cloth, wipe on, then wipe off. Stubborn stains may require a second application.

Use a drive cleaner disk to clean floppy drive heads every three to six months, depending on system usage. Don't overdo this or it might cause premature drive head wear.

Finally, make sure there are no kinks in cables and cords, and that all plugs and connectors are still properly seated after being disturbed during the cleaning process..

Computers used in homes with pets may need special care, because fur from the animals can build up on or inside air intakes. One technician told me of a customer who had a Border Collie that curled up at her feet while she used her computer.

"She thought it was cute-until one day her system acted up and she called me in to see what was wrong. As soon as I pulled the mid-tower case out from under her desk I could see the problem. Dog hair had been sucked into the case and was clogging both the air intake areas and the fan cage! I cleaned it out well and everything was fine. She had called me soon enough to avoid permanent damage, though her CPU's life might have been shortened by a few months."

Keep this in mind if you have a pet. Keep it out of your computer room and check your system regularly to be sure they are free of fur or hair balls.

Keeping your system clean takes only a few hours a year, but could add years to its life!

Copyright 1997 by Ken Fermoyle

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

December, 1998

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN