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Does Dust Really Damage Computers?

I’ve Always Wanted To Know:

Does Dust Really Damage Computers?


Have you ever been told that if you don’t keep your computer clean, you’ll damage it? Can dust and dirt really hurt a computer, or is this an old tech tale? If it does cause damage, how and what can you do to prevent it? Furthermore, are there any signs of damage and is any of it repairable?

So can dust really damage your computer? The simple answer is: Yes. Dust and debris primarily causes damage to your computer by interfering with fans and functioning as insulation, causing your computer to heat up. High levels of heat can cause early failure of components, and excessive, intense heat can cause critical components to fail unexpectedly. Dust can also interfere with the electrical connections on ports and connections, causing erratic results.

So how do you clean a computer? The simplest way is to use compressed air, or “air in a can” products. Start by taking your computer outside or into a well-ventilated area of the house. If your computer is a desktop, remove the side access panel. If your computer is a laptop, place the laptop screen side down. Use the compressed air to spray out all dust, fans, ports and connections.

You can also use a vacuum cleaner to clean out larger masses of dust and a VERY lightly damp (no water leaking/dripping) cloth to wipe fan blades and exterior plastic pieces. You can also use Swiffer/liquid-free dusting cloths to remove dust from harder-to-reach spaces, as long as they do not lint/break apart.

What are the signs your PC needs to be cleaned? When fans run at higher speeds (louder) than they’ve run in the past doing the same task, this can be a sign that heat is not being removed as efficiently. Most computers will also have a built-in CPU temperature probe, and you can use a program such as CoreTemp [1]to see your CPU’s current temperature. This temperature is for the processor alone, and will fluctuate as you run programs. You should base your temperatures on the idle CPU temperature reached five minutes after booting up, when your computer isn’t running any programs. A good CPU temperature will not exceed 55 degrees Celsius idle, and the lower the temperature is, the better. Most CPU’s have a tjunction or thermal cutoff, and if your computer is running near that thermal cutoff, it’s probably a sign of a failed fan or exceedingly dirty interior. You can also check hard drive temperatures by running a program such as CrystalDiskInfo [2]. A good temperature range is 20 degrees Celsius to 55 degrees Celsius.

What if you have dust-related damage? If you do have component failure due to dust damage (such as a fan failing or a power supply), you can usually have those components replaced by a trained PC technician. Expect to pay for both parts and labor. Laptop components are generally most expensive and require more time to repair.

What can you do to prevent dust damage? The simple way is to keep your PC clean. Vacuum around your computer, and spray it out every few months (I do it in spring/fall, but if you have a pet, do it more frequently). If you keep your PC clean, it’ll run at its coolest temperature and last the longest.


P.S. Don’t forget a surge protector! The #1 cause of computer failure is electrical damage, so protect it with a good surge strip.

Do you have a general technology or electronics question you always wanted to know like “How does a Microwave work?” or “Why do LED’s last so long?” Write me at Tim@WorldStart.com [3] and your question may be answered in an upcoming “I Always Wanted To Know.” For specific computer support questions ask our writers by clicking here [4].