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Ask Slashdot: Dealing With Electrostatic Contamination? 197

Posted by timothy
from the oh-is-that-what-the-kids-are-calling-it-now dept.
interval1066 writes "I've generally made it a practice to blow the dust out of my devices 1) when I remember to do so 2) after about 3 or so years of use 3) when I can get inside the case. My monitor is very thin and difficult to open. When I did finally crack it open I didn't really notice a whole lot of dust, but I blew the thing out anyway and put it back together, and it's doing ok, as far as I can tell. I'd be interested in knowing other Slashdotters' experiences with maintaining their devices in this way and where possible. And I actually extending the life of my devices, or am I just wasting my time?"
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Ask Slashdot: Dealing With Electrostatic Contamination?

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  • For the most part (Score:4, Insightful)

    by maxdamage (615250) * on Thursday March 21, 2013 @04:02PM (#43238475) Journal
    For the most part I find that only devices that have forced air cooling, aka fans, have issues with dust. And in those cases it is defiantly a good idea to clean them out regularly as overheating is defiantly an issue with enough dust accumulation. You would be amazed the amount of dust that will accumulate in a PC, even after a few years. In the case of computer cases you can get filters that help a lot however you need to make sure you clean the filters out or you will just be making the situation worse.
    • by Rob Riggs (6418) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @04:20PM (#43238699) Homepage Journal

      in those cases it is defiantly a good idea to clean them out regularly

      I defiantly clean out all of my electronics, voiding warranties left and right.

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)

        Nice play on the spelling error.

        Unfortunately, TFA is still moronic. The value of the component, monetary and sentimental, as well as frequency of use, should be suggestive of the level of care for it.

      • Hehehe...don't think they caught what you did...I was thinking of something clever then I gave up when I read your post. Touche!
    • by ganjadude (952775)
      on another note, I have gotten PCS over the years that were working but loaded with dust. cleaning it out actually caused them to stop working, most likely due to static. Regularly cleaning them is the best idea (for a PC) but sometimes if it gets REALLY bad, its better to just leave it, in my experience anyway
      • by omnichad (1198475)

        What did you use to blast the dust out? Some vacuums and air compressors generate too much static electricity for cleaning dust with.

        • by ganjadude (952775)
          air blaster from office depot usually
        • by Synerg1y (2169962)

          What works for me is... I vacuum weekly or at least I try, I tend to grab the dust off the fronts of the air fan vents weekly while doing this, and then every once in a great while I'll dust the inside, the former activity extends the duration of not doing the latter, which involves me unplugging a ton of shit and going outside.

          I don't have time anymore, but I used to do stuff like take off the heatsink to run it under some water since dust likes to stick to it and not come off from air. I use an after mar

      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        I have gotten PCS over the years that were working but loaded with dust. cleaning it out actually caused them to stop working, most likely due to static.

        As the other person commented already, vacuum cleaners are likely to create a lot of static, as they have plastic parts and lots of static-inducing movement of motors. Did you actually touch the board etc. with the nozzle of the vacuum?

        I'd consider blowing or sucking high pressure air from a vacuum cleaner (or similar) into a computer case with the nozzle at a moderate (safe) distance from physical contact. (Maybe even *that* is a crap idea). But I sure as hell *wouldn't* want to be actually poking the no

        • The rubbing of the air against the insulating plastic nozzle is what causes the static AFAIK.

          You can get special vacuums with conductive nozzles that don't accumulate static, but I just tend to just use canned air these days.

          • by kermidge (2221646)

            For a PC, turn the power off, leave the cord in place - it's grounded. Ground yourself to the case - an anti-static wrist snap works well. In the interest of maybe over-done prudence I don't let the vacuum cleaner nozzle touch the innards. Seems to work well. Do not let the fans spin freely. After the vacuuming, one might then use an air compressor - filtered - to blow out the rest of the dust, especially handy for PSUs.

            For CRT monitors, compressed air is good IFF it's dry air - you don't want water or

            • better trick to use is

              1 get a spare extension cord a knife and a roll of blue electrical tape

              2 cut the jacket open on your cord somewhere in the middle (where it will be noticed if you are on either end)

              3 then very carefully cut the HOT and Neutral lines and remove about 2 inches of the hot line and 3 inches of the Neutral line
              (note DO NOT CUT THE GROUND/EARTHING LINE)

              4 fold back all four ends enough to bind them with tape (cover the bare wire)

              5 tape the jacket shut

              You now have a cord that is guaranteed to

    • by EdZ (755139) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @06:34PM (#43240313)
      Clean the fan? Easier said than done [youtube.com].
    • by mrmeval (662166)

      I agree. I would add that a lot of consumer electronics makes no effort to allow the user to prevent dust and dirt contamination. I've installed heat exchanger boxes for PCs used in industrial environments. They have dry chilled filtered air pumped in though they may or may not have air flow or thermal monitoring they usually don't need it.

      I've done something similar for a home theater server and equipment setup using a dedicated room which has a partition that holds an AC unit and hepafilter for incoming a

    • "For the most part I find that only devices that have forced air cooling, aka fans, have issues with dust."

      Nonsense. Anything that generates a high voltage can have problems with dust. Have you ever cleaned the interior of an old CRT-style television?

      And monitors with fluorescent backlights (the majority of them until recently, and even many newer ones) generate high voltages.

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @04:08PM (#43238559)

    You, and the Slashdot editors that posted this, are wasting everyone's time with this question. What's next, an Ask Slashdot for shaking crumbs and pubes out of your keyboard?

    • I believe there is something much more disgusting and sinister lurking within the keyboards of the Slashdot community. And I, for one, would love to know how to unclog my keyboard of said substance.

    • by X0563511 (793323) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @04:36PM (#43238865) Homepage Journal

      Dear Slashdot:

      I heard you could hide Ask Slashdot stories from my home page. Is this true?

    • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @04:36PM (#43238875)

      You, and the Slashdot editors that posted this, are wasting everyone's time with this question. What's next, an Ask Slashdot for shaking crumbs and pubes out of your keyboard?

      Let me get this straight. You read an article you don't like, take the time to go into the comments and post how much you don't like the question. Then you accuse others of wasting YOUR time.

      Doesn't seem like your time is particularly valuable, so I don't see why anyone should feel bad about wasting it. I'm wasting my time responding to you, but at least I'm taking responsibility for wasting it myself. I could have just as easily ignored it if I deemed my time was more valuable. Perhaps you should have done that with this article.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        With a headline of "dealing with electrostatic contamination" I was prepared for something along the lines of someone who has issues of constantly discharging static electricity, perhaps affecting a DIY clean room they're building or their workplace. Instead it's a fucking question about dust in a computer.

      • I'm wasting my time responding to you, but at least I'm taking responsibility for wasting it myself. I could have just as easily ignored it if I deemed my time was more valuable. Perhaps you should have done that with this article.

        At least you openly take responsibility instead of hiding behind the anonymous curtains. I'll +1 beer that.

      • If you care about something enough to not want to see it turn to crap, you have to exert effort on that thing to let it know when it's being crap.
        • If you care about something enough to not want to see it turn to crap, you have to exert effort on that thing to let it know when it's being crap.

          The problem is that you don't know if other people think it's crap. You're assuming your opinion is the important one. I'm tired of this attitude.

          If an article is crap, and it doesn't get enough views, slashdot editors will take notice, because it hurts their bottom line. If you think an article is crap, but other people are viewing it, then it's just not for you. Either way, whether it's legitimately crap, or just not to your tastes, the solution is to just not participate and wait for an article you d

          • I wouldn't say that you're assuming your opinion is the important one, merely just as important as everyone else posting. The moderators determine whether it is the important one.

            The question then becomes which is more effective to "teach" Slashdot that we think the article/question is crap, posting directly saying it (which still builds pagecount) or ignoring it altogether. You may be on to something though.
    • To be fair, if I had a question about getting crumbs and pubes out of my keyboard, I feel like Slashdot would be the perfect place to take it.

      I don't know if that means I have bad judgement or if Slashdot expanded the Idle section to be the only thing on the website. Given that I've only melted three keyboards getting aformentioned crumbs and pubes out of the keyboard, I'm guessing it's probably the latter. Yeah, definitely the latter.
    • I was going to ask how to get keyboards and crumbs out of my pubes, but now you've made me nervous about asking. Thanks a lot.
    • by Old Wolf (56093) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @08:09PM (#43241451)

      You, and the Slashdot editors that posted this, are wasting everyone's time with this question. What's next, an Ask Slashdot for shaking crumbs and pubes out of your keyboard?

      Don't be an ass. The question is whether cleaning dust out of a PC actually makes a difference or not. (or even whether it's harmful). Since most people don't do it and their PCs continue to work; and it's possible to give a component a static shock while trying to clean it, the question is reasonable.

  • I have found even non-moving electronic parts collect dust such as keyboards. Once a month cleaning seems about right.

    Computers are like dust magnets. CPU fans are the worst for dust getting caked on.

    Anything that helps keep your machine from working harder then it should be, should be done.

    To use a car analogy: Would you run a car without oil and grease? Or do you want your engine and wheels (ball bearings) to keep functioning smoothly just by doing a quick maintenance?

    Seriously, do we _really_ an quest

    • Or he could just keep the environment where his electronics are clean. Vacuum and dust frequently (the room I mean.) Keep the electronic equipment up at desk level or higher. Keep it out from under window screens.

      • by gQuigs (913879)

        Please elaborate about window screens. My computer is at desk level right next to a window.. What am I doing wrong and why?

        It does seem to get dusty fast...

        • Well, open windows would probably have been a better way to phrase it. Dust and dirt and particulates come in via open windows/window screens. They settle nearby.

    • by Pieroxy (222434)

      Every time you dust an electronic component you take the risk of destroying it. This is, IMO, utterly useless most of the time. Dust presents no danger, thus, there is no need to remove it.

      Unless you have filters in front of your fans (then you should clean them or they'll clog the intake pretty quickly) there really is NO NEED to clean anything. Yes, dust will accumulate. Big deal. Dust will NOT accumulate where it matters because there's a lot of air blowing at it. It will accumulate in remote corners of

      • Dust accumulates on CPU heatsinks. It doesn't take long (about a year in my case) for enough accumulation that the CPU starts throttling under a modest load.

        Temperature monitor utilities are freely available. When the CPU temperature hits 65 C for no obvious reason, it's time to clean out the dust or you'll soon need a new computer.

        • by Pieroxy (222434)

          I've had numerous computers and I have NEVER dusted off a heatsink. These computers have run for multiple years, in a garage, in a cupboard, under my desk, at work, at home, 24/7 for YEARS (some up to 7 years) and nope, no dust in any heatsink. Lots and lots of dust at the bottom of the case and/or behind the motherboard, but nowhere near a fan. That's excluding "slow" (aka silent) fans with grid on the site of the exhaust which seem to accumulate more dust, but still I have never had to clean anything.

          Of c

  • I was having problems with my system crashing under "load" (i.e. games) last year. I replaced the drivers, the video card and the power supply before I noticed that the CPU heart sink was stuffed with dust. One blast of canned air later and I haven't had a problem since. It had probably been two years since I installed that processor. So yes, there are times when it really does make a difference.
  • yes.
    if you're cracking your monitors open to dust them then you have plenty of time. if you don't want dust then get some dust free cleanroom to keep 'em. if you're cracking monitors open on standard basis then you got some really crappy monitors or you're just gasping for straws to do.. it's more likely you'll damage them by accident when doing it than it actually helping anything.

    if you're that bored go look some teardown / repair videos on youtube. dust is not going to be the thing that kills your caps,

    • by sbryant (93075)

      yes.

      No!

      Vents get blocked, causing overheating, more noise, and it ends up shortening the life of the machine.

      One colleague's laptop was getting slow and was quite loud. All the dust stopped it cooling properly, so the CPU kept getting switched to a low speed and the fan still couldn't pump enough air through. After hoovering out, it was quiet and quick!

      If you don't keep your machines clean, this happens:

      - Dirty, dirty PCs: The X-rated picture guide [theregister.co.uk]

      - Dirty PCs: How much filth can you take? [theregister.co.uk]

      - Filthy PCs: [theregister.co.uk]

  • Short and Sweet: YES, do take the time to clean your electronics. Below is my own subjective experience. YMMV

    When I was 17 I owned what was arguably the best laptop available to consumers in the whole world. It had the first edition of Pentium 4 mobile processors, a dvd burner and a 32 MEG (!) GeForce 4 mobile video card. I was the envy of all my friends. (I got it from the make a wish foundation after having cancer, they envied the laptop, not the cancer)

    A year later the CD drive seemed to stop readin

    • by Macgrrl (762836)

      It might not even have been dust. A small amount of oil from accidentally brushing a fingertip across the lens would be enough.

      I'm constantly amazed that phone cameras don't suffer more than they do from a degraded image capture due to fingerprints.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @04:36PM (#43238871) Homepage

    There's a tradeoff between lifespan and maintenance requirements. For fun, I restore old Teletype machines from the 1920s and 1930s. I have four of them running.

    A normal maintenance operation on early Teletypes is to remove the two electrical parts (the motor and the selector magnet) and soak the entire machine in cleaning solution to get rid of dust and dead oil. For machines in heavy use, Western Union did that annually. Then they had to be oiled again (there are several hundred oiling points and six pages of lubrication instructions), gears and sliding joints greased, the electrical parts re-installed, adjustment procedures performed, and the machines re-tested.

    Because of this design for maintainability, I've been able to take 80 year old machines that were covered with rust and dirt, and restore them to full operation. But who would put up with something today which required that kind of maintenance? Getting people to clean or change the filters on their desktop computers is difficult.

  • I manage a computer service department. We get a few computers every month suffering from nothing more than the thermal effects of dust build-up inside. Almost all of them come back fine after cleaning. However, we get a greater number of computers damaged by inept cleaning (though most of that is liquid damage). I personally have several pet parrots, and the dander spreads enough that I clean out my computers every six months.

    Take them apart, clean them, but ONLY if you are sure you can safely do so.

  • by Ivan Stepaniuk (1569563) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @04:53PM (#43239061)

    That's a golden rule.

    Most consumer equipment does not need or tolerate frequent maintenance. Cracking open an LCD monitor is not going to make it last longer, on the contrary, you are putting stress on plastic tabs (specially if it doesn't have screws), and on marginal quality harnesses and connectors that are meant to be assembled once.

  • I use desktop a lot and i feel you have to blow them out (canned air) and check on them when you hear the fan whine a certain way. My machine runs quiet and it should but if you don't hear anything and you get a Blue/black screen then the fan is dead.

  • Depends. (Score:5, Informative)

    by plover (150551) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @05:28PM (#43239477) Homepage Journal

    If you're cleaning them correctly and carefully, you'll extend their lives. Dust buildup is a leading cause of overheating in PCs, and heat is a real problem.

    But if you're cleaning them incorrectly, you'll shorten their lives. Any time you open the case, you're exposing sensitive components to risk, especially static damage. Not grounding yourself to the case when you're touching internal components will allow any static buildup on your body to discharge through a component. Vacuum cleaners draw so much air through them that they generate static electricity, particularly on the tip of a plastic nozzle. Static discharges at lower voltages are invisible and can cause latent damage that you may not immediately discover, but those weaknesses enable other normal stresses to destroy the chip.

    When you take it apart to clean it, you're exposing it to non-zero risk. You might make a mechanical mistake in assembly that impacts proper cooling. You might put the CPU heatsink on cockeyed, fail to equally tension all the heat sink mounting screws, or drape a stray cable across a fan and prevent it from turning. Failing to put airflow devices back in their correct place, or failing to reconnect the fans to the power cables, could reduce needed airflow. When you carry it to the workbench, you risk dropping it. I've seen people reuse old thermal paste or glob on a thick layer of new paste when replacing the CPU fan (the fan maker's pre-paste is usually horribly thick.) A bad thermal paste layer will insulate the CPU from the heat sink and cause overheating. Lots of the aftermarket CPU fans have really weird mounting hardware, and you need to be sure they're correctly mounted so they effectively transfer the heat. All these risks can be reduced by learning how to do it right, reading the directions, and taking appropriate precautions.

    One way to greatly reduce the risk of damage due to improper handling is to clean the machines only as often as necessary. Dust buildup is dependent on your particular environment. Fabrics, pets, dirt, open windows, flowering plants, carpeting, low humidity, high humidity, smoke, grease, cooking oils, hair sprays, colognes, all are factors that contribute to the build up of dust. So clean it after a year, and figure out what the cleaning schedule should be based on what you discover. It might be that annual cleanings are appropriate, or maybe you can wait two or three years.

    All heat is a problem. Direct thermal damage from too much heat is possible, of course, but temperature changes can cause problems too. Thermal expansion causes the mechanical motion of parts. Every material has a different coefficient of expansion, (e.g. aluminum expands more per degree than steel, plastic expands more than aluminum,) so as parts heat and cool, they tug at solder connections, screw mountings, and other interface points inside the case. Repeated heating and cooling cycles increase the possibility of damage. Keeping it clean will keep it cooler, reducing the amount of expansion and motion, and extending the life.

    Note that I'm not saying you'll ever drop your computer or ever reassemble it incorrectly, I'm pointing out that the act of cleaning it creates a risk greater than zero, and that the risk is zero when you are not cleaning it. And bigger risks lead to shorter lifespans.

  • Mix 1/4 liquid fabric softener (unscented if you do not want all your stuff to smell like laundry) to 3/4 water in a spray bottle.

    Lightly spray surfaces and wipe dry with a clean rag. The fabric softener conducts enough that it prevents static build up. (Proof by experiment: try on TV screen/enclosure of old tube TV, or spray floor where you used to get a shock to touch a door knob, or the seats of your car.)

    I've used this technique for my house's carpets (have to re-apply after each time we got the carpets

  • by BetterSense (1398915) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @07:27PM (#43240909)
    I work in a semiconductor clean-room. There are modern desktop systems, old 486 systems, and lots of industrial logic boards, cabinets chock full of arrays of huge computer fans...some of this stuff has been going since the early '90s and there isn't a spec of dust on them. It's pretty weird to see old computer equipment, including fans, that DOESN'T have even a trace of dust on it. Very strange.
  • You are wasting your time.

    Same could be said for those who defrag their hard drives weekly, etc.
  • Air quality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by denbesten (63853) on Thursday March 21, 2013 @08:12PM (#43241473)

    If you are having problems with fanless devices getting too dirty inside, you might want to think about improving your indoor air quality, if for no better reason, your own health.

    Cpus and other devices with fans stay much cleaner inside if they are not placed on the floor.

  • Here is what I have done with excellent results:

    My NAS had a small fan, blowing warm air outside it. I remount the fan so that it blows fresh air inside the NAS and I added a custom external filter on the intake. The filter doesn't limit the flow (big accordion shape and stockings-like fabric). I plugged some holes to optimize the flow.

    The NAS is sitting on the floor under the stairs, a rather dusty environnement...

    After two years I inspected the NAS, here are the results:

    - No dust soots the NAS, on some parts there is only a very thin grey layer of the finest particles that goes through the filter. It is much thinner than a coat of paint, nothing to worry about for the years to come.
    - Filter is easy to clean, no need to open anything.

    Also the NAS is actualy cooler, the hard drives report 35C instead of 37C, this is a side effect of the reverse flow which is more turbulent and effective for going everywhere to cool the parts.

  • Anecdotal: my hardware firewall (old Pentium II desktop) is on top of a box in the basement a few feet from the furnace. Last time I was in there checking a cable, I noticed maybe 1/16" worth of dust all over it. I haven't had it open since I built it.

    Electrostatic contamination probably shouldn't concern you.

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