Today, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about dusting your PC. This includes how dust accumulates there, to begin with, how often you should be doing it, and yes, a photographed step-by-step guide to dusting your PC yourself.
How Does Dust Accumulate Inside a PC?
Dust accumulates at key exit and entry points to your PC, as well as internal corners and nooks and crannies.
GPU and CPU heatsinks are also known as spots of dust accumulation since their metallic fin designs are prone to capturing dust after long periods of time.
Your case’s dust filters should also have dust accumulated- the amount depending on how long it’s been since you last dusted your PC.
Over time, some dust will find its way pretty much everywhere inside of an old PC. As long as it doesn’t end up caked-on and solidified, though, you’re probably fine and can still easily clean it off.
How Often Should You Dust Your PC?
To maintain optimal cooling performance and prevent troublesome dust buildup, giving your PC a thorough dusting every 3-6 months should do you well.
In my case (for the example images later on in this article), I did…not do this, but fortunately, most of the excess dust was contained by my dust filter.
Generally speaking, dust takes a pretty long time to become problematic, and the frequency with which you’ll need to dust your PC will likely depend on a few different factors, especially your climate and how dusty or pollen-y it gets.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the tutorial proper:
How To Clean Dust From Your PC Correctly
1. Completely power off the PC, and get a can of compressed air
Before you get started, make sure you have a can of compressed air to work with.
So, the first and most important step, completely power off your PC. This means doing a full Shut Down, waiting for any fans to stop spinning afterward, and then switching off and unplugging your Power Supply. Unplug everything else while you’re at it.
Next, take your PC and find a nice static-free environment where you can work on it in peace.
2. Work in a static-free environment and properly ground yourself
A “static-free environment” basically means that your PC and the surface you’re standing on won’t conduct electricity. Wood and tile are fine for this, but carpet is not. (Beware that your tempered glass side panel breaks easily on a tile or ceramic floor!)
You can still do it standing on the carpet if you have an anti-static wristband and are properly grounded, but I generally wouldn’t recommend it.
For most people, I’d recommend doing this in your kitchen or off your back porch if you have a clean surface to work on there.
Below, I’ve picked my prep counter in my kitchen for this job.
With your workspace confirmed, it’s time to take off your panels and remove your GPU from your chassis.
3. Remove panels and GPU
With your panels and GPU removed, you now have the time to survey the dust accumulation over time in all of its horrific glory.
Honestly, mine isn’t that bad considering how long it’s been since I last dusted this PC, enough that I’m almost considering just putting everything back on—
Okay, actually, it seems like this might be long overdue. Let’s get to work!
4. Dust the boards and cooling fans of your PC
So, most of the dusting process is actually pretty straightforward. Holding your can of compressed air at a slightly downward angle, you’ll mostly be free to blast dust off the surfaces of your PC.
However, be extra cautious around your case fans, GPU cooling fans, and CPU cooling fans.
Spraying compressed air on these without holding them in place can and will damage their bearings, and you don’t want that.
Using a finger to hold the fan blades in place while using your other hand to blast dust will do fine here.
5. Clean caked-on dust from dust filters and other surfaces
Some surfaces inside your PC, and especially your dust filters, will accumulate quite a lot of dust. Once that happens, an air duster may not actually be able to blast off that dust all on its lonesome.
For dust filters, you can take a paper towel or a similar implement in order to wipe off the accumulated dust.
If you have caked-on dust on an actual PCB, however, I wouldn’t recommend paper towels. Instead, use a paintbrush or a microfiber cloth to clean these surfaces.
Paper towels run the risk, however slim, of small particles getting left on your hardware if used directly on a PCB. Don’t do that!
6. Dust the corners and rest of your PC
Once you’ve removed all caked-on dust and done your general surface-blasting, it’s time to take care of the corners and any nooks and crannies you might have missed before.
This is the final pass before you put everything back together, so be thorough!
Now my cable management compartment is happy and dust-free. Time to put it back together!
7. Finish and Clean
Once you’ve re-assembled everything, be sure to clean the surface where you worked to get rid of the excess dust that definitely fell onto it while you were working.
If you did this indoors, you’ll also want to sweep the floor where you worked– another reason to do this on wood or tile, as a flat surface will be easier to sweep any accumulated dust off of.
Now, all you need to do is hook everything back up and get your PC running again.
Enjoy your dust-free computer!
Does dusting my PC prevent it from thermal throttling?
As long as your thermal paste hasn’t expired (which is a much more severe and direct cause of thermal throttling), yeah!
Clearing up your PC’s airflow is literally letting it breathe, and a PC that can breathe is a PC that can keep itself cooler, and longer, without needing to thermal throttle itself to prevent dangerous overheating.
There is a bit more that goes into thermal throttling than just dusting your PC, though.
Especially if your thermal throttling continues after following this guide, I recommend heading over to my Thermal Throttling Guide to identify and fix other potential causes of thermal throttling within your PC.
Does improving my PC’s airflow increase or reduce dust buildup?
Depends on your airflow configuration!
No airflow configuration is immune to dust buildup, but positive pressure configurations generally enjoy better airflow and less dust buildup.
Negative pressure configurations (where there is more exhaust than intake, for whatever reason) tend to have a bit of a vacuum effect that sucks dust in pretty much everywhere there’s a gap inside your PC, whereas a positive pressure configuration will do a better job of keeping air flowing in a single direction out of your PC.
Both airflow configurations will accumulate dust over time, but negative pressure will do faster and in more places. Be mindful of this if you don’t have or can’t have a positive pressure configuration.
My NZXT H210 is actually stuck with a negative pressure configuration until I can replace the front panel with mesh and adjust my fan placement accordingly, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. I should just dust it more often than I do.
Over to You
And that’s all! Dusting your PC is a pretty easy and painless process most of the time. The hardest part is probably removing your graphics card, but even that should take less than a minute in most scenarios.
Until then or until next time, stay dust-free.