Zen and the Art of Laptop Maintenance

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Zen and the Art of Laptop Maintenance
Keep a motorcycle in good condition, and it will last longer and serve you better. The same goes for computers—especially laptops, which suffer a lot of wear and tear during travel and daily use. To keep your laptop looking shiny and running well as long as possible, you should clean the chassis and perform some basic maintenance periodically. In this guide, you’ll discover how to clean your laptop, keep the components tight and secure, evaluate the battery, and tidy up the operating system and hard drive to help increase performance.

Cleaning the Exterior, Screen, and Keyboard

Every three months or so, you should clean off the dirt, dust, fingerprints, residue, food particles, and other detritus that your laptop has accumulated during its travels. Concentrate on the outer case, the LCD screen, the keyboard (and touchpad, if one exists), the ports, and the cooling vents.

First, gather your cleaning supplies. Ideally you want a lint-free cloth (no rough or lint-harboring materials such as paper towels or washcloths), a can of compressed air, and a cleaning solution. If you have a few bucks to spare, you can buy cleaning solutions specially formulated for tech products and LCD screens at most electronics and general-merchandise stores. To save some cash, you can homebrew your own cleaning solution by mixing distilled water and white vinegar, fifty-fifty. Instead of distilled water you could use tap or bottled water, but some people say that it can leave mineral spots (though I haven’t had a problem with it).

If you’ve just knocked a full coffee cup or soda can onto your laptop, refer to our guide to cleaning a spill on a laptop for the emergency steps you should take.

A few words of caution before you start: Never use harsh chemicals such as bleach or even a general household cleaner on your laptop, as that could damage the case finish or LCD screen. Never spray any cleaning solution directly onto the laptop, either; instead, dampen a cloth with the cleaning solution and gently apply it to the case. Also, never use a can of compressed air after shaking it, and never hold it in any position other than upright when spraying, or else the chemicals in the can could burst out and cause damage. Finally, shut down the laptop and remove the battery from the bottom before cleaning.

Zen and the Art of Laptop Maintenance
For best results, start by spraying the compressed air to clean out the ports, vents, keyboard, and other cracks; dirt, grime, and food particles tend to be easier to dislodge when dry. Again, when blowing the air, keep the can straight and upright. For best results, sit down at a table and carefully hold your laptop while slowly turning it around. That way you should blow air at the laptop surface or into cracks and openings at an angle so that the particles blow out instead of into your laptop.

Next, apply the cleaning solution. Start with the LCD screen and the touchpad (if your laptop has one), since they are the most sensitive areas of your laptop's chassis. Lightly dampen the lint-free cloth with your homebrewed or store-bought cleaning solution, and gently wipe the screen and touchpad. For the remainder of the laptop, you could dampen the cloth a bit more and give it a little elbow grease, but be sure not to get liquid inside the case. Also, try to avoid wetting or wiping the manufacturer or Windows stickers, so that they stay readable (you never know when you might need to redeem the serial codes to obtain technical support or to reactivate Windows).

When removing the laptop's keyboard, watch for data cables that may run between the laptop cover and the keyboard.

If you have a few sticky keys on the keyboard, you can try to remove and clean them (as well as the surface underneath) to get them working smoothly again. Use a small flat-head screwdriver or a butter knife to pry them up carefully. Though most laptop keyboards are designed for this kind of disassembly, don’t apply excessive pressure to the keys in case they aren’t meant to be removed. If you encounter undue resistance, check your laptop's documentation to verify whether the keys can be removed, and whether the manufacturer suggests a better way to do so.

To thoroughly clean removed keys, you can douse them in the cleaning solution, but make sure they're completely dry before reinserting them. For the surface beneath the keys on the laptop, and under the removed keys, you may have to use a toothpick or a similar pointy object to scrape off any sticky mess.

If you’re missing keys, or if too many are sticky or damaged, consider replacing the entire keyboard. Usually you can find them online priced from $10 to $30; if you're ready to try swapping keyboards yourself, read through our guide to learn how to replace your laptop keyboard.

Now that the laptop's case is clean, ensure that the machine is completely dry and assembled before reinserting the battery and turning the system back on.

Next Page: Tightening the Screws, Replacing the Battery, and Checking the System

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