Electrical equipment generates static, which means your computer is prone to attracting dust. Cleaning your computer as part of your weekly cleaning routine can help keep it running smoothly. A gentle duster, such as one made of lamb's wool, works very well. (Never use a vacuum cleaner on electronics, as it generates static, which can damage components.) The first step when cleaning is always to consult your owner's manual. The techniques that follow are very gentle and can probably be used safely on any machine, but only your manual can explain whether your particular machine may need special care. Always be sure to turn off your computer before you clean it.
Tools and Materials
Stock a computer-cleaning kit with everything you'll need for regular maintenance, including:
Spray bottle of distilled water
LCD or plasma cleaning kit
Soft, clean, lint-free cloths
Dry screen-cleaning sponge
Disposable screen-cleaning wipes
Can of compressed air
Spray bottle of 1 drop mild dishwashing liquid mixed with 1 quart water
Dampen a lint-free cloth with the dishwashing solution. Fold the cloth once or twice and wipe all surfaces -- including the vent grille in the back, which often gets clogged with dust -- to remove grime. Use cotton swabs to clean nooks and crannies.
Some desktop monitors use a cathode ray tube (CRT), while flat-screen monitors and handheld devices use more delicate liquid crystal displays (LCD), plasma, or other image-project technology.
Spray plain water on a microfiber cloth so it is only slightly moistened -- not dripping -- then wipe the screen. (Never spray anything directly onto any part of the computer as it can leak into the housing; likewise, never use solvents.) Polish afterward with a fresh, clean cloth. You can also use a dry screen-cleaning sponge or a disposable screen-cleaning wipe.
LCD and Plasma
Use a soft cloth and a spray specifically designed for either type of screen. Electronics stores sell such products. Make sure the screen has cooled completely; if you clean the screen while it's warm you could leave permanent streaks. Apply as little pressure as possible (using too much pressure can disturb the gel in the screen and damage it).
The Central Processing Unit (CPU)
Consult your user's manual regarding how to open its case. Dust the interior without touching the circuit board. If you have a laptop, don't try to open it. Use compressed air to blow dust from the keyboard.
Use the extension tube on a can of compressed air, spray air in short bursts between the keys; avoid long bursts, which may produce condensation. Turn the keyboard over and gently shake it to loosen any lingering dust, and spray again with compressed air if necessary. Wipe the keys and keyboard casing with a cloth dampened with the dishwashing solution. If you have spilled something on your keyboard, try to get off as much of the liquid as possible. Most desktop keyboards have removable keys (consult your manual for instructions). Use a soft, damp, lint-free cloth to gently remove the spill from underneath and around the keys. Use distilled water; hard water may leave behind a thin deposit of minerals.
First, flip the mouse over and remove the disk that holds the ball; you may need to push gently on the disk or use a coin to twist it and turn to snap it out. Remove the ball, and rub it with a detergent-dampened cloth to remove any dust. With a cotton swab barely dampened with water, gently wipe the rollers inside the mouse; replace the ball, and close it.
Beginning at one end, wrap a cloth dampened with dishwashing solution around a cord and slide it to the other end. Give the cords a few minutes to dry completely before reconnecting them to various components.
All of these supplies are available at your local hardware store or electronics retailer. This technique was adapted from "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook."