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Clean Your Machines: The Home Office

To ensure that the computers and electronics in your study stay in tip-top shape, you’ll need to commit to some dedicated hardware maintenance. Just be sure to clean all of the components—particularly any internal parts—with a gentle, cautious touch to avoid damaging anything. Never use harsh cleaning sprays or abrasive cleansers, and remember to unplug before you refresh.

Photography by: Matthew Williams


Your keyboard is a receptacle for all kinds of dirt and grime— even crumbs, if you eat at your desk. Spray compressed air in short bursts between the keys to dislodge particles. Then turn the keyboard over and gently shake out any remaining dirt. Finish by wiping the keys with a cloth dampened with a solution of a drop of mild dishwashing liquid and 1 quart of water.
Do buy an extension tube for your can of compressed air to really get between the keys.
Don’t spray liquids—even water— directly onto the keyboard.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner

Bright Idea: To remove stubborn stains between keys, use a cotton swab that’s been dipped in alcohol and squeezed so it’s just damp.


Turn off the monitor before you begin; you can see smudges better against a black screen. Use a soft microfiber cloth to wipe dust off the screen, then dampen the cloth with a spray specifically designed for LCD and plasma monitors and wipe again to erase smudges and grime. Use a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water to de-smudge if you don’t have the cleaning spray.
Do clean the screen only when it’s cool, and only with light pressure. Heat can cause permanent streaks on the monitor when it’s wiped.
Don’t use alcohol- or ammonia-based products; they can damage monitors.

Computer Tower

A computer runs most efficiently when heat is allowed to escape; trapped dust impedes this. If you have a desktop that comes with a stand-alone tower, unplug it and consult the owner’s manual about how to open its case to dust the interior. (If you keep your tower on the ground and have a pet, it may be especially clogged with dust and fur.) Use a microfiber cloth to wipe nonelectrical parts, such as the fan, and a can of compressed air to blow dust out of electrical parts, like the motherboard.
Do ground yourself by touching the case or wearing a static wrist guard. You don’t want to inadvertently discharge static electricity and damage the electrical parts.
Don’t use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust from electronics, as it can cause static electricity.


Moisten a soft cloth with water and wipe down the exterior of the machine, as well as the paper rollers. Use a moistened cotton swab for hard-to-reach areas. On laser printers, employ a dry swab to dust the corona wires, which are what make the paper attract toner. (Dirty wires can degrade the print quality.) Use compressed air to blow dust from the fan and vent. If the printer has a self-cleaning option, select it to clean the print head, which applies ink to the paper.
Do buy toner cleanup cloths (sold at office-supply stores) in case you get toner on your hands.
Don’t clean the interior, aside from the cartridge.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner

Electric Fan

A fan is a veritable dust magnet. Unplug it, remove the screens, and wash them in a tub or bucket of soapy water. Then wipe each blade with a soft cloth dampened with the soapy water.
Do refer to the owner’s manual for dismantling procedures (every fan is different).
Don’t reassemble until all the parts are completely dry.

Compressed Air

This office-supply-store staple removes dust from delicate or hard-toreach areas. For the best results, angle the canister to blow the dust out of a device (not into it).


Cleaning duster, by Insignia, $10,

Disinfect These!

  • Remote control
  • Telephone
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse

Handheld gadgets and equipment get touched— a lot. So they may require a cleaning agent with a little more oomph than plain old water. To rid them of germs, simply dip a soft cloth into rubbing alcohol, squeeze the cloth so that it’s damp but not dripping, and wipe down the gadget completely. Rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, so you don’t have to worry that the liquid will ruin the electrical parts. Or, even easier: Use a sanitizing wipe.


Topanga chair,
Saddle Ring Desk Collection magazine rack,
Turbo Silence table fan, by Rowenta,

Did You Know

Paper towels are too abrasive to use on a monitor. Always clean it with a soft cloth, Preferably microfiber.

Editor’s Favorite

“I use a toothpick to pick out dirt from really tight spaces, like the holes in a telephone’s receiver.”
—Amy Conway, editor at large