What do the inside of your PC and the back of your refrigerator have in common? You've probably never seen or cleaned either. Of course, nobody else can see the scary accumulation of sloughed-off skin, pet hair, food particles, insect parts, mould spores, and other disgusting nasties. So should you care?
If the health of your equipment and family matters to you, the answer is absolutely yes.
The crud accumulation can reduce devices' cooling efficiency, gum up mechanical parts, prevent good electrical contact (or create it where it doesn't belong), and wreak sundry other forms of havoc. And although your household members may have strong immune systems and no allergies, you can do better things with your lungs than suck in deep drafts of debris.
Granted, getting to the back of the fridge may be too difficult. But cleaning your PC and other valuable equipment isn't nearly as daunting. With just a few minutes' effort, you and your equipment will breathe easier. Here's an illustrated guide to get you going.
Canned, compressed gas, Phillips screwdriver, WD-40, monitor cleaner, chamois.
On an old CRT monitor, Windex or Fantastik might work, but on an expensive LCD, you should use a specialty cleaner. Invest a few extra bucks in the good stuff, because you can use it safely on your HDTV (plasma or CRT), iPhone, and even eyeglasses.
I use Surface, a cleaning agent made by consumer electronics company Audiovox. To prevent scratching the display, first use compressed gas to dislodge particulates.
How to clean your PC chassis & fans
You'll probably see a layer of dust covering most of the PC's enclosure. Again, use your wind-in-a-can to blow it off the case and out of the vents.
Don't turn the can upside down to get at corners, though—the container can get very cold very fast, and then this could happen.
The fans within the case probably have a nice layer of dust on them as well. Just take a damp cloth and wipe them down.
If you want, you can even add a drop of oil to the bearings in the middle of the springs while you're in there. Just make sure to pull the fan out of the case so you don't dribble lubricant on anything important.
Don't worry about the fan in your power supply—if you don't know what you're doing, taking a power supply apart can be bad news. Depending on the way your computer's case is set up, you might be able to use the air to blow some of the dust out, but don't aim directly at the fan blades. They may not be designed to move that fast and could break.
How to clean your printer
After consulting our printer guru David Stone, I learned a couple of things about printer care. Most of the devices actually come with a built-in cleaning utility, so start with that. If you notice issues with your prints — colour dropouts, for example — and if you need to run the cleaning utility more than twice, print two or three test pages with black and with each colour before running another cleaning cycle. Printing the test pages may even fix the problem.
If you still have clogged nozzles (obviously, we're talking about an inkjet here) after six tries with the cleaning utility, turn off the printer and let it sit unused for two or three hours.
That can give air bubbles a chance to work their way out through the nozzles. Then try again.
Beyond cleaning, though, these output devices are pretty low-maintenance, so the old adage holds: If it ain't broke don't fix it. Just try to keep vents clear so the printer doesn't overheat.