It’s a tedious task you’ve been putting off for what could be years. But the moment has come: You’re going to clean your computer inside and out. That means scrubbing down those keys and wiping the fossilized fingerprints off your screen. It also means deleting all the files you secretly downloaded when you were trying to figure out how to make a GIF, and finally tidying up your feeds on social media.
You Will Need
- A microfiber cloth
- Soft cloths for cleaning (don’t use paper towels)
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Can of compressed air
- An hour or two
Before doing anything, you need to turn off your device. Unplug it as well. This is the most important step. If you don’t follow it you could do some serious damage to the hardware.
Take a soft cloth (a microfiber cloth is recommended), slightly dampen it with water and start scrubbing. Be careful when going around ports, you don’t want any liquid getting in there.
Start cleaning the screen by wiping it down with a dry cloth. Go from corner to corner.
Next, take the cloth and dampen it with some water. If you don’t think plain old water will get the job done, you could make a cleaning solution with 50 percent vinegar and 50 percent water. But don’t use cleaning solutions! In fact there are a lot of “don’ts” when cleaning computers, so it’s best just to follow these instructions. Speaking of which, don’t drench the cloth. If it’s dripping wet, you overdid it.
Run the cloth over the screen. If you want to wipe in a wax on, wax off motion, that’s fine, but don’t get overzealous with your scrubbing. You’re not waxing a Ford Mustang.
If you use an external mouse, you might want to give it a little love, too. Optical mice, which use light to detect surface area, require no internal cleaning—but the outside can get sticky over time. Mechanical mice are more susceptible to dust particles that can get caught inside. Stickiness and dust can lead to a stiff mouse that just doesn’t work as you want it to.
Start by unplugging the mouse from your computer and removing any batteries. Use a clean cloth with a little bit of alcohol to wipe the outside of the mouse clean; be careful not to get any liquid inside. If you have a mechanical mouse, you can give it a quick clean by placing it on a piece of paper and moving the mouse around on there. Some of the dust should just roll off by itself.
For a deeper clean, turn it over and rotate the ball-cover ring counter clockwise to get the ball out. Again, use an alcohol-dampened cloth to clean both the ball and the inside of the mouse. Once it’s completely dry, reassemble the pieces and reconnect your spruced up mouse to your computer. If you’re reconnecting your mouse to a PS/2 port, make sure you plug it back in before you turn on the computer.
If you’re using a plastic or rubber mousepad, you can scrub it clean with a cloth dampened by some water and a little hand soap or shampoo. If it’s made of fabric, you might want to run it a soapy bath and scrub it with your cloth. You can also put it in the washer machine, as long as you use cool water. For best results, let your mousepad air dry.
If you’re a multitasking heathen who eats while using the computer… well, you’re just like everyone else. It also means you have crumbs between, on, or inside your keys. You need to get those out before you come in with the damp cloth—like sweeping the floor before mopping.
Use a can of compressed air to clear the crumbs from the surface. If you don’t have one, a small fan may work. If you’re really desperate, you could employ a drinking straw and use lung-generated wind power. Just get the crumbs out.
Next, take out a clean cloth, the isopropyl alcohol, and some Q-tips. Take the cloth and dampen it with the alcohol. Run the cloth over the keys and make them shiny. Then take the Q-tip and get in-between the keys. You can dip the Q-tip in alcohol, but stop short of a full soak; you don’t want a puddle of alcohol to spew out when you press down.
Once you’ve run the key maze, the alcohol should dry within a matter of minutes. Voila, you’re halfway done to completely cleaning your computer.
The inside of your machine is probably filled with more crap than the outside. Boot your computer up and get ready to do the real dirty work.
Delete Files in Windows
Windows 10 comes with an excellent storage manager. In the Settings app, click on System, then Storage. In this view, you can identify the folders taking up the most space, then sift through these to delete the largest files you don’t need anymore.
Chances are, your computer came with a bunch of programs pre-installed that you’ve never used, or that you don’t want. Get rid of these. Within the Settings app, click on Apps & Features, then find those apps you never use and delete them.
Next, launch the Disk Cleanup utility. It allows you to erase temporary files, which may improve the speed of your computer, and system files, which will free up some storage space.
That’s enough to earn you a few gigabytes of disk space. If you’re still hurting for space, there’s more to be done—Windows 10 is full of little hiding places for backups and temporary files. Thankfully, Microsoft has included several different cleanup tools with the OS, and the company offers an online guide to completing a thorough cleaning.
Delete Files in macOS
The latest macOS, version 10.13 (High Sierra), comes with its own Disk Cleanup equivalent. Click on the Apple icon in the menu bar and select “About This Mac.” When the window opens, click on the Storage tab, then click the Manage button. From here, you can delete applications or files you haven’t used in a while, and you can move things like photos and media files off your hard drive and into the cloud. The Reduce Clutter option will make recommendations about files you haven’t accessed in a while that it thinks you can delete. If, after deleting the files it recommends, you still need to free up more space, try sifting through your files manually to find additional offenders.
To to do a manual clean, target your Downloads folder, your Applications folder, and the “All My Files” view. For each one, launch a Finder window and go into List view: Choose View > As List, or click the List View button at the top of the Finder window. From here, you can sort the files based on size, with the largest files at the top of the list. This will help you can catch the biggest space eaters first.
You can also sort by file type. If you know you have a ton of videos lying around from when you tried to make a Star Wars supercut using scenes from the first six movies, you can find and delete them all at once by choosing “Kind” and finding the .mp4 files all clustered together.
Lastly, right click on the column headers in Finder and select “Date Last Opened.” This will let you sort your list to show you the things you haven’t touched in years. This is especially helpful in Applications—those apps you downloaded in 2011 and haven’t used since? Ditch them!
Zap Device Backups
Do you have an iPhone or iPad? Go into iTunes’s preferences and click on Devices. If you see any backups for old devices you don’t use anymore (or devices you’re now backing up to the cloud), get rid of those.
Erase the Past
Clearing your browser history is another way to cleanse your computer of toxins and hogged space. Go into your web browser of choice, open the preferences, and flush that browser history. You may have to reload some images and files the next time you browse, but you’ll free up hundreds of megabytes of space.
Finish the Job
After clearing out all the gunk, empty the trash, which will delete these files and apps. Finally—and this is important—reboot your computer.
Cleaning Your Feeds
After rebooting, there’s one more item that you’re going to want to clean out, and it doesn’t have anything to do with hardware. It has to do with taking back control on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media feeds.
If your Facebook feed is clogged with posts from people you barely know or care about, it’s time to clean it up. You could unfriend a bunch of people, but simply adjusting your News Feed is a more efficient, less dramatic, and equally effective approach that lets you see the posts most important to you first. From your desktop browser on Facebook’s site, click on News Feed on the left hand side of your homepage and go to Edit Preferences. The option at the top of the list is “prioritize who to see first.” This function allows you to choose up to 30 friends and pages whose content will show up first on your newsfeed. Everyone else will be set on the back burner.
Before you log out, take a look at the the list of apps linked to your Facebook. Chances are you’ve accumulated quite a few apps since you created your account, some of which you haven’t used in years. Unless you delete them or edit their permissions, apps can continue to gather your data from Facebook. To view the list of apps that are logged onto your Facebook, go into Settings and click on Apps and Websites. Here you’ll find all the apps that are actively using your data, apps whose data-using privileges have expired, and apps you’ve already deleted. Check out the active ones in particular, and say goodbye to those you could do without.
While you’re at it, click on Ads underneath Apps and Websites. Here you can adjust how your data is being used by advertisers. If you’re fed up or creeped out by being shown a certain genre of ads, this is the place to fix it.
Short of a full unfollow spree, you can regain some control of your Twitter feed by creating lists. Tap on your avatar, then select “lists.” You’ll see an option to “create a new list.” Add whichever accounts you want to create a mini feed. If you have the time, you can also go through everyone you follow and manually delete those who no longer spark joy. Do not be afraid to make some deep cuts.
All in all, it’s good practice to trim the fat out of your social feeds regularly, so carpe diem and clean house.
Update, January 30: This article was updated to add instructions about using the storage manager built into macOS.