Give the Dust Bunnies in Your Box the Brush-Off

Fingers sticking to the keyboard? Dust on the screen making it look like you're viewing Web sites through a fog?

Time for a serious computer cleaning.

"You can clean your computer on an ongoing basis by just dusting, either with a vacuum or feather duster," said Jeff Campbell, author of "Speed Cleaning" and founder of the Clean Team line of mail-order products.

"But once in a while, especially if you aren't doing the ongoing cleaning, you have to do something more thorough. It's like spring cleaning for your computer."

Campbell, whose methods are rooted in time-motion studies, starts at the top of the monitor with a cotton cloth and a heavy-duty liquid cleaner such as 409, Simple Green or his own company's Red Juice. But avoid spraying the cleaner directly onto the computer.

"You always spray the cloth, then apply it to the surface," he said.

But just wiping down the computer will have "unsatisfying" results, no matter how much pressure is applied.

"Most computers' surfaces have a matte surface with little ridges where the dirt can settle," Campbell said. "You have to use a little brush--a toothbrush is perfect--that goes into the finish to reach the dirt." When you're done with the little brush, just wipe the dirt it brought up away.

"It just takes a few minutes, but it makes all the difference in the world. Get that stuff out, and the computer will look like new," he said.

As for the monitor screen, Campbell simply wipes it with the cleaning cloth. "Unless you touch the screen, it doesn't really get dirty," he said. "It's just dusty, and that doesn't take much to clean."

If dirt has found its way into the corners of the screen or along the bottom where it meets the casing, you have to go for more stringent measures. "You get out that toothbrush again."

Campbell then moves on down to the base of the monitor. "It's something you hardly ever see or pay attention to," he said. "It often never gets attention, so there is probably a ton of dust down there. Even if you just wipe it, you'll be amazed at the amount of dirt that comes off on the cloth."

The computer processor, whether it's attached to the monitor or separate, also gets the cloth and toothbrush treatment.

Next comes the keyboard, which Campbell considers the most important cleaning job on a computer. "Everything you do in cleaning a computer, for the most part, is cosmetic. It just makes it look a lot better, nicer to work with," he said.

"But cleaning the keyboard can actually help make it work better."

He starts by cleaning the top of the keys and other surfaces with the toothbrush and cloth. Then he goes for the sides of the keys.

"You spray the cloth with cleaner to get it fairly wet," he said. "Then you fold the cloth and run it between the rows of keys to get the dirt. The keys are a little staggered, up and down, but stay with it, refolding the cloth often and re-spraying when necessary."

For ongoing cleaning, you can simply dust the keyboard regularly or, better yet, blast it with compressed air available in a can.

But doing just the top of the keyboard is not enough for a true "spring cleaning," according to Campbell.

"The base of the keyboard is like the base of the monitor--no one looks at it," he said. "That's where you will find the heavy dirt."


Times staff writer David Colker covers personal technology.

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