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How to Clean Laptop Cooling Fan and Heat Sink Fins

Updated on December 22, 2016
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Alfred is a long time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

Sample laptop fan, heat sink and fins that  need cleaning
Sample laptop fan, heat sink and fins that need cleaning

If you still remember your first computer lessons regarding safety and maintenance precautions, then the matter of pet hair, smoke and all kinds of dust bunnies come to mind. The buildup of these and other pollutants inside the laptop cooling fan or heat sink fins will cause it to generate heat and progressively lead to one or other component failure.

If your laptop turns off suddenly when you are using it, chances are the processor has triggered a shut-down alert most likely due to excessive heat. Over the years, gradual accumulation of dust bunnies inside the laptop can lead to clogging of the cooling fan or components on the board surface. This will interfere with cooling and excessive heat will be generated as a result.

SpeedFan will alert you when system temp goes overboard
SpeedFan will alert you when system temp goes overboard

In order to prevent heat buildup, start administering regular maintenance routines. In particular, check and clean your laptop because of these reasons:

  • It has not been cleaned for more than a year
  • There is build up of heat at the base
  • Heat from the processor is not flowing out through the heat sink fins
  • The laptop is acting up by turning itself off
  • The laptop fan is making noise
  • Monitoring utilities warn of alarming temperature

Some users argue that pollutants inside the laptop may not matter a lot as long as the cooling is maintained at a minimum. If a monitoring utility registers 40 degrees and low even after years of use, you could be safe, but again you just want to be sure. Maybe the day of reckoning is just around the corner.

The Walkthrough

Usually, we blow/suck dirt through the heat sink fins of the laptop and hope to get all the dust from the cooling fan and elsewhere. This approach will work depending on the amount of bunnies inside.

If however there is clogged dirt mixed with humidity, blowing with canned air would only push them around and sometimes make the cooling even worse. Sucking may fail to capture clogged dirt.

In order to exercise exhaustive assessment, you are better off opening up the laptop in order to have unobstructed view of its internals. This can be done with the right tools i.e. screw driver, brushes and air blower/sucker.

Unscrew the access panel to the laptop fan slot at the bottom of the computer. Depending on the laptop model however, access to the fan will be anywhere even beneath the keyboard. Other laptops require that you unscrew the whole bottom cover.

I have used a Sony laptop for this example and the bottom cover had to be unscrewed in its totality.

A bottom view of a sample Sony laptop
A bottom view of a sample Sony laptop

As seen in the image above, the laptop board seems clean, save for dust particles and the clog in the processor fan. Sucking/blowing the dust will probably help solve this problem.

In order to be sure though, you need to open up the fan in order to assess the copper and aluminum heat sink fins. This hidden part of the cooling system is where trouble lies most of the time.

The heat sink fins can hide lots of dirt
The heat sink fins can hide lots of dirt

The aluminum fins which passes out hot air from the heat sink hides lots of pollutants.

Aside from blowing/sucking dust in and around the fan, you will also have to brush out the clog on the aluminum fins. Where necessary the heat sink fins may need cleaning using aerosol spray like Toon-brite and isopropyl alcohol solution.

The same heat sink set after  cleaning
The same heat sink set after cleaning

Caution While Cleaning the Laptop

Popular devices for cleaning the laptop include:

  • Compressed air can
  • Air blower
  • Airbrush compressor
  • Vacuum cleaner

A vacuum cleaner
A vacuum cleaner
  • While the vacuum cleaner is designed to suck stuff out, the other gadgets blow tough air into the laptop.
  • Make sure to remove battery and disconnect adaptor cable when performing maintenance on your laptop, but leave power cable plugged in when using a vacuum cleaner.

An air blower
An air blower | Source
  • Vacuum cleaners create static electricity while sucking out stuff. Despite this, many computer technicians have used them for years without problems. Beware though of sucking out components on the motherboard while using a vacuum cleaner!
  • You should unplug the fan power connector to the motherboard when using a compressor to dust out your laptop. The generated speeds can turn the little fans into small power generators.

  • When using compressed air cans ensure the laptop is placed in an elevated angle while the can is upright. Air cans release jets of freezing liquid which can short components soon after the computer is switched on. It is the reason you should avoid elongated spraying in preference to quick bursts. Better still don’t rush to turn the laptop on immediately.

  • When shopping for air compressors, opt for air brush models. They are suitable for computers since they are oil free. Other kinds of air compressors spray jets of oil which can coat board components.
  • Do not place the cleaner nozzles of the aforementioned gadgets so close to the board components for fear of static discharge.

An important note is that damage to the laptop resulting from static discharge may not seem apparent immediately. Continued misuse and exposure to static discharge could result to component failure in the long run.

In order to cut down on its effects, ground everything while toying around with computer electronics.

What device do you use to clean electronics at home?

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Which one of the devices above do you recommend?

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Software to Monitor Laptop Temperature

SpeedFan:

SpeedFan is a miniature temperature monitoring utility, which just as well measures laptop fan speed.

Real Temp:

Besides reading the temperature for all cores, it allows you to calibrate sensors for individual processors.

Core Temp:

Just like Real Temp, Core Temp adds the temp of all cores in its database.

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