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How to Clean a Laptop Cooling Fan and Heat Sink Fins

Updated on December 8, 2017
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Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

A laptop fan, heat sink and fins
A laptop fan, heat sink and fins

The buildup of pet hair, smoke, dust bunnies and other pollutants inside the laptop cooling fan and heatsink fins will progressively generate unwelcome heat.

Over the years, gradual accumulation of dust bunnies can lead to clogging of the cooling fan or components on the board surface. This will interfere with the cooling system.

For example,if a laptop turns off suddenly when in use, chances are the processor has triggered a shut-down alert, most likely due to excessive heat.

Your laptop needs cleaning if;

  • It has not been cleaned for more than a year
  • It has build-up of heat at the base or below the keyboard
  • Heat from the processor is not flowing out
  • It is acting up by turning itself off
  • Its fan is making a lot of noise
  • Monitoring utilities warn of high temperature

Some may 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.

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

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.

Popular cleaning agents for the computer:

Compressed air can

Air blower Airbrush compressor

Vacuum cleaner

Liquid compound like isopropyl alcohol

The Walkthrough

Usually, we blow/suck dirt through the heat sink fins of the laptop and hope to get out all the dust. This approach will work depending on the size 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.

Unscrew the access panel to the laptop fan slot at the bottom of the computer.

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 observed in the image, the board appears to be clean, save for dust particles and clog in the processor fan. Sucking/blowing the dust will do for this case.

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 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 heatsink 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 an aerosol spray like Toon-brite and isopropyl alcohol solution.

Isopropyl alcohol compound is a preferred choice because it is non-toxic, evaporates quickly and leaves no traces of oil after the cleaning.

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

Caution While Cleaning the Laptop

It always a good idea to choose the right cleaning tools. Popular ones include compressed air can, air blower, airbrush compressor, vacuum cleaner.

  • The vacuum cleaner is a better gadget for sucking stuff out, while the others blow tough air into the laptop.
  • Make sure to remove the battery and disconnect adaptor cable when performing maintenance on your laptop, but leave power cable plugged in when using a vacuum cleaner.

A vacuum cleaner
A vacuum cleaner
  • 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 you should ground everything while toying with electronic circuitry and components inside the laptop.

Continued misuse and exposure to static discharge could result in component failure in the long run.

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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© 2016 Alfred Amuno

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