Your motherboard, just like any other computer part, can get covered by a thin layer of dust. Since some parts of the motherboard generate heat, dust can make cooling those components harder and make them die sooner. You probably want to prevent that from happening so you ask how to clean a motherboard.
Most of the time your motherboard will be very easy to clean because it is mounted vertically and cannot collect too much dust in the first place. When cleaning your motherboard, you should pay most attention to the heatsinks. Those parts need to have proper airflow or they will overheat from the dust buildup, which results in a shorter motherboard lifespan.
So, here is a complete guide on how to clean your motherboard step-by-step and a few tips to help you with the process.
Before getting started, make sure that you have some of the following things around:
- Compressed air
- Vacuum cleaner
- Very soft bristle toothbrush
- Cotton swabs
- Toilet paper or a dry cloth
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Plastic container
Don’t worry too much if you do not have every single item on the list. For example, you can achieve pretty decent results with only a vacuum cleaner and a cloth without having to use a can of compressed air. How much cleaning you have to do largely depends on how dirty your motherboard is.
Once you have all the things you need, you will have to plug out all the cables from the computer. Next, put your computer on a large desk or floor. It would be best if you could take it outside and place it on a dry surface. Try not to scratch it if you put it on concrete. Avoid surfaces like carpets and rugs because of static electricity.
The next step is to take off the side panels. While you could clean your motherboard by only removing the left panel (on standard PC cases), removing all panels will allow the dust to escape from the case more easily instead of getting trapped. You should also clean the backside of the motherboard. While you are at it, you might as well clean the whole PC.
Now that you have “undressed” your whole computer, it is time to start cleaning the motherboard. Please, stay grounded at all times. Static electricity is your enemy and you will be working on one of the most sensitive parts of your computer. You should use an antistatic wrist strap because you can never be too careful with your expensive PC parts.
Step 1: Removing Surface Dust
The first and most important step is to simply remove as much dust as possible without having to do any exhaustive and detailed cleaning. A can of compressed air is your best friend here. Simply take the can into your hands and blow away. Use the nozzle to your advantage and to get into all the nooks and crannies.
Even if the nozzle is soft and flexible, be careful when getting near sensitive parts of the motherboard. Capacitors can get damaged or snapped easily, which is the very last thing you want to do. You can use compressed air to clean the motherboard heatsinks as well. While you are at it, cleaning your other components like your graphics card, CPU cooler, and case fans is only one additional step, so there really is no excuse to be lazy and not do it.
If you can’t get a can of compressed air, but you do actually have an air compressor, you can use that. Make sure that the pressure is not too high as it could damage some parts of your motherboard. But since most people do not have air compressors laying around, a vacuum cleaner is also a solid choice.
If you have an attachment for your vacuum cleaner that allows you to be more precise, use it. You will achieve significantly better results with the right attachments. Remember that sucking dust in is completely different from blowing air out, which for you means that you will have to be extra careful with the vacuum cleaner method. Try not to get too close to the capacitors because one wrong move will snap it off the motherboard.
Once you are done with this step, your motherboard will most likely be already very clean and almost completely dust-free. If you are satisfied with the results, put everything back into place, and you are done. However, if your motherboard has some sticky spills or nasty build-up, then this method will not be enough. This is why you have brought some isopropyl alcohol with you. Let’s move on to the next step.
Step 2: Using Isopropyl Alcohol
The reason why you should use isopropyl alcohol instead of rubbing alcohol is the higher alcohol percentage. The higher you can get, the better. While other compounds in rubbing alcohol are not necessarily dangerous, motherboards have tons of small pockets where liquid can get trapped and cause a short circuit.
Now that the choice of liquid is out of the way, here is how to use it. You have two options. It is up to you to decide which one works better for your situation.
This is the less cumbersome method. Simply grab a few cotton swabs and a toothbrush with the softest bristles that you can get. Do a quick inspection of the motherboard and check which parts need the most cleaning. Just like with your clothes, doing some spot cleaning is way easier than going over every single bit.
Use a cotton swab to gently apply some isopropyl alcohol to grimy spots and try to remove as much dirt as possible with the swab. Some spots will be harder to clean, which is why you brought the toothbrush. Apply a small amount of isopropyl alcohol to the toothbrush and gently brush the dirtiest spots of the board. Again, be super careful whenever you are near capacitors because one mistake will break the whole motherboard.
Once the dirt loosens up, pat the area dry using a paper towel, toilet paper, or a dry cloth. Repeat this process as necessary to remove all the dirt. Focus on the heatsinks since they are the most important and the dirtiest parts of your motherboard.
However, this method may not be sufficient if someone spilled a soda or some other sugary drink and the board got very sticky. This can happen, but don’t worry because it does not necessarily mean that your motherboard is done for. While cleaning it will be difficult, it is not impossible.
If spot cleaning didn’t do it, then you can always shower your motherboard with some isopropyl alcohol. The first thing that you will have to do is to remove the motherboard and all other components from the PC case. If other components are dirty, clean them separately. We will only focus on the motherboard for now.
Get a plastic container and place your motherboard into it. Next, pour the isopropyl alcohol all over the motherboard. You can wait a few minutes for the gunk to dissolve or start cleaning it right away. Just like with the first method, you will need a soft bristle toothbrush and a dry cloth or paper towel. Gently scrub the dirty area with the brush and pat it down with a cloth or towel.
Do this very slowly and gently to prevent any damage. Apply more isopropyl alcohol as you go because it will make it much easier to clean the motherboard. Do not use any force whatsoever because you can easily break the motherboard that way.
If your PCIe or RAM slots are dirty too, it is best to slowly pour isopropyl alcohol onto them and use the toothbrush to get as much out as you can. You can use a wooden or plastic toothpick to get the gunk out if it is especially stubborn.
This method will take a lot of time, but it can clean your motherboard from any dirt, metal particles, carbon, dust, and so on. Once you are done with your exhaustive cleaning, it is time to get to the next step.
Step 3: Wait for the Motherboard to Dry
Using liquids on your precious motherboards is very dangerous. This means that you will have to wait as long as you possibly can before plugging all the cables back in. Even if isopropyl alcohol is non-conductive, it could cause a lot of trouble and still kill your motherboard. You should dry the motherboard as much as you can with paper towels before allowing it to dry in the open air.
Wait for at least 48 hours before reassembling your computer. Double-check that the motherboard is bone-dry before that. If you still have some leftover compressed air from step 1, you could use it to blow out any liquid remaining inside the tight areas between capacitors and VRMs.
Step 4: Reassembly
Now that your motherboard is completely dry and clean, you can reassemble the computer and connect all the cables. Turn on your computer and enjoy your squeaky-clean motherboard.
It would be a good idea to check the motherboard and CPU temps while using a stress test or running a demanding program to make sure that everything works as intended.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Using some compressed air is significantly easier than having to remove the motherboard from the computer and use isopropyl alcohol and brushes. This means that cleaning your motherboard at least once a year is a good idea.
- Do not use rubbing alcohol or any other kind of alcohol in place of isopropyl alcohol. The lower the alcohol content, the slower it evaporates and you risk damaging your components if there are any impurities.
- Do not use any liquid whatsoever if your motherboard is still under warranty. You will most likely void your warranty by doing so. If you are determined, contact the shop you got it from or ask the manufacturer directly.
- Never clean your computer while it is still plugged in. Make sure that the computer is off and that you have plugged out all the cables before even opening the case.
- Seek help from a professional if you do not want to risk damaging your motherboard or other components.
- Allow the motherboard to dry completely before plugging anything into it. This especially applies to the PCIe and RAM slots as well as the power connectors.
- Use compressed air to make it dry faster by blowing out the liquid.
- Be gentle. Do not rush the process because you can easily damage or destroy your motherboard if you are not careful.
Cleaning your motherboard is not as hard as you might think. Even if you have a ton of dust or spilled some sticky soda, it will only take a few hours to make your motherboard as good as new. The key is to take it slowly and be as gentle as you possibly can. Snapping a capacitor will not break the motherboard instantly, but it can be very hard and very expensive to repair.
If you are not confident that you can clean it or if you have never even taken apart your computer before, consider having a professional do it or asking a tech-savvy friend to help you with the task. All things considered, unless something horrible happened to your motherboard, you can do it yourself.
You will probably only have to disconnect all the cables, get your computer on a desk, remove the panels, and use compressed air to remove all dust and debris. Once you are done, simply put everything back into place and that’s pretty much it. You won’t need any isopropyl alcohol or in-depth knowledge of computers to do that.
If you do have to use isopropyl alcohol, make sure that you allow the motherboard to dry completely before plugging anything back in. Have fun and continue working now that your motherboard is completely clean and dust-free.