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It’s Fall Cleanup Time—For Your Computer

Give your system a tune-up inside and out

We depend on our desktop computer and laptops for daily work, personal tasks and enjoyment. So why are these important tools so often neglected when it comes to cleaning and maintenance? 

My desktop can get to be a disaster of files dropped there temporarily when I’m on deadline. Working near an open window in the office, I also have to deal with a fair amount of dust, not to mention dog hair from my four-legged partner. My machines get hard use, and if not careful, can be a dirty, cluttered mess! 

If some of this sounds familiar for your workspace, this guide may help. We’ll cover a few cleaning and maintenance hacks from pros who service devices, including the right materials and methods. Also included are some organizational tips to keep files, folders and apps from taking over your desktop. But first…

Back up before you go forward
For most users, a brief once-a-month cleaning and organizational schedule is enough to keep things in check with little time investment. Before taking on these tasks, however, make sure you do a complete back-up of all of your files. I back up my essential files to the cloud as I am working, and do a full backup to a removable hard drive. This is a pretty standard plan for good coverage in case anything gets lost or accidentally deleted. 

However, this type of backup does not fully back up programs. I would strongly recommend you also do a system image backup once a quarter, or at least every year for light users, which fully copies everything from your computer to your designated removable hard drive (it takes too long to do to the cloud). Here are the instructions to do this for a Windows 10 computer. You will actually use the Windows 7 backup and restore tool for this—Microsoft did not reinvent the tool for Windows 10. You can read about Mac back up tools here.

Cleaning a laptop screen

Physical cleaning
We are not going to get into opening up your computer or laptop to clean inside, but if you do these external tasks once a month, you rarely will have to do an inside the case cleaning. 

Monitor. This is the greatest hack a computer repair person ever taught me. Clean your computer screen and case with a quality eyeglass cleaner and the microfiber cleaning cloth that comes with it. You can also use a specialty kit marketed for computer screens, but guess what? The label says you can use it for eyeglasses too, because it is the same product. Many websites say to use rubbing alcohol, which can crack and discolor plastic parts over time. 

To clean your screen, lightly spray the cleaning cloth and wipe the screen. Turn the cloth over and wipe again to remove all moisture. You can also clean the case with these materials. Don’t spray liquids directly onto a computer screen, keyboard or tower.

Keyboard. Turn the keyboard upside down and gently shake it. Most of the crumbs and dust will fall out. You can blow compressed air across keys to further remove dust, but don’t point toward keys, which pushes dust in. You can then clean between the keys and the key faces with the lightly moistened microfiber cloth, using the same lens cleaner or computer screen cleaner.

Mouse. To clean a mouse, thoroughly clean the exterior with the microfiber cloth and lens cleaner. Open the mouse, remove and clean the trackball and carefully wipe all components inside. You can use compressed air to blow dust from the inside out. Let dry and reassemble. 

Fans. Computer fans suck in air to cool the device, and draw in a lot of dust along with it. Regularly run your vacuum hose along the fan vent of your laptop and computer tower. I use the soft brush attachment to gently loosen matter on the grill while the vacuum is running. 

Cover. Close your laptop cover when not in use to keep dust out. Also cover your desktop keyboard for the same reason. You can buy thin covers that technically you can keep on the keys when typing, but I always take mine off to type and put on at the end of the session for protection.

Protective sleeve. If you travel with your laptop, there is a good chance of bumps, or sliding out of a briefcase when hitting the brakes in traffic. It’s easy to slip the computer into a padded neoprene sleeve before packing it into your bag. For extra protection, look for a laptop bag with a padded pocket.

I just had a faulty SSD drive replaced on my three-year-old 17” laptop, and the repair person said my machine looks brand new. It was a proud moment!

It may be impatience or laziness, but I am always looking for ways to do things faster and in fewer steps. So, I’ve also uncovered a few ways to better organize files, folders, icons, demo software, trials, photos, temp files and more to keep things less cluttered so they don’t become such a time suck at the end of the month.

Tidy up cords. Being a geek girl, I have a lot of computer gadgets, and they all have cords. I finally bought a decorative wall hook off Amazon, hung up everything not in use, and attached a different colored cord tag to each one. No more tangled mess! The power strip on my large work surface also has swivel outlets to keep power cords going in the right direction, as well as surge protection and USB charging ports. 

Organize your thoughts. If you are constantly in creation mode like me, it’s easy to let important details get away from you. Here’s one hack I developed—maybe it will work for you too. 

I am always taking notes on the fly. A client calls with added details. A new story idea pops into my head. I review a product online. While I use Asana to organize project notes, in the moment, I open Notepad and jot down thoughts and save it to the desktop with the month and year as a file name. The file stays on the desktop throughout the month where I add to it, or transfer notes to an app or document. At the end of the month, I file the Notepad doc to a folder in My Documents. Notepad docs do not take up much memory, and this provides a backup of any client suggestions or ideas I might not have gotten to during the month.

Clear your desktop. A cluttered desktop slows down your computer and your productivity. When you power on your computer, a desktop filled with icons is not a good start. Clear your desktop of any files, folders, or programs you don’t need readily available at every power-on. 

I seem to accumulate a lot of random documents and photos on my desktop throughout the month. By creating a desktop folder titled Misc, I have a place to drag these temporary files until I have a chance to go through them. Clutter problem solved!

Dump junk files and programs. Programs can sneak onto your computer in various ways. An obscure online meeting app you used one time. Add-on features for your security software you never use. Unnecessary apps that came with a new device. You get the point. As part of your monthly clean up routine, purge these unused apps and old versions of software you no longer need. In addition to a leaner performing system and less junky start menu and desktop, you will also free up hard drive space. 

Here are a few more purge tips:

  • Uninstall trialware you no longer need
  • Empty the recycle bin
  • Delete temporary files
  • Clear your cache of offline web pages

When done, run disk cleanup software to further optimize your system.

Run regular antivirus scans. As a last reminder, keeping up on regular antivirus scans will also help keep your computer clear of malware and running smoothly. Top rated software, such as Avast, runs in the background, so you don’t have to manually scan your system.

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