Cleaning Your Notebook Guide Part 4: Preventative Maintenance

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by Caleb Schmerge

The final installment of our four-part notebook cleaning guide continues. Parts one, two, and three in this series have been helpful and you should take them to heart, but if you learn anything from this guide, it is this section, the preventative maintenance section.  You can clean a dirty computer and make it look better, but if it doesn’t look bad to begin with, you are far better off.  This section is not about how to prevent cleaning … it’s about how to make the most out of your new cleaning habits in order to make your laptop look and function its best.  Use what you’ve learned from the rest of the series, but this part will amplify the effect of cleaning, especially on a brand new notebook.

Some of the work comes before you use your computer, things like washing your hands, cleaning your cleaning supplies (yes, I am serious), and having the supplies and knowledge of what to do and how to do it.  Some come when cleaning and using your computer, things like what supplies work best and prevent wear and tear from developing as quickly.  Others involve decisions later on, like replacing the keyboard or having a professional cleaning or refurbish done.

We will start with the basics.  Wash your hands!  I am not worried about you spreading germs to your computer.  The good people in the computer world have made keyboards that are anti-bacterial and you can’t get a computer sick via a human virus.  I am worried about you making your computer dirty faster.  If you eat a nice, greasy piece of chicken then email your friend about the game you are watching, you will destroy your keyboard.  All the added grease and whatever else on your fingers will polish those keys in a hurry and get in and under them, doing more damage than is necessary.  You can do wonders to preserving your keyboard if you don’t eat near it – ever!  Crumbs and gunk under the keyboard can have a massive impact on the feel and life of a keyboard.  Also, clean, non-polished keyboards feel better to type on.  Believe it or not, the comfort of your keyboard can make a difference in your desire to use the computer, not to mention other things like its resell value later one.  Wash your hands, and you can save a lot of keyboard life later on.

It seems backwards for me to tell you to clean your cleaning supplies, but it is necessary.  I can tell you from experience that when you try to clean with dirty supplies your success will decrease.  Using a micro fiber that is already full of gunk from your screen won’t help remove the current gunk from that screen.

Some things like the Grubby Sticks and iKlear travel singles that I recommend are disposable – do so!  If something is no longer clean enough to clean it needs to be taken care of.  Some things, like the ShaggyMac micro fiber that I recommend, aren’t disposable.  They are very cleanable, though.  I simply go to the sink, add some dish soap to it, and scrub it with itself all over for a while.  Once I am convinced that it is really clean, I rinse it out.  Rinsing is just as important as cleaning it, because if you don’t get the soap out it will find its way onto your screen, and after working so hard for a spotless screen, I’m sure that’s not quite what you want on your screen.  Take your time and rinse the cloth out as best as you can, and air dry it until it is completely dry.  This will make a big difference and will help you get the cleanest notebook possible.

Not only should you keep your supplies clean, but you should keep your laptop clean.  While this is the theme of the article, I mean that you should clean your notebook often.  If you keep the computer clean it will not become worn as quickly.  If you leave the keyboard to gather gunk and grease, the keys will polish faster.  The more there is on the screen to get off, the harder it is to do so.  Keep it clean and it will last longer (cosmetically at least).  I also think this is very true of the paint job.  If you have a lot of sweat built up on the palm rests then you will rub the pain of much faster.  It isn’t that hard to wipe the computer down quickly once every few days, so just do it!

As I just mentioned, you should wipe the computer down every now and then.  On an external keyboard this usually isn’t a big deal, but if you are going to type or game for an extended period on your notebook, you should wipe down the palm rests every now and then.  I know on my computer I end up with a noticeable amount of build up quite quickly.  If this is the case for you, make sure you wipe it down.  It is a bit gross to leave it there for one, but it will also make a noticeable difference in the computers paint and plastic the more the buildup is.  Keep it to a minimum and you will, once again, extend the life of your computer.

I think it goes hand in hand with this to say don’t touch the screen, no matter what.  The fastest way to ruin your beautiful screen is to touch it.  Just point.  Don’t put a pen to it.  Don’t put anything but a good micro fiber to it.  The screen is the most fragile part of your laptop (along with your hard drive) and it is the most vulnerable to getting dirty, so do your part and leave it be.  Don’t let your friends touch it.  Let them know that you don’t want them to touch it.  If they do, smack their hands!  Ok, maybe not, but tell them nicely not to touch the screen.

You can’t keep your computer completely clean.  This is what this section is about preventative maintenance.  The keyboard is the part that will be most noticeable worn the soonest.  Conveniently, it is also pretty easy and relatively cheap to replace.  If your keyboard is looking a bit shiny and doesn’t have the great response it used to, contact your manufacturer and try to order a replacement.  My computer has replacements available for between $40 and $60.  I think that a new keyboard every 9 months to a year is a good investment.  It makes a great difference in the look of the computer and the feel of the keyboard.  If you need more instructions, ask your manufacturer as they can provide the best instructions.

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The underside of the keyboard contains the ribbon cable – be sure not to damage it if you take your keyborad out.

The second to last key to preventative maintenance is the products you use to clean your computer.  I went through the products I like above, but here is my official recommendation.  Go to www.shaggymac.com.  You can find all of the cleaning supplies you need, and some of the tools you need.  Get their products.  It is a hefty , yet very worthwhile investment to start out (if you buy everything I recommend), but once you get and use these products, many people will agree with me that it is worth the time and money.  Remember, I am not paid to endorse any of these products; I endorse them because they are the best that I have found in my years of searching!  If you find something better, let me know, and I will see what I think of it compared to the best I have found.

The final key, and the holy grail to preventative maintenance is the micro fiber screen protector.  It took me a while to believe this, and I didn’t quite understand this at first, but I will not go with out one now.  All it is is a massive microfiber cloth, more precisely one the size of your screen.  You put it over the keyboard when you close your computer and that’s all.  It does several important things.  First, it gives you a micro fiber that you will always have with you.  This is already helpful for most, but read on.  Second, it keeps the screen from being damaged or dirtied by the keyboard.  It really makes a big difference in how long it takes for my screen to become noticeably dirty when I use one of these.  It is amazing.  Finally, it keeps the keyboard cleaner and slows the development of shiny keys.  On one of my computers I used one of these for four months with no noticeable shiny keys.  I lost it, and two weeks later the keyboard looked like a mirror from shiny keys!  I am serious that the effect can be profound.  I have used several different brands of these, and the hands down winner is the ShaggyMac.  Pick one up and use it.  I love it.

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My laptop with the ShaggyMac Screen Protector.  I think it makes the computer look nice while just sitting there.

No-No’s

My final words of wisdom are the “No-No’s”.  Do not do these things, even if you are desperate.  They risk making your computer significantly worse.  Again, if you do these, don’t blame me, its your fault.  Here they go.

Don’t touch your screen.  I addressed this before, just don’t do it.  It follows that if you have a mark on your screen, you don’t lick your finger and rub it off.  Leave the mark until you have the proper cleaning supplies.  Spit shining a laptop isn’t a good idea.  You will make a bigger mark on the screen.

Also, remember that your laptop screen probably has some special coatings on it.  Don’t use Windex or a similar product on your screen.  You will ruin the screen.  Windex is far too harsh.  Use only specific LCD cleaning products, and I say only use the Optimist Prime cleaner, which I trust with any screen I have.  Also, don’t use shirts or paper towels.  To you they may be “soft” but your screen will disagree.  Paper towels especially will scratch your screen, and many shirts will too.  A few bucks on a proper microfiber is affordable if you bought a laptop.  Use the microfiber, put it in your laptop bag and have it with you.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

This has been covered before, but no part of the computer should be cleaned with elbow grease.  Your computer is fragile and you spent a lot of money on it, so don’t go and break it for the sake of cleaning it.  If you damage it or make a big enough mess out of it, save yourself the money of breaking it and have it professionally cleaned.  It will be easier than ruining your screen and buying a new one, trust me.

When it comes to the keyboard there are fewer things you can do wrong.  First, don’t use Q-Tips or cotton balls.  They will get stuck in the keys and deposit debris all over.  This is exactly what you are trying to prevent.  The Grubby sticks that I recommend do a better job cleaning and don’t leave debris, so use them instead.  The final word of advice is to not tip your air can.  Its not hard to avoid, but when you tip the air can the magical air comes out as liquid that is freezing cold.  You can damage your computer and you can cause problems for yourself as well.  It is a precaution on the can, no need for more explanation, don’t do it.

I hope you have had enough by now, because for the hardware there isn’t a whole lot more.  I find that a clean computer is more attractive to use, and I suspect that you will too.  Keep it clean, and remember that these are only recommendations.  If you have things to add, or want to do things differently, go right ahead (just remember my disclaimer, ANY DAMAGE IS NOT MY FAULT).  Thanks for reading!

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And finally!  A nice, clean computer!

In case you missed the first three parts of the cleaning guide, be sure to read them below:

Cleaning Your Notebook Guide Part 1: Cleaning the Air Vents

Cleaning Your Notebook Guide Part 2: Cleaning the Keyboard and Case

Cleaning Your Notebook Guide Part 3: Cleaning the Screen

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