Table of Contents




Keep It Clean:

Maintenance tips to keep your system humming

by Ken Fermoyle


My approach to computer maintenance and cleanliness was, I suspect, similar to that of most computer users: haphazard to minimal. I vacuumed around my work area, used an air duster and disk drive cleaner occasionally, and used anti-static wet-dry wipes to clean monitor screens when dust build-up got really bad. That was about it;

Two things recently prompted the most thorough and organized clean-up and maintenance effort I have yet attempted. One was the research I did for Keep It Clean, Part 1 of this series. Second was addition of a new flatbed scanner to the system. Since accommodating the scanner meant completely reorganizing my work station, I took it as a sign that I should practice what I was preaching.

Normally I would have done the minimum amount of work necessary to make room for the scanner and get it operating. (Especially since I had been waiting impatiently to get it up and running for five weeks, but that's a subject for another article, Scanners, Part 2.) This time I unplugged everything, making sure all cables, wires and connections were clearly labeled so I could hook things up quickly and correctly later. Some people may be so familiar with their system that they can skip this step but I don't rely that much on my memory and expertise. I find that clear labels (I use masking or white correction tape a lot) save time in the long run.

Next I cleared everything from my work area: mini-tower, monitor, printer & stand, desk organizer, manuals, and all the odds and ends that accumulate on, under and around a desk. Out came the vacuum cleaner with hose, brushes and crevice tool so I could get rid of the appalling amount of soot, dust and assorted crud this revealed. Then I got out some sponges, clean rags and spray bottle of 409 cleaner and scrubbed the desk and shelves.

Now it was time for the system components. I followed all steps outlined in Part 1: vacuum air intakes and vents on computer case and peripherals; use compressed air duster liberally; clean crevices with cotton swabs; clean keyboard (I used Staticide's Keyboard Cleaning Kit) and mouse (Logitech trackball, in my case).

Next I turned to our laser printer. Staticide makes a Laser Printer Cleaning Kit that includes cartridge cleaning papers, cleaning solution, lint-free swabs and anti-static wipes, plus ink remover hand wipes. It eased the task considerably. I also recommend The Underground Guide to Laser Printers, a book from Peachpit Press that should be on the reference shelf of anyone who owns a laser printer. It not only includes more detailed maintenance tips than I could possibly include in a short article, but is chockful of other info that can save you money and help you make better use of your laser printer.

Two warnings are appropriate: Be very, very careful when cleaning the fine corona and transfer wires (they are fragile and expensive to replace), and beware of the fuser area (hot, could burn you). Also, check your printer manual for information on filter location(s) and maintenance recommendations. The Underground Guide mentioned above also offers invaluable information on ozone filters. It suggests that your nose is a good guide to tell you when an ozone filter needs replacement.

"Ozone at ground level gives off a pungent, acrid odor. You may have noticed this aroma around high-tension power lines, toy trains, or after a lightning storm." The ozone smell is noticeable at levels well below the recommended safe level, the book notes. But if you detect that characteristic ozone odor, it means the ozone filter is getting clogged and should be replaced. Excess ozone contributes to smog and can cause health hazards ranging from dryness and irritation or eyes, nose and throat to nausea, headaches and possible premature aging, or even worse at very high levels.

(Our ink-jet I left for later, because I plan to do a future article on color ink-jet printers; it will include buying tips, pros and cons of refilling ink cartridges, plus cleaning and maintenance information.)

Next I turned to the disk drives, using an air duster to clean around the openings to the CD ROM and Syquest EX 135 removable cartridge drives. I inserted an Allsop drive cleaning disk into the floppy drive (after adding cleaning solution per instructions) to clean the drive heads.

Wires and cables had been a snarled mess when I started, after having been changed, unplugged and replugged, and re-routed many times. (Doubtless most of you reading this nedd only look behind and under your desk to see what I mean.) I routed everything carefully, coiling and tying excess phone wires and power or connecting cables. The labels attached to cables and connectors simplified things.

I had cleaned the exterior of many of the components earlier with ComputerBath's PowerCleaner solution, using the two-sided cloth: one side to wipe the cleaner on, the other to wipe a surface clean. Now I went over those I had missed. The monitor got extra attention; where I had taped notes of stuck on Post-Its needed two applications and some elbow grease. Eventually everything looked like new and spotless.

The whole process took most a morning, time well spent. (And it will go much faster next time if I don't neglect my cleaning duties for too long.) I can't prove that my efforts make my system more efficient, but I suspect the preventive maintenance will pay off over the long haul...and I'm enjoying that smug, righteous feeling that comes as a reward for a job well done!

Copyright 1997 by Ken Fermoyle, Fermoyle Publications.

Ken Fermoyle has written some 2,500 articles for publications ranging from Playboy and Popular Science to MacWeek, Microtimes & PC Laptop. He was cohost/producer of a radio show on computers and a partner in a DTP service bureau during the '80s. Fermoyle Publications offers editorial, consulting & graphics design services. and Ken's Korner, a syndicated monthly column free to User Group newsletters. For permission to reprint this article, contact kfermoyle@earthlink.net.

Last Update:06/26/2007


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