How to clean a CPU without damaging it

It’s not the most fun part of owning a computer, but regular cleaning and maintenance are important to long-term component performance. The CPU, specifically, is a component that is not cleaned often.

For general maintenance, compressed air on the cooler fans and some on the CPU will suffice. If the CPU fan is extremely dirty, or you need to clean the CPU thermal paste or socket pins, you will need a deeper cleaning.

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Before You Start

When handling components such as the CPU, it is important to consider static loading to prevent component damage. You can wear an antistatic wrist strap or you can touch the PC chassis from time to time to safely discharge static electricity. Next, you’ll want a clean workspace and a place to safely store smaller components like screws. They are hard to follow, so if they get lost, it will be a hassle later. Finally, these are the main things you will need when cleaning the CPU:

  • Antistatic equipment
  • A very soft bristle brush.
  • 99% pure isopropyl alcohol
  • microfiber cloth or cotton swab

How to clean the thermal paste from CPU?

Using isopropanol or thermal paste cleaner and a microfiber cloth, you can gently rub and wipe the thermal paste off of the CPU. Here are the full steps to do it:

  1. Shut down your PC and unplug all power cables.
  2. Lay the case on its side or remove the motherboard from the case.
  3. Carefully remove the CPU cooler from the motherboard.
  4. Apply some isopropyl alcohol to the microfiber cloth and gently wipe off the old thermal paste from the CPU. Repeat the same process on the Cooler Block as well. Once you’re done, let the surfaces dry for a few hours.
  5. If you need to clean the pins or the cooler fan further, please refer to the sections below first. If not, apply a pea-sized amount of thermal paste to the center of the CPU.
  6. For standard Intel coolers, place the cooler face down, aligning the four pins on the cooler with the four holes around the CPU. Press down on two diagonally opposite pegs until you feel them snap into place, then repeat this process for the remaining two pegs as well. For AMD coolers, hook the cooler on both sides, then close the latch arm.
  7. Plug the cooler fan plug into the CPU fan header on the motherboard.
  8. Put the motherboard back into the case, reconnect all cables and screws, and turn on your PC.
  9. Cleaning off the old thermal paste and applying a fresh coat should have a noticeable impact on CPU temperature. As such, most users like to monitor CPU temperature.

How to clean a CPU fan/cooler?


Light cleaning with a can of compressed air is usually enough for the CPU fan. But in cases where that’s not enough, here’s how you can deep clean the CPU fan: Follow the steps in the previous section until you have disconnected the CPU cooler from the motherboard.

  1. Grasp one of the handles that hold the heat sink and fan in place and gently pull it out. Repeat the same for the other handles until the heat sink and fan are separated. You can also use a flathead screwdriver if the handles are difficult to remove by hand.
  2. Hold the fan blades in place and use compressed air to remove any dust. Alternatively, you can also use a regular brush to do the same thing.
  3. For a deeper clean, you can apply a little isopropyl alcohol to a cotton swab or microfiber cloth and use them to further clean the fan.
  4. Next, take the heat sink and rinse it under tap water while using a brush to remove all the dust.
  5. Let it dry for a few hours. Do not neglect this step as it is very important to let the heat sink dry completely.
  6. Once the heat sink is completely dry, apply some isopropyl alcohol to a microfiber cloth and wipe off the old thermal paste.
  7. Reassemble the fan and heat sink by reversing the process from Step 2.
  8. Finally, refer to the previous section for steps to clean the CPU, reapply thermal paste, and reassemble everything.

How to clean CPU pins/sockets?


Sometimes people apply too much thermal paste on the CPU and when they install the cooler it ends up dripping onto the pins. This is a common problem that, thankfully, isn’t a big deal most of the time, as most thermal pastes these days are not electroconductive. However, CPU pins are very fragile, so you still need to be very careful when handling them. With all that said, here are the necessary steps:

  • See the previous sections for steps to remove the CPU if necessary.
  • If you have a can of spray contact cleaner handy, you can use it to easily wipe off the paste. However, most people don’t have it, in which case you can follow the steps below.
  • Take a toothpick and carefully remove as much of the paste as you can without moving the pins.
  • Take a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush, dab a bit of isopropyl alcohol on it, and use it to very gently (with almost no pressure) clean the paste off the pins. Make sure none of the pins are bent here, as fixing them can be a real hassle later on. It’s also worth mentioning that q-tips and isopropyl alcohol also work well, as long as you don’t get cotton fibers between the pins.
  • When the brush has picked up some paste, wipe it off with a microfiber cloth. Then go back to the pins. Repeat this until you’ve cleaned as much of the thermal paste off the pins as possible.
  • Once the cleanup is complete, let the CPU dry for a couple of hours.
  • If you attempt to clean the gold-plated contact points on the CPU, we recommend that you use an alcohol wipe/wipe. Don’t forget to dry the CPU afterwards.

Uses of PGA sockets

AMD primarily uses PGA sockets where the pins are on the CPU and line up with the holes in the socket. If you are trying to clean the thermal paste from such plugs, we recommend wiping straight across with an isopropyl wipe.

For a deeper clean, you can pour a little isopropanol into the plug holes, gently scrub with a brush to remove as much of the paste as possible, and then use compressed air to blow all of the isopropanol out along with the paste. Once again, remember to let the motherboard dry completely before putting the CPU back in.

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