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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.