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Computer repair specialists will tell you that their most frequent customers are those who do not maintain their equipment. Computer manuals do a great job of showing us what our machines can do, but leave a lot to be desired when it comes to caring for our equipment. You would never purchase a pair of pants, of course, and wear them day after day without washing them. Yet, thousands of computer users power up on a regular basis without thinking of doing much more than wiping off the monitor. Dust, indoor air pollution and even a buildup of static electricity can do serious damage to your machinery. Fortunately, learning how to properly care for your computer and all it's components is not difficult.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:

A soft rag or anti static cloth, cotton swabs, soapy water, anti-static spray (Optional), specialized cleaner (Optional), can of compressed air, alcohol swabs (Optional)

As a rule of precaution, always unplug your components and power off your machine before attempting any cleaning.

THE MONITOR Dirt and dust are drawn to your monitor daily and can seriously obstruct a clean view. Many doctors agree that an uncared for computer monitor can lead to vision problems, including serious eyestrain. So, it's important to give special attention to your screen on a regular basis.

Before attempting to clean your monitor's screen, read the manufactures manual to find out what kind of monitor glass you have. Many newer models feature anti glare coatings that can be damaged when wiped with glass or window cleaners. If you do not have an anti glare coating on your screen, it's safe to clean with eyeglass cleaner, a fluid specially made for monitors or soapy water. If you find that you own a specialized screen, never attempt to wipe it clean with anything other that a fluid specially made for your monitor's screen, a damp cloth or mild soapy water.

1. Dampen a soft rag or anti static cloth with either mildly soapy water, water or a specialized cleaner. (Always spray your cleaning solution on the cloth and never directly on to the monitor itself.)

2. Wipe your entire screen and then wipe dry immediately with a second cloth in order to prevent streaking. Repeat, if necessary.

3. To clean the outside of your monitor, it is suitable to use either soapy water or a specialized cleaner made for plastics. Be careful when cleaning around ventilation holes and other openings. Never spray a cleaning solution on the monitor casing. Always spray solutions on to the rag itself.

KEYBOARD

1. Turn the keyboard upside down and shake lightly to loosen any large particles of dirt or food that may be lodged between keys.

2. With the keyboard resting on it's side, stick the extension to a can of compressed air (or nozzle of special keyboard vacuum) in between the rows of keys. Be careful to use only short bursts of air. Longer bursts could cause condensation to build up inside the can.

3. Wipe down individual keys and surfaces with a rag sprayed with soapy water. The rag should be damp, not wet. For stains or hard to clean areas, a little extra scrubbing with alcohol pads or wipes works well. To remove dirt from in between individual keys, use a damp cotton swab.

MOUSE

The computer mouse is one of the most frequently used components on your computer and should be cared for weekly. A dirty mouse will cause erratic behavior, such as skipping and getting stuck, letting you know it's time for a quick cleaning job.

1. Disconnect the mouse and turn it upside down.

2. Rotate the plastic ring on the bottom of the mouse (arrow indicators will show you which way to turn) until it pops off, exposing the ball inside.

3. Remove the ball and with a cloth sprayed with warm water, clean off any visible debris. Dry the ball with a separate cloth and set it aside.

4. Spritz water on to a cotton swab and wipe the rollers (there are three) inside the mouse casing.

5. Place the ball back into the mouse and reconnect the plastic ring.

You can clean the outside of the mouse casing with mild soapy or lukewarm water and a damp cloth. Mousepads should also be given special attention and wiped clean often.

COMPUTER CASING

The inside of your computer does not need to be cleaned more than a few times a year. Before attempting to open the casing, read the owner's manual for specific instructions on how to remove the casing safely. Also, be certain all of your components are unplugged before attempting to open your computer.

1. Once you have the top case removed, you should see the circuit boards in sight. Using a can of compressed air, blow any visible dust and debris out of your unit. (That which accumulates on the bottom of your casing during blowing can be removed with alcohol swabs or a damp cloth.)

2. Blow out all the vents inside your case. The largest amount of dirt and dust collects near internal fans and vents. Using short bursts of air (with the extension nozzle removed), you can loosen and free much of the debris that has collected.

3. Reattach the casing.

You can clean the outside of your computer casing with a damp rag of soapy water. Compressed air can be used to blow out connections and openings on the back of the casing.

COMPONENTS

FLOPPY DRIVES: It's a good idea to clean your floppy drive a few times a year. Specially formulated floppy drive cleaner is the safest and easiest way to completely remove dirt and debris from the drive, although pumping a few short bursts of compressed air through the opening will help to free dirt and dust before it becomes a problem.

CD/DVD DRIVES: Can be cleaned a few times a year, as well, with specially formulated cleaners and cleaning discs. The actual CD/DVD plastic tray can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.

SCANNERS/CAMERAS: Scanner glass and camera lenses should be wiped with mild, soapy water as often as necessary. Use a soft rag when cleaning the lens, to avoid any possible damage.

PRINTERS: Wipe the casing and paper trays with a damp cloth. Most printer heads are self cleaning, so check your software for special instructions on how to operate.