Preserving server hardware (Part 2)

by [Published on 1 Nov. 2016 / Last Updated on 1 Nov. 2016]

The article in this short series examines how to properly clean dust, hairs, and other gunk from small business server systems and PCs.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

In the previous article in this series we examined different types of airborne particulates and how they can affect the health of your small business server systems and PCs. We described several examples of hazardous examples taken from real-life stories communicated to me by my friends and colleagues who work in IT in business environments or provide technical and support services for small businesses. And we also examined various solutions for ensuring your servers, PCs, and laptops don't get damaged by airborne particulates.

Unfortunately it may not always be possible to protect your servers and other systems from dust, hair, and other stuff floating around the air of your office or server room. Home offices are a prime example of this; after all, if your cat is peacefully sleeping on top of your PC, do you really want to annoy him by waking him?

What can you do then if your PC gets full of dust balls, cat hair, and similar junk? If that happens then you need to take steps to clean your systems, both externally and internally, to ensure they continue to function properly and support the activities of your business. In my email conversations with the almost 100,000 subscribers to our weekly newsletter WServerNews.com I've received a number of different tips and recommendations on how to clean a PC or server that's gotten gunked up like this, and I want to share some of these reader suggestions for the benefit of our WindowsNetworking.com readership. And if you have suggestions of your own for how to clean out dust and stuff from PCs, email me at wsn@mtit.com so we can share your expertise with our newsletter subscribers.

Tip #1: Keep the surrounding environment clean by vacuuming regularly

Businesses that use PCs usually have desks where their users sit when they work on their computers. Those desks and the spaces under them can become breeding grounds for dust bunnies that can get sucked into users' PCs by the fans that run in them. So it's important not just to periodically clean PCs but also to clean the desks they sit on or under. In this regard Ben, a reader of ours who works for an architectural company, says he uses a handheld Black & Decker vacuum cleaner to suction dust both from users' desks in the company he works for:

"This may sound dumb but one of my favorite tools is my Black & Decker 20V Pivot Vacuum. It was cheap and it is AWESOME. I don't know about you but as a guy who works on end users computers, people's desks get disgusting with dust bunnies. It is almost as powerful as a full size vacuum and the battery last a long time."

Tip #2: Use compressed air to clean dust from PC cases and peripherals

If a vacuum cleaner like the one Ben recommends can be used to clean users' desks, can it also be used to vacuum dust and hair from the front, sides and back of a PC case or server tower? Ben's answer to this question is No:

"I don't use this [vacuum] to clean any PC internals. That is a bad idea. At least with full size vacuums, the dust travelling up the hose creates static and will zap components."

Static electricity is the enemy of electronic components, so the last thing you want to do is vacuum the back of your PCs to remove the dust and hair that's clogging up their fans. A better approach according to Ben is to use compressed air for this solution. Now you can of course buy cans of compressed air for this purpose in the computer section of office supply stores like Staples or Office Depot, but if you do this regularly you can run up quite a bill for your business. In addition, canned air isn't a very "green" or environmental approach to cleaning PCs as these cans end up needing to be recycled after using them up. To solve this problem, Ben recommends a different approach as follows:

"For cleaning PC's, keyboards, etc., I use this awesome quiet air compressor and a blow gun."

In examining the specs of this compressor that Ben recommends, I notice that it uses an oil-free pump. This is a good choice for an IT pro as it means you get cleaner air blowing out of it (i.e. no tiny oil droplets) and the compressor itself is easier to maintain--and the last thing a busy IT pro wants is one more piece of equipment that needs regular maintenance.

Michael, another regular reader of our WServerNews newsletter and a hard-working IT pro that I did a two-part interview with (here and here) has his own recommendation for blowing dust from PCs and servers:

"Cleaning out the inside of a computer... I have owned a DataVac Electric Duster ED-500 for years now, and it is a beautiful piece of equipment. It feels heavy for its size, it feels natural and comfortable in the hand, solid, well-made, and can clean out years of accumulated dirt and dust... it is just a wonderful product."

If you read the specs on this product you'll be amazed at the power of this thing. They indicate that the 500 Watt motor of this device "literally blasts dust, dirt and debris off expensive computer/electronic equipment to keep it running at peak efficiency." Since efficiency (least time to accomplish a task) is highly valued by busy IT pros, Michael's solution might be an even better one to explore than the one Ben has been using for many years.

Tip #3: Take a few necessary precautions

Finally, before you try to really clean your gunked-up PC or server by opening its case and blowing compressed air on all its component parts, you need to take several precautions to make sure that you don't damage the computer--or yourself--as you undertake your cleaning blitz. For example you should:

  • Disconnect any cables (and especially the power cord) from the computer.
  • Take the system into a well-ventilated room (or outside).
  • Wear a dust mask over your nose and mouth.
  • Use a pen or pencil to immobilize any fans before trying to blow dust off of them.

Then once you've finished your cleaning efforts, gently re-seat any cards or modules that may have become loosened from their sockets from handling the computer. Wipe down the outside of the case (including the bottom) using a slightly damp cloth. Reconnect the power cable and any other cables you disconnected. Then turn the computer on and make sure it works properly.

Performing regular maintenance like this on your PCs and servers is a must, especially if the environment they are located does not have filtered air or has lots of human beings (or cats) present. Remember, the human body sheds tens of thousands of dead skin cells every hour and most of those end up floating around, so they can easily get sucked into computers by the fans used to cool them. Yech!

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

See Also


The Author — Mitch Tulloch

Mitch Tulloch avatar

Mitch Tulloch is a well-known expert on Windows Server administration and cloud computing technologies. He has published over a thousand articles on information technology topics and has written, contributed to or been series editor for over 50 books.

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