Keeping your computer components clean is an integral part of being a responsible computer user. Your motherboard has so many different ports and modules. It also performs a plethora of operations that can be impeded if it’s too dirty.
Dust and debris can impair connections to the motherboard and even keep your computer from working, mainly because they can increase the heat on the board.
Everyone should include a routine cleaning of their motherboard in their list of chores — along with the rest of the computer components. However, some people will need to go further and deep clean their motherboard for it to operate correctly.
How To Clean A Motherboard
If you haven’t cleaned a motherboard before, approach the operation with a lot of caution. Motherboards are delicate, and the wrong move could damage the equipment and make it unusable in the future.
There are two main ways to clean a motherboard: routine cleaning and deep cleaning.
Routine cleaning is something you should include as part of your regular computer maintenance schedule. It doesn’t require much special equipment, and you don’t have to remove your motherboard from your computer to do it. This is the only kind of motherboard cleaning that most people need to do.
Deep cleaning requires alcohol and a lot of caution. This type of cleaning is necessary when the motherboard has been in a filthy environment, or something was spilled on it. If you do it improperly, you can brick the motherboard.
For reference, I’ve only had to deep clean a motherboard once — when we bought a possibly damaged motherboard for a test build, and there was visible dirt on it. There are three computers used daily in my household, and we’ve never had to deep clean the motherboards we purchased new for them.
To perform a routine cleaning for your motherboard, use compressed air and a very soft brush. Before starting, shut down your computer, flip the power supply switch, and unplug it from the wall. You want the computer to be in an area that’s easy to clean since dust will blow out of it.
- Open the side panel of the computer. If there are multiple panels, remove them all. You want space for the dust to vacate the machine.
- Use a can of compressed air to remove the dust by directing the spray across the machine’s components. Your starting place will vary depending on the setup of your computer. It’s best to start at the top and work your way down since dust will fall and settle on lower components as you go.
- When you approach your motherboard, make sure to work from the case’s back to the front. You do not want the tip of the compressed air can to touch your motherboard directly. Keep it about an inch away from the motherboard. Continue using compressed air on the motherboard until all the loose dust is off.
- Continue blowing compressed air into the case and onto the components until the loose dust is free of the case.
- Examine the motherboard to see whether there is still dust on it. Certain areas may be challenging to reach, or there could be stuck on dust that you want to remove.
- Use the soft brush to remove any dust stuck on the motherboard gently.
- Spray compressed air across the computer and its components, including the motherboard, one more time to remove any dust you pulled up with the brush.
- Close your computer and set it back up as usual.
When you clean your motherboard, it’s a good time to do other computer maintenance operations. You can remove the case fans, wash them, and dry them. You can check your wiring for loose connections or clean up any overlapping cables.
Cleaning your motherboard this way, at least every quarter, is an excellent way to keep it working. Removing dust will keep it from overheating, too, which can help you get better performance.
Keep an eye on your motherboard and the inside of your case to determine whether you need to clean it more often. Some computers gather dust more quickly than others, depending on where they’re placed in a room.
Deep cleaning a motherboard should be saved for motherboards that are in dire straits. We purchased one that had been in a flooded home and wasn’t guaranteed to work.
It was caked with visible dirt. Once we’d deep cleaned it extensively, it worked again. However, such results can’t be guaranteed even with a meticulous and thorough deep cleaning.
Before you start, make sure to get:
- Lint-free cotton pads
- 99 percent isopropyl alcohol
- A metal tub larger than the size of your motherboard
- A brush with nylon bristles
- A lint-free drying towel
You must remove the motherboard from a computer before attempting to deep clean it. You shouldn’t have anything else plugged into it either. Make sure you are only cleaning the motherboard, not the CPU, cables, or any other connected devices.
Small Areas Of Dirt
If only a small area of the motherboard is dirty, try this.
- Set the motherboard down on the lint-free towel. Examine it to find the areas you most want to clean. If only part of the motherboard is dirty, you shouldn’t have to soak the entire board to clean it.
- Wet a lint-free cotton pad with isopropyl alcohol. Gently dab it on the dirty spots on the motherboard. As you see the grime on each pad, wet a new one and return to the board. Continue cleaning the visible dirt until the pad comes away white.
- Allow the motherboard to dry for a full 24 hours before replacing it on your computer.
Extremely Dirty Motherboard
If the entire motherboard is a mess, try this:
- Fill the tub about an inch high with 99 percent isopropyl alcohol.
- Lower the motherboard into the tub.
- Gently agitate it in the liquid. You want to make sure the alcohol is getting to all the affected areas. Lift it up.
- Use the nylon brush to loosen any stubborn dirt that stays on the motherboard gently. Dip it back into the alcohol and agitate it again.
- Remove it from the alcohol and set it on the lint-free towel. Let it dry for at least 24 hours — though I prefer to wait for 48 hours — before replacing it on your computer.
Warnings Before You Clean A Motherboard
Make sure to test your motherboard before you do a deep cleaning. There may not be a need for it if it’s working properly and there’s no visible debris.
Always use 99 percent pure isopropyl alcohol. The purer it is, the better it is for your motherboard. Under no circumstances attempt to clean it with any other liquid. While it can be challenging to find 99 percent, lower purity levels won’t work as well and have a higher chance of causing damage. The higher the purity, the less water is in the mix.
If your motherboard is still under any kind of warranty, it’s better to contact the warranty company before attempting to apply isopropyl alcohol to your motherboard. They might offer free professional cleaning. At the least, they can let you know whether doing this will void the warranty.
Wetting your motherboard can cause it to stop working, even when using isopropyl alcohol. The deep cleaning method should only be done on extremely dirty motherboards that won’t work otherwise.
Wear gloves and goggles when using large amounts of isopropyl alcohol. Make sure you’re working in a ventilated area.
Is It Okay To Wash A Motherboard?
People have successfully washed motherboards, and sometimes they’re so messy that it’s the only way to make them function properly. However, drying time is critical. If any liquids other than 99 percent pure isopropyl alcohol touch your board, wait at least a week before plugging the motherboard back in.
Can I Wash A Motherboard With Soap And Water?
While some people will use distilled water to clean their unplugged motherboard, under no circumstances should you ever use soap. People have even put motherboards in the dishwasher — without soap — and still had their board function afterward. However, using isopropyl alcohol is a better choice than water.
Can You Fix A Corroded Motherboard?
A motherboard with extreme corrosion can still be saved in some cases. This is where deep-cleaning with isopropyl alcohol comes in handy.
Can You Use 50 Percent Isopropyl Alcohol To Clean A Motherboard?
You shouldn’t. Sticking to 99 percent is your best bet. However, if you ever get a lower purity isopropyl alcohol on your motherboard, make sure to let it dry longer than you would with 99 percent pure isopropyl. The more considerable amount of water in the mix will damage your motherboard if it isn’t completely dry before you plug it back in.