Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
A lot of time and thought goes into cleaning your hard disk, applications and so on. But what about the box itself and other attached peripherals?
I maintain the "inside" of my computer with CHKDSK, Disk Defragmenter, registry cleaners, antivirus, and antispyware programs. What advice do you have for cleaning the "outside" of the computer, such as the keyboard and for cleaning dust that builds up on other computer components?
We do spend a lot of time and energy discussing software maintenance. Everything from backups to viruses to keeping your system and applications up to date, healthy, and running smooth.
But we don't spend a lot of time talking about "the outside", as you put it. And we should, because it's just as important.
Before we start cleaning, turn off and unplug your computer.
In case you haven't run across the articles, there have been several studies that show that your keyboard is the filthiest part of your computer. Things fall in between the keys and they don't fall out. You don't have to spill your soft drink into it - it's enough that dust, food particles, and even hair will accumulate underneath and in between the keys of your keyboard. And if you have pets, plan on fur. Lots of fur. Trust me on this; it often seems like I have a Corgi's worth of fur in my keyboard alone.
My approach to cleaning the keyboard is relatively simple. Using a can of compressed air, readily available at office supply and other stores, hold the keyboard upside down and blow air in between the rows of keys. Use short bursts of air, both to dislodge gunk, but also because compressed air can become extremely cold if sprayed continuously.
Oh, and you'll probably want to do this outside, or over something that's easily wiped off. You'll be shocked at the amount of crud that'll fall out of your keyboard.
This same approach works for laptop keyboards as well, though you'll have to be careful as you hold your laptop upside down while blowing. Perhaps ask a friend to hold the machine for you.
Mice do need a little maintenance now and then.
Perhaps most important is using a good mouse pad and keeping it relatively clean. Dirt and other objects can confuse a mouse's optical sensor, and can also accumulate on the mouse itself, obscuring that sensor.
Naturally, make sure that the underside of the mouse it self is relatively clean. I find that scraping the gunk off of the mouse's pads or feet makes it move more smoothly.
The Computer Itself
There are two approaches to cleaning your computer, depending on whether you feel comfortable opening it up.
At a minimum, using a soft brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner, vacuum the dust from around your computer's fan(s). In fact, you should vacuum both the front and back panels of your computer, as all the little openings are places where dust can enter and accumulate.
If you have devices such as external hard disks and the like, this is now a good time to vacuum them as well. Look for vent holes in particular, and give them a quick cleaning.
If you're comfortable opening up your computer, it'll be obvious where the dust is accumulating once you look inside. Using that same soft brush attachment on your vacuum, carefully suck out all the dust and fur that you can. It doesn't have to be perfect, but those major areas of dirt will probably come away very easily.
The ideal location for your computer is a relatively dust free and cool room. Heat is your computer's worst enemy, and dust and dirt prevent that heat from being dissipated.
Now, out here in the real world, there's really no such thing as a dust (or fur) free room. But knowing that those are the issues, if you can keep the area around your computer clean it'll help prevent much of the gunk from getting into your computer in the first place.
Here I have no answer for you. It really depends on your computer and the environment you use it in. I tend to go for months without a cleaning, and then go on a tear whether the components need it or not. I could say once a month if you have a particularly dusty or dirty location, but "particularly dusty or dirty" might well mean something different to you than it does me.
As a rule of thumb, if you see an accumulation of dust on the inside of your computer's fan, it's probably time.
And if you turn your keyboard over and shake it and last week's lunch falls out, then it's definitely time.