computer tools of the trade

Computer Tools of the Trade

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In my post The Greatest Enemies of Electronic Devices, I promised to show you the necessary computer tools to clean and repair your machine. Most of them are inexpensive and readily available outside of specialty stores.

Required Computer Tools

Microfiber cloths: These can be used for simple dusting. They are lint-free, so they won’t leave a residue behind.

Cotton swabs and paper towels: Obviously, for absorbing liquid spills. Cotton swabs are best for small spaces, such as between keyboard keys. Do not stick either of these things inside of ports and drives; it’s best not to run the risk of having cotton fibers and lint inside your device.

Electronic device cleaning solution: Those of us who grew up with CRT monitors may remember using glass cleaners to clean the screens. Glass cleaners should never be used with LCD and plasma screens; they typically contain ammonia or vinegar, which will melt your screen.  Instead, use cleaning products that are specifically made for electronic devices.  I recommend the Windex Electronics line of products and 3M Electronic Cleaning Wipes. Also, you can always use plain water. Just make sure that the cloth or towel being used is damp, not dripping wet.

Woman wiping computer screen with water and cloth

Isopropyl alcohol: Similar to rubbing alcohol, but with less water and a higher concentration of alcohol, usually 91% and above. It is an excellent solvent for removing the natural oils from our fingerprints. For best results, apply isopropyl alcohol to the cleaning cloth instead of applying it directly to the device itself.

Gas duster: Commonly known as “canned air” or “compressed air.” This is used to blow dust out of small areas such as ports, drives, vents, and keyboard keys. The can should be held upright during use, the button pressed to deliver short, sharp blasts. Please note that the surface of the can will become extremely cold after prolonged use. The terms “canned air” and “compressed air” are misnomers. Gas dusters are made of compressed gases such as fluorocarbons and an aerosol propellant. As with any aerosol product, the contents are under high pressure. Gas dusters should never be punctured or stored at extremely high or low temperatures.

Gas duster, also known as compressed air or canned air

Screwdriver: You will need a hand-held screwdriver to open tower cases and laptops, and to install and remove drives and other components. A Phillips #2 screwdriver will handle most screws found in computers.

Screw extractor and needle nose pliers: Sometimes, a screw is difficult to remove. I once had to replace the screen on a laptop. Two of the screws holding it in place were driven into the frame so deeply that my screwdriver could not move them. I ended up stripping the head – that is, ruining the slots so that a screwdriver no longer fits properly. So, I had to use a screw extractor and needle nose pliers. A screw extractor drills inside a screw; needle nose pliers grip the head of a screw.

screw extractor and needle nose pliers

Left: screw extractor Right: needle nose pliers

Suggested Computer Tools

Power screwdriver: Some people prefer a power screwdriver over a hand-held one because of mobility issues. Power screwdrivers can be very useful as long as they are not operated at high speeds. This can not only strip screws, but damage the device itself.

Magnetized tools: I was always taught to avoid using magnetized tools on computers. Magnets, it was said, would erase all the data on your hard drives. A traditional hard disk stores information by using magnetic fields, so wouldn’t a magnetic screwdriver ruin it? Actually, it would take a very large and powerful magnet called a degausser to erase a hard drive. Screws used on computers tend to be very small, so a magnetized screwdriver could be a big help.

Computer Tools You Shouldn’t Use

Swiffer Dusters and vacuum cleaners: These two things are a boon to the art of housekeeping, but not so much to computers. As I have said before, electrostatic discharge (ESD) is one of the enemies of electronic devices; ESD can damage circuits and microchips. Swiffer Dusters rely on ESD to pick up dust particles. Vacuum cleaners are also known to generate large amounts of ESD. Microfiber cloths and gas dusters are sufficient to dust your computer. If you want to use a vacuum cleaner on your machine, buy a special anti-static vacuum cleaner. But be warned: they tend to be very expensive.

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