How to Clean Your Computer* (*Like a Grown-Up)

January is Clean Your Computer Month!

Since most of us rely on these machines to get anything done, you’d think we might do a better job of cleaning them.

But if you, like [name redacted to protect the guilty], haven’t cleaned your computer since 2005 and aren’t quite sure where to start, we’ve pulled together a list of the basics.

This is, apparently, how grown-ups take care of their computers, in seven only-mildly-complicated steps.


1. Dust & wipe down the hardware

First, tackle the screen. Regular household cleaners can damage a monitor screen, even glass cleaners. Experts recommend you use a soft cloth (microfiber is good) to gently wipe the dust and smudges away. Don’t push hard! If you need more than the dry cloth you can get it slightly damp.

Next, your keyboard. Keyboards have tiny spaces between the keys that can let in dust, crumbs, dead skin cells and other gross detritus. You have been warned.

Begin by turning your keyboard upside down and gently tapping the bottom. This should encourage loose dirt to make its way out. Wipe the disgusting results off your desk. Resolve to never eat at your computer again.

If you feel like there is still too much shrapnel inside your keyboard, you can use short bursts of canned air to blow it out. When you are happy with the results, use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to wipe the keys, including between. Not too wet, just enough to pick up the dust.

The mouse: you may need to repeat the cotton-swab-and-alcohol treatment on the ball or sensor under your mouse.

Wipe off the computer housing with the dry microfiber cloth. That’s better!

2. Sort, delete & store files

Over time you can collect a lot of files on your computer that you don’t need. Start with places like the Downloads and Documents folders, go through and delete anything you don’t use or no longer need. Using folders, organize the rest with a system that works for you, so if you ever do need these files you can find them.

Next, go through your pictures and delete duplicates and strange, non-descript blurs.

Move files you aren’t currently using to long-term storage, whether an external hard drive or the cloud.

Finally, now that your machine is a bit more organized, run an official backup. Breathe easier knowing that if your hard drive bites the dust you will still have your data.

3. Clear browser history

All those websites using your cookies!

It’s a good idea to go through now and again and just clear your browser history. Also check your bookmarks for any that are outdated, unneeded or no longer active.

While you are in there make sure any browser extensions are safe and up-to-date. Remove those you no longer use. Update your browser as well if you aren’t running the latest version.

4. Update passwords

It’s not cleaning your computer, strictly…but you should change your passwords (and yes, you need more than one!) regularly.

If you use a password-keeping program it helps with the transition!

Passwords you use for financial sites especially should be updated often.

5. Update your software & programs

Open your Programs folder and check it out. Do you have software installed that you don’t use anymore? Anything that’s out of date? Time to clean and organize!

Uninstall any software you no longer use. A caveat: only uninstall programs you have installed. Some programs your computer runs are necessary, even if you don’t recognize them. If in doubt, leave it alone.

6. Run a virus scanner

Take your pick; many companies offer free or inexpensive anti-virus software. You probably have one installed on your computer already!

Run it.

7. Defrag your hard drive

It’s time for the last step.

Once everything is cleaned up and organized and backed up and scanned, run your computer’s Disk Defragmenter.

This is a bit like taking everything out of your closet and putting it back in neatly folded and organized, except the closet is your computer’s hard drive and the clothes and shoes and hand bags are bits and bytes. You get a much more efficient experience and more space. 

There you are! You’ve cleaned your computer like a grown-up. Reward yourself with a firm pat on the back. And this badge. 

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