Cleaning and sanitizing your computer equipment are good practices to follow in normal times. In the midst of a global pandemic, they take on amplified importance. Not only will regular cleaning keep your equipment in top working condition, but it can also remove substantial amounts of contagions from some of the surfaces you touch most in a day.
The Difference Between Cleaning and Sanitizing
Cleaning and sanitizing are related but independent concepts. The former refers to physically removing dust, dirt, grime and debris, while the latter neutralizes bacteria and viruses. Since these infectious molecules cling to dirt, cleaning will remove the majority of any nasty microbes that will make you sick, but your equipment isn’t sanitized until you’ve done so chemically (e.g., with rubbing alcohol or another cleaner).
How often you clean and sanitize depends on your environment and interactions with others. If you work in a garage or shop, cleaning will be a higher priority and might need to be done daily. If you're sharing a computer with others inside an office, you might only need to clean it monthly, but you should sanitize peripheral equipment each day.
How to Clean and Sanitize Computer Equipment
Every piece of computer equipment should be cleaned and sanitized periodically, but the peripherals you touch frequently should be the top priority. These include mice, keyboards and trackpads. Before working on any of these, though, power them down completely and unplug them from your computer. If you're dealing with battery-powered accessories, turn them off and remove the batteries — this includes laptops.
Mice come in many shapes and sizes, from simple ergonomic designs to gamer-style options with numerous crevices and controls. The more unique your mouse is, the more surfaces you’ll need to address. Begin by using a clean, damp cloth to wipe down the exterior surface. If grime has built up since your last cleaning, a bit of elbow grease is the best solution. Harsh chemicals or solvents can have unintended effects you want to avoid. For stubborn spots, use something rigid but forgiving, such as a toothpick.
Once you’ve removed visible dirt and dust, wipe the mouse down with a disinfectant bleach wipe or a paper towel sprayed with rubbing alcohol. If you’re using isopropyl alcohol, it needs to be at least a 70- percent concentration; if it’s ethanol, be sure to purchase at least a 60 percent concentration. Don’t forget to wipe down the cord for non-wireless mice.
Keyboards are a bit more involved. Yours might have come with a keycap removal tool, which will allow you to pull each key off and clean beneath it. If you don’t have one, you can buy an inexpensive tool from any computer store. Wipe down the surface of the keyboard with a soft, damp cloth before removing anything. Pull the keys off and use a can of compressed air to get rid of the dust and loose dirt in the key bed. A toothpick can also be useful here if you have any embedded grit. Laptop keyboards should be treated similarly, but with a bit of extra precaution. Unlike an external keyboard, all of a laptop's sensitive components are housed directly beneath the keys. As long as you’re careful and don’t use too much cleaning solution, though, you should be fine.
When you’re done, put the keys back onto the board, but be sure to pull up a picture of your keyboard layout before doing so! Otherwise, you might end up with some interesting (and confusing) combinations.
Trackpads are another area to focus on. Power off your computer completely, then use a soft, damp cloth to wipe down the trackpad and area on either side of it thoroughly. Use a toothpick to trace the recessed lip all the way around the pad and dislodge any grime that you find. Once it’s physically clean, use disinfecting wipes or alcohol spray to disinfect it.
Keeping Your Computer Equipment Clean and Sanitized
The best way to clean your equipment is to keep it from getting dirty in the first place. Don’t eat at your desk and keep drinks away from the computer. Wash your hands often and have alcohol spray or disinfecting wipes close by so you can use them frequently. If your computer is in a dusty or dirty environment, investing in a washable keyboard cover is a good idea.
If you share computers with someone, consider purchasing your own mouse and keyboard. This isn’t always feasible, but it’s worth the investment when you can. A simple USB port swap when you sit down to work will prevent you from being exposed to numerous avoidable germs.
Moiz Bhinderwala leads the technical services and logistics teams at Dynamic. With more than 10 years of experience in the IT industry, Moiz has deep knowledge of the complex technological landscape, working closely with clients to understand their IT challenges and help design custom technical solutions to meet their business goals.