Heat and Dust

The most important part of your laptop that needs to be clean is… the heatsink. Yes, heat is the “cause of death” for most laptops. The heat not only causes all components to expand and contract a little (as you turn it on and off), but will also reach dangerously high levels and make your laptop crash or shut down if the fan(s) and the heatsink(s) are clogged with dust.

Completely blocked…

All computers work a little bit like vacuum cleaners – sucking air form one side and blowing it out from the other. Unfortunately they don’t come with filter bags to catch all the dust and debris. After just a few months the fans and heatsinks are well coated with dust. If not cleaned, their effectiveness quickly drops and eventually goes down to zero when the heatsinks get fully clogged.

For desktop PCs this process is somehow slower and less noticeable as there is a lot of air circulating inside the case, hopefully with both intake and exhaust fans pushing it through. Also the CPU heatsink and fan are quite bigger and more powerful. There are also fans on the power supply, on the video card and probably on the chipset, for a total count of up to six fans making sure your PC stays cool. However laptops usually have just one or two smaller fans that have to do it all.

I would suggest a little experiment. Look around you for a lamp with an ordinary 100W light bulb. Now turn it on for five minutes and hold your hand about an inch away from it (be careful not to touch the bulb, it will scorch you!). Do you feel it? Yes, that is the heat generated inside that shiny new powerful laptop you just bought.

The cure? It’s easy: get yourself a can of compressed air and blow away the dust off the fan and heatsink. This has to be done every couple of months or after about 50 – 60 days of using your laptop. The compressed air is quite handy for the keyboard too, blowing away all the debris from between the keys. This is not a very well known fact, but it is the most important part of maintaining your laptop.

Yes, it can get that hot. The laptop case is melted!

However if the heatsink has already been clogged, this won’t help. The compressed air will not be enough to unclog it. If you have never cleaned the heatsink and you had used your laptop for over a year, chances are that both the fan and the heatsink are clogged with dust and debris. The solution in this case is to remove the heatsink, clean it and install it back. This is best done in a laptop repair shop, as it takes quite a lot of experience and dexterity. One slip of the screwdriver may kill the laptop!

Some newer laptops have a special removable cover on the back for easy access to the heatsink. But most laptops have to be disassembled to reach it. Another problem is that the thermal paste between the heatsink and the CPU hardens with higher temperature, so if the laptop has been overheating, chances are that the heatsink is stuck solid to the CPU, making it very hard to remove. The process also includes removal of the old thermal paste from both the CPU and the heatsink and applying a small dab of fresh thermal paste, preferably silver filled for better heat transfer.

Another good overheating prevention is to ensure that the rubber feet on the bottom of the laptop are intact. Unfortunately they are usually just glued to the plastic and tend to fall off quite easy. They are very easy to replace and are available as spare parts for most laptops.

And lastly – don’t use your laptop while it’s on a soft surface, like bed cover or sofa. That will block the fan and the laptop will overheat. Try using something with a hard surface under the laptop, like a large hardcover book or a tray.

Simply put, heat is the biggest enemy of all laptops. By maintaining the cooling of your laptop at peak efficiency, you are doubling its lifespan.

75 thoughts on “Heat and Dust”

  1. Good article. You say “Some newer laptops have a special removable cover on the back for easy access to the heatsink. ” Do you know any model numbers of laptops with a special removable cover to access the heatsink? I want to buy one ! Thanks.

  2. Man some of you guys are not machine safe! Its to easy give it air. You clean in every so often but there are other things you can do to keep the heat down. They are called chill pads. Some computers are built to have dust covers on the keyboard. Im in Afghanistan and im tired of cleaning this thing every week. I might just invent laptop air filters. Duh!

  3. Great summary. I do something else to increase airflow under the laptop. I always prop the screen side on something that will lift it up an inch or two. My prop of choice is a box of staples. I am careful not to cover the bottom vents. Added benefit: the keyboard presents at a better angle.

  4. Cam:
    It’s not googs to use a keyboard cover for laptops as heat is dissipated throught the keyboard as well. If you use a keyboard cover to keep off dust you can use when the laptop is not running though .

  5. I’ve “fixed” at least 3 laptops in the last year that were overheating due to the air vents being blocked. One guy had taped over his for some reason + the other 2 were cleaned with a cardboard nozzle macgyver would have been proud of.

  6. I can’t point out enough how often people bring me their laptops and tell me its broken when the only problem is dust. People need to dust out their laptops at least once a year, ideally more, otherwise a laptop can EASILY over heat. The best way to clean laptop dust is by blasting it with compressed air. You don’t even need to OPEN the laptop, just blast ALL The vents. I purchase compressed air from my local Micro Center, but others can buy it online.

  7. Great tips on keeping heat down which keeps reliability up. I’ve seen a lot of dead laptops because they were operated on a soft surface and the laptop couldn’t breathe and died.

  8. Just to further clarify my laptop felt extremely hot to touch in the morning, then on a restart windows could not find the hard drive.
    The technician who replaced the hard drive told me to stop using it on a soft surface.

  9. Extremely useful info. I’m speculating that my hard disk was destroyed by overheating because I was worked for about 10 hours (overnight) with it resting on my blanket rather than a hard surface. It was really hot but I had an emergency support issue so I ignored the overheating.

  10. quite informative, do you any idea of dismantling or removing heatsink of HP Compaq Presario C767TU series laptop? I dont want to void the warranty bought it last May 2008. cheers

  11. Website with spillproof laptop keyboard cover

  12. Does anyone make a keyboard cover for laptops? We use a couple in our shop and would like a cover to keep dust and grease out of the keyboard and internals.

  13. Steve, of course you cannot use a standard compressor that is used for spray-painting or air tools. For PC/laptops cleaning you need a small compressor with filter, like the ones used for air-brush, etc.

  14. Benjamin, you cannot use a vacuum to clean the heatsink(s). It just doesn’t work. The dust has to be blown away. Try a can of compressed air without using the thin tube attachment that cames with it.

  15. Many thanks to reply “#3 by admin”.

    Of course, getting the unit opened and clean by a qualified technician is the ultimate solution.

    However, would you consider using (instead of a compressor) the nozzle of an AC-powered electric vacuum cleaner to suck out dust directly from both the air-in & air-out vents ?

    Thank you.

  16. Benjamin, it’s usually quite hard to remove the heatsinks on most laptops, the two mentioned above too. The best/easiest way would be to use a small compressor (with clean air) to blow away as much of the dust as possible without disassembling the laptops.

    You can also try compressed air can, but it usually doesn’t have the power needed to clean a clogged heatsink properly.

  17. Okies, thanks alot for what you wrote about the heat-sink.

    I have the latest Lenovo ThinkPad T61 and another MSI VR320.

    Please kindly advise me how to remove their heat-sinks for proper cleaning.

    Thank you.

  18. Very nice and informative web site! Thank you for all your work.

    I still can’t believe that there is so much dust inside a laptop, like the top picture. And is that really a melted laptop in the second picture? Did it still work? Anyway, I know what to do with my laptop now. Oh and thanks to my friend Jigi for telling me about this site.

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