Laptops are small, personal computers with a clam shell design--they fold flat when stored and open to reveal the screen and keyboard. In many ways, a laptop is just a smaller version of a tower PC (Personal Computer). However, due to their small form factor and complicated design, they often become clogged with dust and other debris, which can cause significant issues, especially those related to overheating. Many laptops can become clogged with dust until they overheat almost immediately after turning on, causing instantaneous shutdown. This cannot be solved without cleaning out the laptop, specifically it's cooling system. Cleaning laptops can be difficult, as they are usually very difficult to disassemble for any sort of deep clean. This guide will guide a reader through various cleaning methods as well as disassembling a laptop in case access to the inside is required for cleaning.
Step 1: A Laptop's Outside
Laptops come in a wide variety of shapes with varying features and performance. As such, the specific components in any laptop can vary wildly. However, all laptops contain components equivalent to those in a standard tower PC as well as built-in versions of many peripherals.
Upon opening a laptop, many components become visible. The major components are annotated on the pictures above.
Most of the time the components most people will clean on their laptops are the keyboard and inlet/outlet fans. This works fine in the majority of cases, so I highly suggest that, before trying any more invasive cleaning methods, that this be attempted.
Step 2: Diagnosing the Problem
While many laptop problems are caused by an accumulation of dust and other debris, consider the other possible causes of the problem. Many computer issues are caused by software, which can be more easily fixed than hardware. In general, if your computer is hot to the touch when running, shuts down after booting up, and reboot (usually) mentions the computer shut down due to exceeding temperature requirements, then the issue is likely related to dust build up. If not, then your problem will likely not be solved by cleaning your computer as your computer displays none of the signs of an overheating issue. In this case, I recommend noting the symptoms the computer does exhibit, and searching for possible causes of those issues. Try to first determine whether your issue is hardware or software related first and then narrow it down from there. As there are too many possible issues to list them all here without straying from the focus of the guide, I cannot be specific as to what symptoms are indicators of what issues. However, I can recommend using laptoprepair101.com, which explains the possible causes of a wide variety of laptop symptoms, as a starting point in your search.
Step 3: Cleaning the Laptop's Vents and Keyboard
The easiest way to clean a laptops vents and outside (keyboard included) is by using compressed air. When using compressed air, it is important to make sure that the computer is off and the can is not held over the computer. Having the computer off while cleaning it is always a good idea, especially since compressed air grows colder as it is used--pressure inside the can decreases--meaning condensation can form and drip onto the computer. Also, some cans of compressed air will emit liquids when used for too long, so it is a good idea to test the can by spraying away from the computer before spraying near it.
Simply doing this should be enough to deal with most, if not all overheating issues. If it does not, then the computer likely has a more significant issue and may need to be disassembled.
Step 4: Finding Your Laptop's Service Manual
If you are going to attempt any form of cleaning within the insides of a laptop, it is imperative that you acquire a copy of its service manual. A tower PC does not need such a manual as all parts are easily accessible. A laptop does as the method of accessing any part is often extremely convoluted and non-intuitive.
To find your laptop's service manual, you need to find the company, make, and model number of the laptop. This is either located on the bottom of the laptop or inside its battery bay. Once found, the service manual can be easily found by googling, "[company] [make] [model #] service manual". Once you have a manual, double check the information to ensure that it is right one for your exact laptop; a small difference in model number often a different internal layout which makes the instructions useless and can lead to you breaking a component of your laptop. Once you are sure you have found the right service instructions, they can be followed to access the interior of the laptop. From there, the instructions will be your main guide to opening your laptop, though I have including pictures of the dismantling of my own laptop below which, while not the same process, will hopefully elucidate some common pitfalls.
Before you open the laptop, determine what component you want to access. In an overheating issue, the problem is likely with the processor and or cooling system. Therefore, this is where you would want to reach. Read the instructions on accessing these components and all components that must be removed during the process of reaching them before starting to dismantle anything.
Step 5: Dismantling Your Laptop
Follow the instructions in your service manual in order to dismantle your laptop. While the dismantling process shown above will not apply to you, I have tried to put all relevant advice below.
- Make sure you have the tools you need before you start. In most laptops, all that is needed is various screwdrivers, but pliers are often used to get extra torque.
- Be very careful not to strip the screws, as they are all very fragile with very narrow ruts to grip onto.
- When popping clipped components apart, use a screwdriver or (preferably) a plastic wedge to hold the component open as the clips will often re-attach if left to themselves.
- Be careful handling any components; if they are damaged there is not an easy replacement.
- Cabling can be tricky to pull out and insert. I found using a very small, flat head screwdriver was helpful for some cables.
- Cables that are flat like a ribbon are removed by flipping up a protective cover over the end
- Cables which have a little pull tab on the top are pulled out vertically (this took me longer to figure out than it should have)
- Any direct insertion cables--cables with a few wires connected by a plastic inserter, are pulled out; be careful not to pull the wires out of the end sockets while removing.
- You probably will end up with one or two screws left over. Obviously, don't try to do this, but if it does happen it likely will not cause significant damage to your laptop's working, though it would be more fragile.
Step 6: Cleaning the Cooling Assembly
Once you have extracted the cooling system, it can be cleaned thoroughly. I still prefer compressed air, but for some parts a small towel or Q-tip is better at removing dust. As the component is fully removed, the entire thing can be cleaned off. However, do not clean the portion touching the processor, the bottom of the heatsink, as this portion is coated in thermal paste--a paste that ensures good contact and heat flow from the processor to the heat sink--, without which your computer will not be able to effectively cool itself. If you notice the thermal paste is cracked or dry, then that is likely contributing to the overheating issues you are experiencing, so you should replace the thermal paste as is explained in the following steps.
Step 7: Cleaning Off Thermal Paste
Using a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a tissue or other soft paper product, gently wipe the thermal paste off both the processor and the bottom of the heat sink. This may require multiple tissues. Be careful not to use too much alcohol, as it could drip onto other components. If this occurs, it should evaporate quickly, though be sure that it is dry before putting on new thermal paste or turning on the computer.
Step 8: Applying New Thermal Paste
Thermal paste is used to ensure a high rate of heat flow from the processor to the heat sink. It comes in metallic, ceramic, and carbon varieties, with metallic being the most conductive. However, it is much easier to cause damage to your computer with metallic thermal paste as it is conductive and can short circuits if it spreads too far. As such, I used carbon-based thermal paste which is the middle ground of the three in terms of thermal conductivity.
When applying thermal past, put a small drop in the middle of the aluminum processor cover. This should be approximately half the size of a pea. The goal is to create a circle of thermal paste once pressing on the heat sink, without any sliding over the edges. Make sure the processor is locked into its socket and apply the drop of thermal paste, then press the heat sink on with a few slight twists to the left and right to spread it out. Then simply re-apply the heat sink assembly by tightening the tension screws equally.
Step 9: Re-assembling the Computer
Follow the instructions outlined in your service manual in reverse to put the laptop back together. Make sure that all components are installed correctly, especially those that are difficult to reach. Once assembled, ensure the computer will startup and verify that the overheating issue is solved.