How to quickly and cleanly remove thermal paste

Old thermal paste can reduce heatsink cooling performance. Here's how to remove it.

There comes a time when your once glorious CPU starts to kill your buzz—it no longer gets your through those late night gaming sessions.

You’ve finally upgraded and the only sticking point is the left over thermal paste from the junk processor you just tossed away. Yes, you have something new and shiny which makes the old thing junk. Thermal paste can get mighty hard depending on how long it has been applied for. Chances are, if you’ve noticed an increase in temperature over the years, it’s due to the paste drying out.

Before you can remount your cooler and test out your new toys, you are going to need to get rid of the leftovers. You will need only two items to get the job done; a cloth and rubbing alcohol. Your choice of cloth is important here as certain paper products like toilet paper can leave behind fibers that inhibit heat transfer. The best option is a microfiber cloth but paper towel will do in a pinch—it leaves behind much less material than toilet paper. As for the rubbing alcohol, the higher the concentration the better. I generally use 99% as it evaporates quickly. Do not use any other cleaners on either your CPU or heatsink as they are conductive and can leave behind residue.

To remove the TIM, first wipe the surface with the dry cloth to remove as much of the big chunks as you can. Then apply a small amount of alcohol directly to the cloth; while not as important when working with the heatsink, it’s still a good idea to avoid making a mess. Wipe the remaining thermal paste and reapply the alcohol as needed. It should look as shiny as the day you bought it when you’re done.

And there you have it. Once you've gotten to a mirror-like finish, it's time to apply your own thermal paste. We'll go through how to do that in the next guide.

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