How often do you clean your PC? (And have you ever used a leaf blower to do it?)

De-Dust your PC
(Image credit: Valve)

Who needs a Roomba? We've already got an expensive piece of electronics that expertly sucks up dust, dirt, and hair from our floors and carpets. Unfortunately, that device is our PC, and all that dust really shouldn't be in there.

From time to time we need to clean our PC, but how regularly do you actually get around to doing it? That's our question this week: How often do you clean your PC? 

And almost as interestingly, how do you do it? Compressed air? Special brushes? Or by using an actual damn leaf blower, which we were quite shocked to learn not one but two of our own staff members have done. Our answers are below, as well as some from the members of our new PC Gamer forums

(Image credit: Future)

Jarred Walton: Not often enough

Look, I try to be good about this, but unplugging everything to haul my big PC cases (I have more than one PC) outside to blow the dust out of it is a pain, especially in the rainy winter time of Washington. I'm sure it gets done at least once a year ... maybe. A great (terrible) example of this: my GPU testbed was having some issues recently—not 'crash to desktop' issues, but performance seemed off. So I went back and retested the RTX 2080 Ti on a few games just to see, and sure enough, performance was really off. Compared to maybe six months earlier, I was getting average performance in some games that was 15-20 percent lower than expected.

I read somewhere that you could use leaf blower, so a few months ago that's what I did.

Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor

I spent too long trying to figure out what was happening. I uninstalled all video drivers via Display Driver Uninstaller, then grabbed the latest drivers. Nope. I tried rolling back to earlier drivers as well. Nope. I checked the RX 5700 XT performance, and it was also lower (not quite as much). That's what sort of tipped me off. Faster GPUs are more likely to show performance differences caused by the CPU. I fired up MSI Afterburner to monitor CPU and GPU clockspeeds and temperatures, and while the clocks looked okay, the CPU was breaking into the 90s on thermals. Taking a closer look at my Kraken X62 radiator, I thought, "Hmm... that looks more than a bit dusty. I wonder if cleaning it out would help?" 15 minutes later, performance was back to where I expected. Oops.

(For the record, I switched GPU testbeds for the 5500 XT launch and later, just because things looked off, so GPU reviews were not affected.)

James Davenport: Every two weeks

I'm convinced my cat's only goal is to slowly, particle by particle, disassemble and reassemble herself inside of my computer. I dust fairly often, but what that actually means is that I'll bend over at the back like I want to hurt and groan as I fling open the chassis door. I'll pull out any big clumps with gloves on then drag the thing outside and spray compressed air into it until the wind picks up the cloud of cat stuff and carries it away to an ocean or wherever the wind is always trying to be. I do this every two weeks or so and I'm always amazed at how quickly dust and hair sneaks in. When I get old and close to death, just leave me near a big PC fan and let me disintegrate.

Chris Livingston: Every two weeks (theoretically)

I have a fluffy dog and a fluffy cat and a penchant for procrastination, but I am trying to be better about de-dusting my PC lately. I have a reminder set on my phone to do it every two weeks, and while I do admittedly hit the snooze button on it, I still manage to get it done about once a month. I really hate everything about it: I hate crawling under the desk to unplug everything, I hate taking the eight damn screws out of the case, I hate lugging the thing outside and spraying compressed air into it, and I hate bringing it back in, closing up the case, and then plugging in all the cables again. But I feel better having done it than when I used to wait months and months and then open it up to find a horror show of dust inside.

Joanna Nelius: Once a month, minimum

I used to be terrible about dusting my PC. I used to do it so infrequently that my intake fans had enough dust built up to look like a dryer lint filter after just a few loads. But my habits changed after I built my current rig. I spent a lot more money building it, and keeping my investment running efficiently as possible is important. It also helps that my NZXT H700i case keeps a lot of dust out anyway, so I only dust the inside once a month at the very least. But I hate dust. It makes everything feel dirty, so I usually end up dusting my PC every other week when I dust every surface in my apartment—keyboard, monitors, microphone, and speakers, too.

A leaf blower

(Image credit: Black & Decker)

Tyler Wilde: *sound of leaf blower starting up*

I read somewhere that you could use leaf blower, so a few months ago that's what I did. I put my PC on a table in the backyard and blasted the hell out of it. Yes, I did think of Tim "The Toolman" Taylor and his grunting demands for more power as I used a tool the size of my PC to remove dust from my PC. And it worked, because of course it did. It looked like I'd detonated a smoke grenade, which suggests that however often I dedust my PC is not often enough. But you wouldn't want to get the leaf blower out if you're not going to have a show.

Andy Kelly: *sound of Bach's Air Suite No. 3 in D Major starting up*

I don't just dust my PC out of necessity: I relish it. Taking it apart, carefully dusting the case and all the components, then putting it back together again is sheer pleasure for me. Sometimes I'll just use an electric duster and blow any loose gunk away. But every month or so I do a full teardown and make sure every screw is sparkling. I even have a set of special anti-static brushes, in a variety of sizes, for getting into all the corners and cleaning the fan blades. I dunno why I find it so enjoyable. I'm obsessively tidy in general, so I guess it's an extension of that.

Joe Pishgar: *sound of second leaf blower starting up to drown out Bach*

I de-dust once every few months. So, I'm going to admit something here. I don't think I ever have in that other community, but I'm going to share it with you guys. I sometimes use a leaf blower.

Sometimes I feel like we only do these questions in order to expose my worst habits.

Robin Valentine, Managing Editor

The Ego brand 110 mph 530 CFM Variable Speed Turbo 56-volt lithium ion cordless leaf blower to be precise. I grab it from the garage, unplug my rig, bring it out on the back porch, and blast it at low speed.

Now, I know what you're gonna say, that this is bonkers. But it works at getting out a lot of the built-up dust and crud and I don't go through a whole can of duster with freezy hands in the process. So long as I'm careful around fans, and do the mop up with the can for the detail bits, it's quick. Is this dumb? Probably. Do I recommend this? Absolutely not. Does it save me time and annoyance? Most assuredly. And I expect it will right up until I get too trigger-happy with the blower and end up with my graphics card hurtling across the lawn.

Evan Lahti: *sound of bomb being planted*

De-dust? Never. de_dust? Every day, baby. 😎

Credit: Leif K-Brooks via Flickr, click for original.

Credit: Leif K-Brooks via Flickr, click for original.

Wes Fenlon: When I need to open it up

Despite our best advice to the contrary, I never open my PC with the intent of dusting. I mean, it's probably happened once or twice... in the last 12 years. I admit this is bad form. But I don't think I ever have the dustiest PC, because I give it a good blowing out every time I open it up, and it turns out I open it up to tinker quite a bit. Every few months I'm pulling off a side panel to add a new drive, or a sound card, to change a fan, or swap GPUs. It's not exactly consistent, but means I dust my PC at least three times a year.

Unplugging everything and taking it outside to dust it, though? That's way too much work. I just blow out the worst of it right there under my desk and then vacuum it up. Thanks, hardwood floors!

Steven Messner: Every few months

Usually I open up and dust my PC whenever I'm doing a deeper clean of my office or when I notice that a large amount of dust has gathered on the front intake screens. I'm pretty thorough each time I do this, even taking the time to wipe down the fan blades with a cloth to get that ever-present layer of dust they naturally collect. I like having a super tidy PC!

Andy Chalk: Can't be bothered

When I upgrade I've never been conscientious about dusting. In fact one of the reasons I bought the Define R4 case I have now is that it has easily-accessible fan filters that make it so much easier to keep a clean PC. Yeah, that didn't work out. I finally came to embrace the truth: I just don't care. 

Does it work? Good enough for me. And for the record, I don't upgrade very often. Last time was probably around three years ago. I'm actually going to have to go back inside soon to replace the front panel, and I'm not really looking forward to what I'm going to find.

Emma Matthews: Rarely

I rarely dust my PC. I upgraded my setup in August and now have it sitting on my desk to stop it sucking up dust from the carpet. I think this will encourage me to dust it more regularly as it's always in my eyeline. That said, I'm very aware that I'm still actively avoiding it!

Robin Valentine: When I notice a problem

Sometimes I feel like we only do these questions in order to expose my worst habits. I am extremely lazy about cleaning out my PC. I tell myself I do it at least once a year, but in reality I basically only do it if I notice a problem and think it might fix it. My case is an absolute haven for all my flat's fluffiest dust bunnies.

There's something about dust that I find weirdly demotivating. Cleaning it all out, knowing it's just inevitably going to build up again in no time, makes me feel like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill. It's one of my least favourite parts of PC ownership. 

Fraser Brown: When it bursts into flames

I thought getting a PC with a giant window would force me to clean it out more often, but nope! Look, it gets cold in Scotland, and a dusty PC heats it up my drafty office nicely. I feel no shame about being warm.

(Image credit: Flickr via Ross Berteig)

From our forums

McStabStab: Once a year

Yikes... so I usually de-dust my PC whenever I switch out my coolant which is supposed to be 6 months at the most I believe, but I usually go a whole year. Please don't judge me.

Zoid: Never

Are we talking internally or externally? The outside of my case will get a little dusty every 4 months or so at which point I'll quickly brush it off.

The inside of my PC has never been dusted. Are you guys dusting inside your cases? Dust screens and positive case air pressure are a beautiful thing. My last PC enjoyed 6 completely dust-free years. Here's to 6 more!

OsaX Nymloth: Once or twice a year

On average? Geesh, once per year. Or two. Depends when I start noticing the fans being "loud" (and by that I mean being able to hear them during normal work). I guess it's not a bad idea to just get the PC out in the spring, use some canned air or other means of putting pressured air do the job.

Sarafan: Twice a year

If we're talking about exterior, nothing beats a standard piece of cloth which I use to wipe the computer and monitor from dust. I do this usually once a week. Interior is more complicated however. I use a paintbrush to gently remove the dust from all computer components. Sometimes I also blow on them from my mouth (maybe it's a good idea to finally buy a can of compressed air 🙂). I don't clean the interior more frequently than two times a year. Never had a problem with overheating caused by dust.

(Image credit: Future)

Rensje: Once a month for the dust filters, twice a year for interior

My main PC is built into a NZXT H400 chassis, which comes with some handy dandy dust filters that are easy to remove. I open up the front about once a month to clean the main dust filter covering the intake fans, also taking off the bottom and top filters. I find that the desk area around my tower tends to get dustier than the PC itself, so I wipe that down with a cloth while I'm working.

About every 6 months or so, I will unplug the PC, take it into the back yard and use a can of compressed air to gently blow all the dust out of it. What little dust actually does get into the case rests mostly on the PSU shroud and the backplate of the graphics card, so it's easy enough to get rid of. Some of it gets stuck on the fan blades, as well. If it's really bad I'll remove the fan and wipe it down seperately, but I haven't done that since I built this particular system.

What I have not done at all is replace the cooling paste on my CPU and GPU. Some say that's something you need to do every 6 months or every year, but honestly, my previous PC ran for about 5 years and never once did I feel the need to replace any of it. Your GPU in particular will probably be obsolete long before you would actually need to clean the die and put new cooling paste on it to keep it from overheating.

Slasken: Never

I don't dust off inside or outside my computer. I have noticed that if you don't dust off your computer externally for a while, it self cleans. I mean, the dust just disappears. Same thing happens to my wife's computer.

JC Denton: As needed

I do my dusting everytime I need to replace / upgrade a component or something seems a little off like fan noise, high temps, bad framerates, etc. I own two PCs. My Silverstone Sugo isn't to much of a dust magnet but the Cooler Master N200... fark me, that front panel gets hella dusty every fortnight. The front panel is only held in with plastic lugs so I pop it off and use a dust-pan brush and get all those little dust bunnies back outside where they belong

Kaamos_Llama: Whenever I open the case

Mine gets dusted whenever I open up the case, its fully filtered, positive pressure and we don't have pets but there's always a thin film in there, and for whatever reason the fins on my CPU cooler collect dust behind the fan.

I keep saying to myself I'm going to buy a Datavac but I still haven't. But now I realized I should have just bought a leaf blower.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.