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Best practice for removing dirt/dust from fans?


I've opened up my laptop for a repair and noticed the fans are horrendous and covered in dust. Before going in there with my Dyson vacuum cleaner, what tool do you recommend for sucking the dirt away and minimise spreading anywhere else during cleaning?


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What I do is I use canned air, and at least partially disassemble the computer to the point I have good fan access to get rid of the majority of the dust, just to make things easy for ones which aren’t too far in the dusty range disassembly is justified. However, if I don’t know if the machine has been maintained, or I got it used I am a bit more through.

What I do on machines I know haven’t been maintained or cleaned in years is I will usually take the fan off of the heatsink assembly, when possible*. After I do that, I blow the fan out separately from the computer and then focus on just dealing with the dust bunnies in the heatsink fins. Depending on the age of the machine, I also repaste it.

*The exception is machines like the AMD 8690M+HD 4600 E6440, which requires heatsink removal to get the fan out of the machine. For these, I usually just knock out most of the dust and do the real cleaning when I repaste these systems. The HD 4600 units with the easily serviced fan and heatsink are units I unscrew the fan on, blow canned air at the fins and then I may repaste if it makes sense - although there ARE ones with the same “sealed” fan assembly without the GPU footprint. You can quickly spot them if you have a lot of experience, thankfully - they mirror the 8690M dual GPU heatsink without the cooling footprint those have for the GPU.

For example, on a machine like this I usually remove the bottom and I’m okay to blow the fan out (E6440 with the easily removed fan):

Block Image

However, if I need to go further I’ll find the path of least resistance to expose the fan so it all leaves and doesn’t get trapped. I usually find the keyboard is a good second point of access, but sometimes you need to remove the palmrest. Usually once I’m having to do major surgery, I just replace the paste and clean the dust all at once.

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@nick great answer. I’m wondering if @end3va is talking about suction method due to being allergic. I wonder if anyone else has a varied experience with vacuum systems.


@dunc Maybe. I know I'm not and most people probably aren't so maybe it's a fringe allergy that you don't see every day. I also use the poor maintenance cleaning procedures on eBay machines because we both know how often people actually do it and shift the burden of cleaning it.

When I repasted my MSI 3 years into my ownership I just used canned air on the fans because I know I took care of it enough that that's enough as a while you're there job, and put new thermal paste on.

I know on the Dells I usually just remove the bottom and stop there unless it's a model like the N50/5110 where the fan hole is only above the keyboard. On the 6440 I left the keyboard in since the bottom provides better access. It's not about full access; it's about good access.


@nick, you never know what that dust contains.... cat dander, dog danger, pollen, etc. It's always a good idea to be in a well ventilated area when cleaning possible bio-loaded matter.

Which is why I do through wipe downs with a slightly soaked paper towel with 50% isopropyl to give myself a chance not to touch someone else's bio matter (be it food, germs, or others) ;)


@dunc I never had an issue with just canned air and keeping a distance from the dust cloud.... and this is sometimes on eBay machines I know nothing about the old environment.

I also added a photo of a unit I usually just remove the biggest panel on.


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My experience is as follows:

  1. Disconnect the fan (they spin and generate power but I always err on the side of caution)
  2. remove the fan(s).
  3. pull any hard grab-able debris with tweezers.
  4. then use a can of pressurized air to blow or a vaccum to pull the dusty bits. Just remember the compressed air will blow the dust all over.
  5. reverse the process…. but before I do this, I usually check heatsink (if easily removed) to insure the heatsink compound isn’t hard. DO NOT DO THIS if you don’t have replacement compund handy.

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Disconnecting the fans is overly paranoid - be quick and it doesn't damage anything, at least in my experience. If I'm taking the cooler and fans out that's one thing, but not necessary if you're just doing a quick cleaning.


@nick agreed, disconnecting the fans is INDEED overly paranoid for someone like you or I that probably has enough experience or replacements handy, but for the uninitiated who maybe reading this, I gave my opinion as to my procedure. Also, most people don’t realize the dust build up is between the fan/blower and the heat sink fins. I’ve seen dust build up on blades (high humidity areas have this issue) and people just proceeding to spin this fan at full speed (or higher) with high speed vacuums.


@dunc I don't always have replacements handy but I do sometimes keep a spare heatsink for machines I like, or know the part number so I know what it needs.

If it's a machine I sort of rely on I may keep a spare fan and heatsink around... Or if it's in a donor that's junk but the heatsink part is good that's even better.


Thanks @dunc.

Was wondering about something like this:


@end3va this is not a bad idea but I have no experience with them and their abilities to suck adequately or their longevity. Compressed air cans work best for me, are clean, always readily available and cheap enough.

One other thing, do not use compressed air from an air compressor. It has water and oil in there that will deposit on your electronics and isn’t recommended for sensitive items.


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