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Cleaning Old Computers

I often get computers that are pretty dirty because they have been used or stored in less than ideal conditions. Common problems are plain old dust, spiders webs, liquid damage or residue, and labels. With labels I only attempt to remove non-historical ones like price tags from the place I aquired to item from.

Cleaning should not be done for the sake of it as it may cause long term damage. I haven't been able to find much information about the preservation of plastics on the Internet so any information would be much appreciated. (Please mail me if you have any information on this topic.) My current rule is that I do only what I consider necessary to getting the machine working in a safe condition, for example I will make sure it is electrically safe.

Below are replies I have had, from Internet forums like mailing lists and news groups, to the question of cleaning old computers. I have left names and email addresses out deliberately as I don't want to be blamed for people getting spammed.

Some time ago we had a bad fire here and a lot of electronic, mainly valve equipment was coated with smoke deposit with a high tar content, due to the roof catching fire.

We had professionals in and they immersed everything in soap and water. Probably a detergent. Obviously it has to be tried thoroughly. One important thing is not to rub any printed inscriptions including valve markings as these will be ersased.

I too am frequently frustrated by this problem. There is no general solution that I know of (if you find one, let ME know..). But lighter fluid (butane) is pretty easily available and works in many cases. Also, if you can find an IBM customer engineer, they have a cleaner that is a clear liquid which also works very well, especially for the grime that accumulates on keyboards. In really bad cases, you can try acetone, but this often reacts badly with plastic, so only try it after you've been able to make sure (by using it in a hidden area perhaps) that a particular case is OK.

Vinyl cleaner for car interiors will clean the cases. We used to use "Sticky stuff" remover by Betterware to remove old labels but it has been discontinued. Other solvents may dissolve the plastic. You need a cow-gum remover.

I also collect old computers and am a computer technician, maybe I can help. I use a variety of cleaning methods. For most purposes I use a foam cleaner (such as Servisol). This stuff really works if you leave it on for 10 seconds or so, and apply loads of it.

To remove old labels I use a special label remover (also by Servisol, no, I don't work for them). As with all label removers care has to be taken not to melt plastic cases, although I've had no problems as yet.

A clean paint brush is great for dusting inside and around fiddly bits, much better than an air spray. Also, a paintbrush with foam cleaner on it is very good at cleaning between keys on a keyboard.

Lastly, I also use good old soap and water and a scrubbing brush. Providing there are no parts that could be damaged by water it works very well. Just remember to let the equipment dry for quite some time until using it!

I've used 'Novus Plastic Polish' (no. 2 grade) many times to remove scuffs and tobacco smoke stains from computer cases. It is slightly abrasive but as long as the color is molded into the plastic and not just painted on the surface this will work just fine.


Created by: Kevan Heydon on Tuesday, 25-Oct-2011 02:37:06 BST

The pictures of my computers in these pages are Copyright Kevan Heydon, 1996-2002. You may use them for non-commercial purposes as long as they are properly attributed to me.