Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

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Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby obcbeatle » 2019-1-08 @ 03:43

Hello ... hopefully this week I'm going to pick-up a few older computers from a former colleague of mine. I don't know anything about them yet but she said they've been stored in their closet for quite awhile.

My questions are:

1) What cleaning process do you use before firing up a computer that has been in storage for a number of years? For some of my older computers that I recently took out of storage I checked/replaced the CMOS battery, gently blew out the case with an air compressor and then did a visual inspection of motherboard CPU, RAM, PSU, etc. Do you do anything special to the PSU before firing it up after being dormant for so long?

2) I've noticed in many threads within the Vogons forums that some of you mention giving the motherboard a "bath". Can you share what specific processes/chemicals you use to bathe a motherboard? Also ... I assume you just do the motherboard bath on boards that are very grungy? I ask because a couple of my older PC's were stored in a nice dry environment ... but were very dusty from years of heavy use... and even after blowing air through everything there was still a lot dust in the crevices. So I gently used an old dry toothbrush to try to get what I could ... but man ... I still find dust in places!

3) What thermal paste are you using these days when you have to remove the CPU fan? I've seen reference to Arctic Silver. I currently have an old Cyrix, AMD and Intel CPU's.

Any advice appreciated. Thank you.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby cyclone3d » 2019-1-08 @ 04:36

Hmmm.. You can use soap and water and then blow dry with an air compressor.

I really only do a cleaning like that if there is stuff caked on such as cigarette tar.

For just dust, I usually set my air compressor to about 75 psi and use a spray nozzle to clean stuff. Same if I am drying stuff I cleaned with dish soap and water. Never hurt anything yet. Just make sure to keep fans from spinning because it can mess them up.

First 486 motherboard I ever had was one I got for free that had coffee spilled all over it. I filled up a spray bottle with 70% isopropyl alcohol and sprayed it down until it ran clean. Then I let it dry for a couple days
outside before I tried it. It worked fine. I didn't have an air compressor or tank back then. This would have been back around 1994.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby wiretap » 2019-1-08 @ 10:29

For a 'bath', you should only be using distilled/demineralized water, since you don't want to leave mineral deposits which cause corrosion or leave conductive crud between tiny traces or legs of chips. For a detergent, you'd want to use Alconox Luminox or Detergent 8 since they are non-ionizing and have a neutral pH -- designed for cleaning circuit boards to prevent damage.

You can also use Freon TF, if you can find it -- I use this a lot to spray down my boards, and it cleans awesome, returning boards to look and smell factory new.

For brushes, you should use a natural fiber brush with wooden handle (horse hair, hog hair) so it doesn't generate static electricity when brushing. Don't use a toothbrush..

After parts have been used or have sat for 10yrs+, they likely need electrolytic capacitor replacements. Even if capacitors don't look like they're bulging, they are probably degraded and don't meet their original tolerances. This can cause system instability, blue screens, unsuccessful boots, etc.

Always remove batteries from boards that are in storage so you don't get a battery leak/corrode/explode.

Store boards laying flat so they don't warp & damage traces/joints, and store them on ESD foam in an ESD bag.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby SirNickity » 2019-1-08 @ 17:26

I live in a dry climate, which helps, but I just strip the boards down as far as I can (remove cards, RAM, CPU, batteries, fans, jumpers [take pictures], plastic retainers, etc.), then spray them down in the kitchen sink. Use a gentle toothbrush to scrub the filthy areas. Pat dry with a paper towel, use compressed air to spray out the slots and sockets and ports, shake it (carefully but vigorously) to loosen any built up pools and spray with compressed air again. Pat dry any exposed water. Let is sit for an hour, spray with air, let it sit overnight, spray with air. By then it's usually bone dry. YMMV by climate. Always worked for me with motherboards, cards, console PCBs, etc.

If you have particularly minerally water, I would definitely advise an alternative. If you have high humidity, you will need to apply more air and/or some heat.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby spiroyster » 2019-1-08 @ 17:35

wiretap wrote:For a 'bath', you should only be using distilled/demineralized water, since you don't want to leave mineral deposits which cause corrosion or leave conductive crud between tiny traces or legs of chips.

^^^ This 100% ^^^
I might also suggest avoid deionized/demineralized water as this can contain impurities from the process. Although either are still going to be better/less risky than 'tap' water.

wiretap wrote:For a detergent, you'd want to use Alconox Luminox or Detergent 8 since they are non-ionizing and have a neutral pH -- designed for cleaning circuit boards to prevent damage.
You can also use Freon TF, if you can find it -- I use this a lot to spray down my boards, and it cleans awesome, returning boards to look and smell factory new.

Not heard of this before, but I will look it up thanks :)
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby amadeus777999 » 2019-1-08 @ 19:03

wiretap wrote:For a 'bath', you should only be using distilled/demineralized water, since you don't want to leave mineral deposits which cause corrosion or leave conductive crud between tiny traces or legs of chips. For a detergent, you'd want to use Alconox Luminox or Detergent 8 since they are non-ionizing and have a neutral pH -- designed for cleaning circuit boards to prevent damage.

You can also use Freon TF, if you can find it -- I use this a lot to spray down my boards, and it cleans awesome, returning boards to look and smell factory new.

For brushes, you should use a natural fiber brush with wooden handle (horse hair, hog hair) so it doesn't generate static electricity when brushing. Don't use a toothbrush..

After parts have been used or have sat for 10yrs+, they likely need electrolytic capacitor replacements. Even if capacitors don't look like they're bulging, they are probably degraded and don't meet their original tolerances. This can cause system instability, blue screens, unsuccessful boots, etc.

Always remove batteries from boards that are in storage so you don't get a battery leak/corrode/explode.

Store boards laying flat so they don't warp & damage traces/joints, and store them on ESD foam in an ESD bag.


Great tips - I used tap water and a tooth brush on some cards... arrg.
Never again.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby .legaCy » 2019-1-08 @ 22:25

Watching some Louis Rossmann videos one time he mentioned of "just drying" electronics after getting water exposure.
I don't remember his exact words but it was something like: after you take a shit you don't wanna dry your butt, you wanna clean your butt.
ultrasonic cleaners are by far the best way to remove really persistent crude, otherwise i use an esd safe brush to loosen the dirt and blow it out with a compressor, with light corrosion / oxidization i use IPA 99% and gently scrub, for card edge connectors usually baking soda do the trick, just don't do it too rough.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby cyclone3d » 2019-1-08 @ 22:40

amadeus777999 wrote:Great tips - I used tap water and a tooth brush on some cards... arrg.
Never again.


As long as you use compressed air - not canned air (I use an air compressor that has a filter in line) to spray it dry, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Letting it air-dry which can leave a lot of deposits is what is bad IMHO.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby Unknown_K » 2019-1-09 @ 00:47

I use liquid dish soap, a soft brush to get at the dirt, and hot city water to rinse and the boards look new and smell nice. I air dry in the basement (takes a day or two since it isn't humid in winter and the central air removes humidity in the summer).

If you have hard water just go to the store and get a gallon jug of distilled water and use that as a final rinse.

A soft pencil eraser is good for cleaning card edge connectors.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby amadeus777999 » 2019-1-09 @ 11:52

cyclone3d wrote:
amadeus777999 wrote:Great tips - I used tap water and a tooth brush on some cards... arrg.
Never again.


As long as you use compressed air - not canned air (I use an air compressor that has a filter in line) to spray it dry, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Letting it air-dry which can leave a lot of deposits is what is bad IMHO.


I used a hair dryer since I thought the heat helps evaporate niche water residue.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby oeuvre » 2019-1-09 @ 14:35

Tear down the case as much as you can, thoroughly clean all the components... for teh case, wipe down all surfaces with some water + paper towels. If it's really dusty, use an air compressor... also works wonders on fans. Remove scuffs and marks on the case with magic eraser and goo gone (especially for stickers/sticker residue).
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby obcbeatle » 2019-1-11 @ 13:38

Thanks for all the suggestions and tips. Hopefully I'll have a few older computers to test by this weekend! Plus some parts I need for my existing older pc's.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby mothergoose729 » 2019-1-12 @ 07:10

I am not sure why you would risk water on a circuit board... there is a better alternative.

Get 5$ worth of 91% isopropal alcohol and a tooth brush, and scrub vigorously, but without much pressure. I wouldn't risk water on a circuit board when alcohol works even better and far less conductive.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby spiroyster » 2019-1-12 @ 09:05

mothergoose729 wrote:I am not sure why you would risk water on a circuit board... there is a better alternative.

Get 5$ worth of 91% isopropal alcohol and a tooth brush, and scrub vigorously, but without much pressure. I wouldn't risk water on a circuit board when alcohol works even better and far less conductive.

Obviously you don't run current through anything until it's dry. Water/Isopropyl makes no difference, both have pH ~7. The Isopropyl might be better a breaking down certain organic compounds, but water would do this to, albeit not as fast.

Bear in mind 91% Isopropyl contains 9% of 'stuff' which probably won't evaporate and be left as a thin layer of crap on the surface, which stands a good chance of being conductive. Whats important is the purity (when using either alcohol or water), This is why distilled (which removes impurities) is recommened.

I will add, everything is relative, it's not like anyone is working in a clean room, and most things (after cleaning) will immediately begin to get dust from the atmosphere so... 91% Isopropyl would be quite adequate. I would recommend not using tap water though as this will (a) vary depending on your geographical location and (b) always contain lots of chemicals to make it safe for drinking... meaning it is far from pure.
Last edited by spiroyster on 2019-1-12 @ 09:27, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby canthearu » 2019-1-12 @ 09:24

Whenever I have to clean circuit boards, I strip all the parts I can reasonably get off, then I tend to throw them in the sink and wash them with dish washing liquid and water. I use a brush to get into all hard to reach parts places.

Then they go into the oven at 60-70C for an hour or two. The elevated temperatures are high enough that water evaporates quickly, but it isn't high enough to cause excessive out-gassing or damage to the plastics.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby spiroyster » 2019-1-12 @ 09:31

canthearu wrote:Then they go into the oven at 60-70C for an hour or two. The elevated temperatures are high enough that water evaporates quickly, but it isn't high enough to cause excessive out-gassing or damage to the plastics.

Yes this is a good point, the quicker it evaporates, the less likely to leave deposits.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby Unknown_K » 2019-1-13 @ 03:40

Quick or slow drying doesn't matter the deposits will be left behind either way.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby mothergoose729 » 2019-1-13 @ 08:33

spiroyster wrote:
mothergoose729 wrote:I am not sure why you would risk water on a circuit board... there is a better alternative.

Get 5$ worth of 91% isopropal alcohol and a tooth brush, and scrub vigorously, but without much pressure. I wouldn't risk water on a circuit board when alcohol works even better and far less conductive.

Obviously you don't run current through anything until it's dry. Water/Isopropyl makes no difference, both have pH ~7. The Isopropyl might be better a breaking down certain organic compounds, but water would do this to, albeit not as fast.

Bear in mind 91% Isopropyl contains 9% of 'stuff' which probably won't evaporate and be left as a thin layer of crap on the surface, which stands a good chance of being conductive. Whats important is the purity (when using either alcohol or water), This is why distilled (which removes impurities) is recommened.

I will add, everything is relative, it's not like anyone is working in a clean room, and most things (after cleaning) will immediately begin to get dust from the atmosphere so... 91% Isopropyl would be quite adequate. I would recommend not using tap water though as this will (a) vary depending on your geographical location and (b) always contain lots of chemicals to make it safe for drinking... meaning it is far from pure.


Alcohol breaks down dirt and grime well enough, but better yet it is really good for cleaning up any electrolytic fluid and it evaporates very quickly. You can submerge a board while running in alcohol and it would do just fine. It is very safe for circuits. Water also has the potential to oxidize with any surface mount metals, and when it drys it will leave mineral deposits.

The other stuff in isopropyl alcohol is mostly water. When I have used it, I have never noticed any residue and it tends to dry very quickly. You can use water to clean circuit boards if you are careful, but why risk it when alcohol is readily available and cheap?
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby Tetrium » 2019-1-17 @ 02:46

Usually I don't use computers as they are brought in.

First I take it home, poke inside of it to see what parts are in it and maybe let it acclimatise if the PC came from a place where it's a lot colder, let her rest for a lil bit.

Then I take her apart completely, clean all and every part including the case (except when the parts seem to be perfectly clean, but I do always clean any contacts).

Depending on how dirty the case is, I'll either dedust it in the yard or in the shower, so I don't get all the gunk inside of my home.
TIM I will always clean and refresh, unless it's not a CPU and not very old.

I never wash PCBs, only stuff like metal (case, heatsinks, etc), but I will use moist paper towels for very dirty PCB stuff.

After everything is cleaned, I'll either test it right away or store it and label it as "untested, but cleaned".
Any parts I test I also label as tested + the date when I tested it.

I always check the insides of any PSU before I use it, even if it had been checked prior but been unused for a longer time since then.
I'm pretty sure I've forgotten a couple things.
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Re: Old computer cleaning process, motherboard bath & thermal paste

Postby badmojo » 2019-1-17 @ 05:15

+1 for the warm soapy water bath here, gentle scrub with a medium sized paint brush, then a good rinse in clean water. From what I enderstand water is “harder” in some places in the world, but I’ve never had a problem. I let the item dry for at least a few days, and longer during winter.
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