Computer cleanliness a concern

Experts offer housekeeping

Press staff writer 464-7452 or

December 6, 2004

Have you cleaned your computer,
keyboard, mouse and mouse pad lately?
If you’re like the majority of computer users, you probably
haven’t performed the task in a while, if ever.
Many workers spend
a growing amount of time at their computers these days,
producing hectic workloads. But most of us take our computers
for granted and don’t bother to clean them, according to a
national poll.

Ninety-one percent of adult computer users surveyed said
they thought keeping their computers and other workstation
aspects clean was very important – or somewhat important. But
only one out of every four said he actually performed the
task, according to the Fellowes, Inc. omnibus poll.

Vi J. Wickam,president of Evansville-based On-Site Computer
Solutions, a home computer service, agreed.

“The cleaning is a fairly inexpensive thing to do. But some
users let their computers get so dirty I’ve wondered why the
units still run,” he said.

The lack of cleanliness isn’t the main problem people have
with their computers. But it can be a significant problem.

Dirty computers set the stage for a takeover by damaging
microbes – that is, tiny bacteria-carrying creatures that are
too small to be seen with an unaided eye, noted Julie Garrard,
a spokeswoman for Fellowes, an Itasca, Ill.-based supplier of
workspace equipment.

Under the right conditions, some microbes can duplicate
every 15 to 20 minutes on an inviting surface, she said in a
recent media release.

Though microbes exist in home workstations, Wickam said the
germs especially dominate a public computer terminal or a
medical work environment.

On the home front the extent and frequency of the required
cleaning generally depends on the cleanliness of the air, he

“If a homeowner is a smoker or has cats, it’s probably wise
to clean the computer more often.”

Wickam and his team of technicians find that tar from
cigarettes deposits inside a computer and on and in the
monitor, via vents and fans.

The tar generally is nearly impossible to remove

There are other hazards, too.

If soda pop, for instance, spills on a keyboard, the
circuits inside the board could be destroyed, Wickam said.

“Sometimes people can get away with it. But luckily
keyboards are pretty cheap, averaging between $10 to $20 for a
standard model. So it’s not major … like destroying a mother

Wickam advised gently cleaning a keyboard with a lint-free
cloth that is lightly dampened with isopropyl (rubbing)
alcohol, which quickly dries.

“You definitely wouldn’t want to spray the keyboard; the
less moisture the better. If moisture gets on a circuit it can
blow a capacitor and permanently disable the unit.”

Wickam advised against using a soap-based cleaner because
it could be difficult to remove and it could end up attracting
dirt more quickly.

A flexible plastic keyboard cover is advised for use in
mechanic shops and industries, such as plastics manufacturing

The cover may slightly impair the use of the keyboard but
it would beat having to replace an extra-dirty one once a
month, said Wickam. “It’s a no-brainer.”

He also suggested routinely cleaning the mouse and monitor
exterior with isopropyl alcohol.

“Although the chance of getting shocked is very low, it’s
always a good idea to unplug the computer and keyboard during
a cleaning.”

Cleaning the inside of a computer requires more care and
caution, according to Wickam.

“If the mother board were scratched, for example, it could
create an electrical short in the system and the computer
would be shot.”

Use only compressed air from, say, a vacuum cleaner, in
cleaning the interior of a computer, Wickam advised.

The need to clean as often may be narrowing in some cases.

Now a built-in antimicrobial technology is available that
protects keyboards, mice and mouse pads. Fellowes, Inc., has
partnered with Microban Products Company in introducing a
computer accessory line with the protection.

“While conducting extensive consumer research to find the
next big breakthrough in office products we noticed a theme:
Consumers were concerned about microbes,” said Shannon Flavin,
Fellowes’ marketing manager.

“Now the new technology provides antimicrobial protection
right at your fingertips,” said