How to Clean a Computer Screen

Illustration: Julia Abbonizio/Getty Images

You probably look into it more than your life partner’s eyes, yet when you stare at your computer screen, you’re doing so through smudges, lint, and grime that make websites harder to read and put more strain on your eyes. So how do you take care of and clean up the “face” you look into more deeply than any other? How do you clean a computer screen without destroying it or your whole computer? We spoke to Joe Silverman, CEO and owner of New York Computer Help, which runs a computer repair center in New York City, about his cleaning tips for your favorite black mirror.

What is the best way to clean a dirty computer screen?

Though it seems like a simple and straightforward process, cleaning a computer screen can be a little more complicated than it seems. The basic steps, however, are probably familiar to most people:

  • Turn off your laptop.

  • Remove the power cable or charger.

  • Using a soft cloth and gentle movements, wipe down the screen.

  • If necessary, use the appropriate cleaning solution by spraying a little onto a new soft cloth. Never spray liquids directly onto your computer screen!

  • Using the dampened cloth and gentle movements, wipe down the screen.

Simple, right? But, as you may have guessed, it’s finding out what products are right for your computer screen that can be the tricky part.

How often should I clean my computer screen?

If you’re squinting to read your screen because of all the dust or grime buildup on it, then it’s obviously time to clean your screen ASAP. Other than that, how frequently you need to clean your computer screen depends on how often and how and where you use your computer. For example, if you only flip on your cozy-covered desktop computer monitor once a year, then the monitor screen’s probably going to be in pretty good shape and might only need a dry wipe down.

On the other hand, if your laptop is essentially an extension of your body and you take it everywhere with you—including jogging down mud trails and using your laptop as a makeshift plate while you wolf down lunch, you may find yourself needing weekly wipe downs or more.

Does it matter whether I own a PC or Mac?

No and yes. What matters most when it comes to cleaning computer screens is what type of screen it is. Most computer screens are LCD, or liquid crystal displays, which consist of a layer of liquid crystalline material that’s topped with a film that’s a polarizing filter made of polyvinyl alcohol, a kind of plastic.

But when Apple makes its Mac computers, they often don’t use plastic for the top layer. Instead, they use tempered glass. In addition, sometimes Apple uses a special kind of glass called nano-texture glass, which is designed to scatter light and reduce glare and eye strain. “These kinds of glass are typically found on the Apple Display or iMac,” Silverman says.

Because cleaning products that are safe for some screens can cause permanent damage, such as cloudy glass, when you use them on others, you have to know which kind of screen you have. If you have an Apple product, you’re likely dealing with a glass-covered screen. If you have a PC, chances lean toward a regular LCD monitor screen. If it’s any sort of matte screen, it’s an LCD computer screen.

If you’re not sure what kind of screen you have or what kind of care it requires, always check the owner’s manual and manufacturer’s recommendations before even glancing at a microfiber cloth.

What equipment do I need to clean my computer screen?

The stuff you need to clean your computer screen may be the cheapest things on the household cleaning supplies shelf of your utility closet. If you’re dealing with a glass screen, this is what you need: “Just a soft cloth and [isopropyl] alcohol,” Silverman says. Plus you may need water, and a clean spray cleaner bottle helps too. Try to use distilled water, if possible. That’s because, depending on where you live, your tap water may be hard, meaning that it could leave mineral residue on your screen over time.

To play it safe, you should probably dilute the isopropyl alcohol. Start with the 70%, or rubbing alcohol, strength and not the 99% pure isopropyl alcohol. Cut it 50/50 with distilled water before you apply a small amount to the cloth. You can also try a 50/50 solution of distilled water and white vinegar instead of the isopropyl alcohol solution.

Do you have a non-glass LCD screen instead? Then you need even less: just a clean microfiber cloth and, sometimes, a little distilled water.

What products should I not use to clean my computer screen?

Again, using the wrong or too strong a product can cause permanent damage to your computer screen. “Stay away from bleach or ammonia or soap and water,” Silverman says. “Just alcohol, not acetone.” Also, don’t take this as a good excuse to pull out those Clorox disinfectant wipes you hoarded at the beginning of the pandemic. Don’t use household disinfecting wipes on your computer screen.

The same goes for your old T-shirts that you’ve saved from the last time you had to help a friend paint their walls. Save that for the next time you have to wipe down the bathtub, not your computer screens.

Can you use Windex on a computer screen?

You should be able to use a mild glass-cleaner or window-cleaner spray like Windex on glass-coated screens, but be sparing—create a diluted solution of 50% Windex and 50% distilled water. If you’re not sure whether the glass cleaning agent you have is mild enough to use on your glass-coated computer screen, err on the side of caution and don’t use it.

Never use Windex on LCD screens.

Can I use an ordinary paper towel or do I need a microfiber towel?

To avoid the possibility of scratching up your computer screen, you should use cloths specifically made for delicate cleaning jobs like wiping screens or lenses. A soft microfiber cloth is pretty much perfect for cleaning screens. “A microfiber towel is the way to go, or even an eyeglass or sunglass cleaner cloth,” Silverman says.

Make sure the cloth’s clean before you start dragging it across your screen. You don’t want to start cleaning your expensive laptop’s screen only to find you’ve gouged a 12-inch scar into it because your partner had just used the same cloth to wipe up broken glassware.

How do I clean a glass-coated, non-LCD screen?

We can never say it enough: Avoiding strong cleaners is always the key to preventing permanent damage to your computer screen. Try doing a dry wipe down with a dry microfiber cloth first. That’ll take off most of the dust and may be enough for you to start reading your screen more clearly again.

If it’s still not clean enough for you, move to using a dampened cloth for a second pass. Use the other dust-free side of the same microfiber cloth you used for the first go, or switch to a new, clean cloth entirely.

Take your (likely diluted) cleaning solution of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol (or vinegar or Windex) and spray it once or twice into your microfiber cloth before wiping it ever so gently across the computer screen. Wipe the entire screen but don’t let any fluid get onto or drip onto your keyboard or other parts of the computer—especially gaps and openings in the housing.

How do I clean a regular, non-glass LCD screen?

You really only need a dry microfiber cloth and, maybe, a squirt or two of distilled water to clean an LCD screen. “On an LCD screen, do not use any strong cleansers,” Silverman says. “Only use a soft cloth to dust. If there is debris, you can use a little water on a cloth to remove it, but try to avoid.”

Start with the dry wipe down first before trying that second pass with the now-lightly dampened microfiber cloth on the dust-free side (or use a new or clean microfiber cloth). Remember: You’re spraying the water into the cloth if you have to use it at all, and watch the dripping!

If this sounds familiar or brings up memories of another cleaning escapade of yours, it’s because these are basically the same instructions as for cleaning a TV screen.

Do I have to clean an antiglare LCD screen differently than a regular LCD screen?

No, it should be fine to use the same products and techniques on an LCD antiglare screen as with a regular LCD screen, Silverman says.

How do I clean a nano-texture glass screen?

Apple sells certain products with screens made of what it calls nano-texture glass. The company sells special cleaning products for these kinds of screens. Use those and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

How do I clean my phone screen, tablet screen, or touchscreen?

Most phone screens, tablet screens, and other forms of portable touchscreens these days are made with tempered glass as the top layer. You should be able to clean them the same way you do a glass-coated computer screen, but, as always, check the manufacturer’s instructions before you do anything.

How do I get fingerprints off my screen?

Mostly fingerprints on screens are simply oily residue that will come off with a dry wipe down. “You can use a microfiber cloth” to do that, Silverman says.

But if you’ve really put your computer through the wringer and are dealing with crusted-on food, prepare an isopropyl alcohol- or water-dampened cloth and add the tiniest amount of elbow grease—but not so much as to risk damaging the screen.

Can I use disposable wet wipes made specifically for cleaning eyeglasses or camera lenses to clean my computer screen?

Those should be perfectly okay to use on your glass-coated computer screens. Note that they’re usually alcohol wipes containing other chemicals, so don’t use these on your LCD screens.

Do I need one of those compressed-air cans?

Not for your computer screen, you don’t. “This is used to air spray crumbs and debris from the keyboard,” Silverman says.

Why do I need to turn off my computer first?

Excess liquid left on your computer screen or computer can get into the little cracks and seams. Usually, it won’t be enough to cause a problem and will dry out. But if your computer’s still plugged in and turned on? “Electronic components could short if liquid gets into these contacts,” Silverman says.

Why shouldn’t I spray cleanser or fluid directly onto a screen?

Assuming we’re talking about distilled water or a diluted cleaning solution, it’s less about screen protection than about the rest of the computer. The danger is real—spraying liquid straight onto your computer screen could create tiny rivulets of fluid that could completely ruin your $7,000 thinking machine. “If excessive, it could seep down to the keyboard, USB ports, and other areas, which would damage the laptop,” Silverman says.

Does it matter if I do circles or straight lines when I wipe my screen?

Some people like circular motions, some people like Z-strokes or chessboard straight lines, and others look like they’re drawing spaghetti. What’s the right way to wipe a computer screen? “We prefer circles for less streaks,” Silverman says.

Whatever geometric shape you prefer, the most important thing is not to press down too hard—you’re gently wiping, not scrubbing and possibly creating dead pixels on your screen.

What if I have a screen protector adhesive on the screen?

It usually won’t make a difference, but if you want to get to the screen under the adhesive, you’ll probably need to make a choice. “You can clean on top of it,” Silverman says. “If you remove it you’ll most likely need a new one, since it’s hard to get it back on the way it was.”

What do I do if my screen is cracked?

Remember how you should turn off and unplug your computer before you start cleaning because of what the liquid can do to the insides of your computer? Think about what that liquid could do to the all-important liquid crystal display if you start squeezing a solution-filled cloth into those cracks in the screen. “Don’t clean it!” Silverman says. “Replace it.”

Do I have to wait for my screen to air-dry before I turn it on again after cleaning?

Be patient. The residents of Letterkenny or the final scene of Saltburn will still be there in a few minutes, even if waiting for everything to dry off isn’t a strict requirement. “[W]e wait a minute to be safe it’s dry,” Silverman says.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

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