Thursday, August 11, 2016

How to safely clean your electronic gadgets

8/11/2016

Years ago, when I worked every day on an IBM PC, I had a solution for cleaning a grungy keyboard. I would spray it with window cleaner, scrub off the dirt with a paper towel, rinse the whole thing in a sink, then let it dry overnight. Worked every time.

Today, that would be a terrible solution. A friend tried the same approach with a Macintosh keyboard and ended up buying a new one. That $50 lesson taught him and me that today’s electronic devices are far more delicate than the old stuff.

Keyboards, computers, televisions and mobile phones still collect dust, dirt and bits of food and there are simple and reliable ways to clean them that don’t involve running water and a sink. Here are my suggestions:

Keyboards and mice

Start by turning off the power to your laptop or disconnecting the USB cable. If it’s a wireless keyboard, use the power switch or remove the battery. To remove loose crumbs and debris, hold the keyboard upside down and shake it. For tougher crud, get a can of compressed air from any office supply store and blast the edges of the keys.

Don’t use household cleaners to remove the smudges that inevitably build up on and around the keys. Instead, try isopropyl alcohol, commonly known as rubbing alcohol.

Lightly wet a cotton swab with a small amount of alcohol and run the swab between the keys. Then apply the alcohol to a portion of a clean microfiber cloth and rub the surface of each key. Use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe down the keyboard when you’re finished.

The cloth and a bit of alcohol will also clean gunk from the top and underside of a computer mouse. This process also works well for cleaning other devices like TV  remotes and game controllers. Remove their batteries before you start.

TV and computer screens

Before the arrival of flat-screen televisions, most TV screens were made of glass and you could remove dust and fingerprints the same way you cleaned windows, with a cloth and a spray bottle of glass cleaner. Today’s flat screes  have a special coating that could be damaged by rough cloths or the chemicals found in ordinary cleaning solutions.

The user manual that came with your TV or computer probably recommends cleaning the screen with just a dry microfiber cloth like the one you get with a new pair of glasses. Make sure the TV or computer is turned off (unplugging it is even better) and that the screen is cool to the touch.

Lightly rub the cloth over the surface of the screen to remove dust and smudges. Pressing too hard can also harm some screens. For a really stubborn smudge, you can lightly wet a corner of the cloth but never spray water or any cleaning solution directly on the screen.

Phones and tablets

I’ve seen research that says mobile phones collect more germs than bathrooms. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know our smart phones are constantly in our hands and while we often wash and sanitize our hands, we don’t wash our phones.

The best tool for cleaning a mobile phone or tablet computer is that trusty microfiber cloth. If a light wiping doesn’t do the job, dampen a corner of the cloth with a little bit of water. Use distilled water if you can and power down the phone before you start.

If you are especially concerned about germs on a phone or tablet, use a mixture of 50% distilled water and 50% white vinegar. Vinegar is a mild disinfectant, but it doesn’t kill all germs. For that, you need the nuclear option. For about $60, you can buy PhoneSoap,  a box that bathes a phone in ultraviolet light while it’s being charged. PhoneSoap says its UV-C light neutralizes the bugs that carry staph, salmonella and e.coli.



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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.

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