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How to Clean the Inside of Your Retro Gaming Computer

3 mins read

For most people, the inside of a computer is a mystery. But to a retro gamer, your tower of the PC school of gaming is everything. Inside that shell are processors, video cards, hard drives, and the fans that keep them cool while you load up your favorite PC classics. Emulators and consoles aside, there are some games that need the old joystick/mouse/keyboard experience to fully enjoy the mechanics you fell in love with decades ago. This means it is vital not only to have a machine that can run your favorite classics, but you also need to keep it clean and relatively dust-free so that your best tower build can last at least another couple of decades playing your favorite games. To help, here is a guide to cleaning the truly impressive amount of caked-on dust inside your computer.

Signs Your Computer Needs Cleaning

The dust in your computer is a lot like a head cold for a human. The computer literally gets stuffed up and can’t regulate its own temperature. The overheating causes it to become sluggish and eventually your computer will crash right in the middle of the water dungeon or more than an hour from your last save.

Clean Your Computer If It…

– Feels unusually warm or hot to the touch
– Has been running very slowly for no apparent reason
– Crashes frequently while you’re running programs

How to Clean Your Computer

The first step to successfully cleaning your computer is to understand that graphics cards and memory chips don’t bite. The computer won’t immediately collapse into scrap if you open up the case. You are perfectly capable of carefully wiping down the inside of a computer. That said, be a little careful, as computer components often have sharp metal corners.

What You’ll Need

– Rubbing Alcohol or Glass Cleaner
– Paper Towels
– Cotton Swabs
– Trash Can (no kidding)
– Tiny Screwdriver

Turn off the Computer

Reassured and equipped, shut down your computer then switch it off at the back and pull the plug. It’s hard to electrocute yourself on a graphics card, but always better safe than sorry when dealing with electronics.

Open the Case

– Use the tiny screwdriver to take out any tiny computer screws that are holding your case on and carefully put the screws aside where you can find them later. Carefully open up your computer case or lift it off from the top, depending on the model, and look inside.
– You will see A LOT of dust. Epic rolling blankets of it covering everything inside, including the backs of the vents. Your job is to pull out as much dust as possible.

Start With Paper Towels

– Start by using a folded paper towel to sweep as much of the dust out as possible. This will take out the loose stuff and help you avoid pulling too much on cards and cables. You will get gobs, handfuls, possibly even extra pets worth of dust so scoop it into the trash can regularly or put it aside for a linty craft project later.
– Next, dampen a fresh paper towel with rubbing alcohol or glass cleaner and gently wipe down every surface you can reach, including the vents, the tops of the cards, and any upward or side-facing surfaces. This will require several paper towels.

Detail with Cotton Swabs

– Once you’ve got everything you feel you can get with the paper towels, use the cotton swabs, dry or damp, to clean in the grooves on each circuit board and in tight spaces between components. Don’t forget the nooks and crannies of the case itself or this dust will just blow right onto the components.
– If you can, remove the fan and use a swap to fish out the gobs of dust in there as well.

Put the Computer Back Together

– When you’ve cleaned everything you can see and reach, it’s time to reassemble. Before you close up, put the fan back into place and connect it if you pulled it out and check all the other cable and card connections as well. Essentially, reattach anything if it came loose, press cards into their sockets, and make sure all cables are secure in their ports.
– Close up the case and re-secure it with those computer screws you set aside earlier and the tiny screwdriver.


Congratulations! You have just rescued your classic tower and all your precious PC game saves from dust-choking heat death. Considering the epic amount of dust you inevitably just pulled out of there, it’s no wonder your computer was starting to falter. To test your success, try loading up your most resource-hungry retro game and see how much more smoothly it runs without all that dust coating.

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