It’s a tedious task you’ve been putting off for what could be years. But this is finally the weekend you do it; you’re going to clean your computer inside and out. That means scrubbing down those keys, wiping the fossilized fingerprints off your screen and deleting all the files that secretly downloaded when you were trying to figure out how to make a GIF.
WIRED’s Weekend Project is a series consisting of tasks you can do in your spare time to help make your life easier, increase productivity, or just build something really cool.
You Will Need
- A microfiber cloth
- Soft cloths for cleaning (don’t use paper towels)
- Isopropyl alcohol
- An hour or two
Before doing anything, you need to turn off your device. Unplug it as well. This is the most important step. If you don’t follow it you could do some serious damage to the hardware.
Clean the Exterior
Take a soft cloth (a microfiber cloth is recommended), slightly dampen it with water and start scrubbing. Be careful when going around ports, you don’t want any liquid getting in there.
Start cleaning the screen by wiping it down with a dry cloth. Go from corner to corner.
Next, take the cloth and dampen it with some water. If you don’t think plain old water will get the job done, you could make a cleaning solution with 50 percent vinegar and 50 percent water. But don’t use cleaning solutions. In fact there are a lot of “Don’ts” when cleaning computers, so it’s best just to follow these instructions. Speaking of which, don’t drench the cloth. If it’s dripping wet, you overdid it.
Run the cloth over the screen. If you want to wipe in a wax on, wax off motion, that’s fine, but don’t get overzealous with your scrubbing; you’re not waxing a Ford Mustang.
If you’re a multitasking heathen who eats while using the computer… well, you’re just like everyone else. It also means you have crumbs between, on, or inside your keys. You need to get those out before you come in with the damp cloth—like sweeping the floor before mopping.
Use a can of compressed air to clear the crumbs from the surface. If you don’t have one, a small fan may work and if you’re really desperate, you could employ a drinking straw and use lung-generated wind power. Just get the crumbs out.
Next, take out a clean cloth, the isopropyl alcohol, and some Q-tips. Take the cloth and dampen it with the alcohol. Run the cloth over the keys and make them shiny. Then take the Q-tip and get in-between the keys. You can dip the Q-tip in alcohol, but stop short of a full soak; you don’t want a puddle of alcohol to spew out when you press down.
Once you’ve run the key maze, the alcohol should dry within a matter of minutes. Voila, you’re halfway done to completely cleaning your computer.
The inside of your machine is probably filled with more crap than the outside was. Boot your computer up and get ready to do the real dirty work.
Delete Files in Windows
Windows 10 comes with an excellent storage manager. In the Settings app, click on System, then Storage. In this view, you can identify the folders taking up the most space, then sift through these to delete the largest files you don’t need anymore.
Chances are, your computer came with a bunch of programs pre-installed that you’ve never used, or that you don’t want. Get rid of these. Within the Settings app, click on Apps & Features, then find those apps you never use and delete them.
Next, launch the Disk Cleanup utility. It allows you to erase temporary files, which may improve the speed of your computer, and system files, which will free up some storage space.
That’s enough to earn you a few gigabytes of disk space. If you’re still hurting for space, there’s more to be done—Windows 10 is full of little hiding places for backups and temporary files. Thankfully, Microsoft has included several different cleanup tools with the OS, and the company offers an online guide to completing a thorough cleaning.
Delete Files in macOS
The newest macOS, version 10.12 (Sierra), comes with its own Disk Cleanup equivalent. Click on the Apple icon in the menu bar and select “About This Mac.” When the window opens, click on the Storage tab, then click the Manage button. From here, you can delete applications or files you haven’t used in a while, and you can move things like photos and media files off your hard drive and into the cloud. The Reduce Clutter option will make recommendations about files you haven’t accessed in a while that it thinks you can delete. If, after deleting the files it recommends, you still need to free up more space, try sifting through your files manually to find additional offenders.
To to do a manual clean, target your Downloads folder, your Applications folder, and the “All My Files” view. For each one, launch a Finder window and go into List view: Choose View > As List, or click the List View button at the top of the Finder window. From here, you can sort the files based on size, with the largest files at the top of the list. This will help you can catch the biggest space eaters first.
You can also sort by file type. If you know you have a ton of videos lying around from when you tried to make a Star Wars supercut using scenes from the first six movies, you can find and delete them all at once by choosing “Kind” and finding the .mp4 files all clustered together.
Lastly, right click on the column headers in Finder and select “Date Last Opened.” This will let you sort your list to show you the things you haven’t touched in years. This is especially helpful in Applications—those apps you downloaded in 2011 and haven’t used since? Ditch them!
Zap Device Backups
Do you have an iPhone or iPad? Go into iTunes’s preferences and click on Devices. If you see any backups for old devices you don’t use anymore (or devices you’re now backing up to the cloud), get rid of those.
Erase the Past
Clearing your browser history is another way to cleanse your computer of toxins and hogged space. Go into your web browser of choice, open the preferences, and flush that browser history. You may have to reload some images and files the next time you browse, but you’ll free up hundreds of megabytes of space.
Finish the Job
After clearing out all the gunk, empty the trash, which will delete these files and apps. Finally—and this is important—reboot your computer.
Curate Your Feeds
After rebooting, there’s one more item that you’re going to want to clean out, and it doesn’t have anything to deleting items, it has to do with deleting friends. Not real friends; Twitter followers and Facebook friends. The ones you haven’t thought about in years, and the people who bring the least value to your social media experience. Take the time to go through everyone you follow and do not be afraid to make some deep cuts. The same logic applies to Snapchat and Instagram. It’s good practice to trim the fat out of your social feeds regularly, so carpe diem and clean house.
Update, January 30: This article was updated to add instructions about using the storage manager built into macOS.