Keeping your computer parts in clean and functional shape is one way to make sure they last a long time, and you don’t have to replace them early. One thing to consider as you prepare to clean a graphics card is how much cleaning it needs.
Unnecessary deep cleaning might do more harm than good, though you also don’t want to neglect regular maintenance cleanings.
How Important is Keeping My Graphics Card Clean?
Keeping your graphics card clean may not seem a significant priority. After all, the case keeps your computer parts safe from most dust, liquid, and other mess that might intrude or damage the components.
However, over time dust still gets in and settles on your GPU. That weight and mess can increase the card’s temperature, make the fans less efficient, and eventually even damage the delicate electronics. It also leads to overheating issues.
Keep your graphics card clean with at least basic maintenance cleaning regularly.
What Kinds of Cleaning Might I Need to Do?
There are three kinds of cleaning you might need to do.
You should do basic maintenance cleaning whenever the dust builds up on your computer. All you need is compressed air and perhaps, if the dust is particularly bad, a clean, dry cloth.
Deeper cleaning can be done when you remove the computer’s graphics card. It’s also an excellent time to focus on the fans and the heatsink and check to ensure all the connections are clean.
Very deep cleaning can be done on cards that might not work without it. If you’ve ever seen an image of a graphics card after a flood, that’s the kind of damage this type of cleaning is used to fix. You risk doing more damage to the GPU with such an extreme cleaning method, though. This one should be saved for worst-case scenarios.
You will need different tools and approaches for each of these options.
How Often Do I Need to Clean My Graphics Card?
Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer for how often you need to clean your graphics card.
For essential maintenance, keep an eye on your computer and try to pinpoint how long it takes to get visibly dusty. Once you’ve noticed it, do a quick maintenance cleaning. It shouldn’t take long if your computer is easily accessible, and it will be easier to keep things neat when you clean regularly.
You can do a deeper cleaning on the card when you remove it from the case for any reason. Since it isn’t mounted and connected, it’s easier to clean the delicate and hard-to-reach areas.
The extensive cleaning it can take to make a card work after a disaster should only be done when absolutely necessary.
How to Clean a Graphics Card
Determine which method your card needs and assemble what you need before you begin. There’s nothing more frustrating during computer maintenance than realizing that you’re missing an important tool and unable to complete the project.
Basic Maintenance Cleaning
Before you start, gather a can of compressed air and a soft, lint-free cloth.
Power down the computer and wait for a minute before preceding. While you can open your case with the computer on, it’s best to not unless you have an excellent reason for doing so.
Turn off the power switch on the PSU if you have one. Unplug the computer from the wall.
Open the side of the computer to gain access to the GPU. You may be able to slide the door off. Some models require you to push buttons or remove screws to reach the inside of the computer.
Remove any other peripherals you must to have a clear view and access to your graphics card. While some cases make it easy to clean the card, some setups might place other components in the way.
Aim the compressed air nozzle at the fans on the graphics card. Spray air at them in short bursts to remove the dust. Work your way from the top of the card to the bottom to blow away any dust.
Gently rub away any stubborn mess with the soft cloth. There shouldn’t be anything sticky or persistent on the card for this level of cleaning, so removal should be simple.
Use the compressed air to blow away the dust the cloth cleaning loosened.
Aim the compressed air so that you can blow any dust that’s fallen into the computer or onto other components out of the case. Working from top to bottom again will help you get it done more quickly without spreading it from place to place.
Close the computer tower.
Plug in the computer, turn on the PSU switch, and then power on the PC.
This is simple and non-invasive enough that you can do it fairly often, especially if your computer is in a high-traffic area that gets a lot of dust.
If you remove the card from the computer to fix the connections or replace the thermal paste, for example, you can do a bit of a deeper cleaning than you can when the card is in the case.
Obtain a small bottle of 99 percent pure isopropyl alcohol, some lint-free cotton rounds or swabs, a very soft-bristled brush, and compressed air before starting.
Remove the GPU from the computer altogether. It should be unplugged and not connected to the motherboard before you start.
Even if you’re planning to take the card apart, start by cleaning the outside. Blow compressed air across one side of the card to remove the dust.
Flip the card over and blow compressed air across the other side. Compressed air is most effective with direct contact, so take your time and focus on areas with visible dust.
Use the compressed air on the top and bottom of the card. Don’t neglect the sides. Before you open it up, you want to remove any dust you can find.
Use the soft-bristled brush to gently slide between the fins of the heatsink. You want to try to remove any dust lurking in the small spaces, but don’t use force to get it out. It should come out quickly.
Dip the cotton swab or round into the alcohol. Do not let it get too wet. You want it barely damp and not dripping.
Use the cotton to clean away any stubborn mess the compressed air won’t take care of. Look for areas outside the card that need to be cleaned.
If you open the card, use compressed air to blow across the inside and remove any leftover dust lurking behind the barriers of the GPU.
If you need to replace the thermal paste, you can use the cotton swabs or rounds and alcohol to gently wipe away the old thermal paste.
Let the card dry completely before reassembling and reinstalling it.
Never use water to clean your graphics card, and don’t take it apart more than is necessary.
Cleaning a Card That May Not Work Anymore
If the mess on the card is so dirty that you don’t think it will operate – which is often the case when purchasing a secondhand card – then you don’t have to be as careful as you would otherwise. Sometimes a deep and in-depth cleaning will actually help bring a GPU back to life when all other hope seems lost.
You should get a tub large enough for the GPU, enough isopropyl alcohol to submerge it, a soft-bristled brush, and cotton swabs.
Pour the isopropyl alcohol into the tub. You can also save a small amount and set it aside to clean the screws and other hardware.
Take apart the GPU, setting the screws or other small components aside.
Put the GPU into the alcohol bath.
Let the GPU sit submerged for an hour. In the meantime, you can dip the smaller hardware like screws into the alcohol you saved. Use the brush to clean them off, rinse them with alcohol, and set them aside to dry.
Remove the GPU from the isopropyl bath. Use the soft brush or cotton implements to gently remove the dirt or mess on the card. You can rinse it with alcohol when needed to remove the gunk. When you’re done, rinse the card with isopropyl thoroughly.
Dump out the dirty alcohol and clean the tub. Dry it and then replace the alcohol with clean isopropyl.
Soak the card in the isopropyl for another hour or overnight, depending on how messy it is.
Clean the card by hand one more time, using the brush to get into the fans and the heatsink grill.
Rinse the card with isopropyl.
Let the card dry for at least 48 hours. Many people will say that it’s safe sooner, and they’re likely right – but erring on the side of caution is never a bad thing.
Reassemble the card.
Test the GPU in a safe computer.
If there was water damage on the card in the last two weeks, let it dry for a week instead of for 48 hours. Turning it on with water still in the components could be the death of the card.