While the mouse and keyboard are likely your PC’s dirtiest components, the screen can also become unsavory in appearance. Displays not only pull in dust, but become dartboards for sneezes, unexpected food projectiles, and other unidentifiable substances. We explain how to safely clean a computer screen to eliminate the evil, embarrassing yuck glaring back at you.
This guide is broken up into several components: the type of materials you should and should not use, the type of cleaners you should and should not use, and how to actually clean a computer screen with these items. This guide applies to both stand-alone and laptop displays.
Start with your cleaning material
Absolutely do not use the following:
- Your shirt
- Dish rags
- Paper towels
- Bath towels
- Anything that feels slightly rough to the touch
While the standard screen feels sturdy to the touch, it’s not manufactured like old-school CRT monitors and tube TVs. You won’t find a thick glass layer but instead a thin surface that’s more susceptible to scratches – even more so if it has an anti-glare coating.
Use a microfiber cloth. They’re not only ideal for cleaning your glasses, but computer monitors, smartphone and tablet screens, and more. You can find them at your local eyewear shop and other retailers, and through online retailers like Amazon. Here are a few cheap and highly useful examples:
Progo Ultra Absorbent Microfiber Cleaning Cloths (6-pack)
Securomax Microfiber Cleaning Cloth (6-pack)
Screen Mom Screen Cleaning Purple Microfiber Cloths (4-pack)
You may need two microfiber cloths to clean your screen. One cloth is for the cleaning portion while the second cloth is for gently drying the screen if you use water or a cleaning solution.
Pick a cleaning solution
Absolutely do not use substances containing the following:
- Ethyl alcohol
- Methyl alcohol
- Any other corrosive substance
- Ethyl acid
- Methyl chloride
Even when using a microfiber cloth, these solutions will damage the screen’s top layer, especially those with an anti-glare finish.
Use warm water. Do not use standard window and surface cleaners. In fact, default to distilled water since you have no guarantee tap water won’t contain small, nearly unseen mineral deposits.
Create a cleaner for stubbon stains. If you have glued on gunk that refuses to vacate the screen, here’s three common household item mixtures you can create:
- 50% distilled water and 50% white vinegar
- 100% distilled water and a drop of dish detergent
- 50% distilled water and 50% isopropyl alcohol
What about special wipes and sprays?
Products based on isopropyl alcohol are typically safe for screens. For wipes, make sure they are individually wrapped and designed specifically for lenses and screens. For instance, Care Check sells a box of 150 wipes for a mere $12 that can also be used on camera lenses, mobile devices, and more. We use these regularly and they work great.
Care Check Lens Wipes (150 count)
Sprays designed specifically for computer screens typically include a microfiber cloth. When shopping for a spray, be sure to hunt down the ingredients if possible. A good example is the Vius Streak-Free Universal Screen Cleaner that does not contain ammonia, alcohols, sulfates, or phosphates. A bottle with the included cloth costs $9.
Vius Premium Screen Cleaner Spray
Of course, as previously explained, you can create your own spray using 50% isopropyl alcohol and 50% water (distilled if possible).
Never spray directly on the screen! Instead, spray the microfiber cloth and use it to clean the screen. You don’t want the liquid to drip behind the frame and cause fiery havoc on the components underneath. Note that isopropyl alcohol is a flammable liquid.
Now for the actual cleaning!
Step 1. Turn off the display
Turning off the display to clean the surface is a good idea. The big issue is static, as the shock stemming from cleaning movements could damage the active components inside. PC builders will tell you to remove socks, stand on hard flooring like wood or tile, and tap something metal to discharge any static you may have in your fingers before fondling a PC. All of this is likely overkill for a display but switch it off anyway whether it’s a stand-alone or built into a laptop.
Another reason to turn it off is that the layers underneath are charged with electricity. We’re not actually convinced you’ll damage the pixels by cleaning a modern desktop screen while it’s turned on, as a layer of glass sits between you and the color filter, electrodes, and LCD panel. Still, turn it off just to be safe.
Note that prior to the Age of Touch, stand-alone displays and laptops relied on old-school LCD screens that didn’t have LED backlighting. The LCD module resided between two layers of polarized film, thus when you pressed on the screen, the action disrupted the alignment of liquid crystals in the LCD module, causing a visual “ripple” effect.
But with the arrival of touch came sturdier screens across the board so that manufacturers can add a touch layer when needed. But they’re not totally immune: If you press hard enough, you can still cause a small ripple. That said, if you have an older LCD panel that easily ripples, be extra careful to not damage the LCD module underneath and scratch the screen’s surface.
The final thing – your screen may be touch sensitive, especially if you’re cleaning a modern laptop. Turning it off will ensure you don’t send your device haywire while cleaning all over.
Step 2: Find a duster
Getting a soft duster won’t hurt, especially if you just need to sweep away dust. You don’t want the feather-style duster that simply thrashes dust into a cough-inducing cloud. Instead, you want a duster that (1) doesn’t cause static and (2) collects dust. Swiffer actually made a video on how to clean a computer screen though we don’t advise using the Mr. Clean spray.
There’s no real method to dusting the screen. Swiffer demonstrates an “X” pattern while moving horizontally from top to bottom should work too. Ideally, you want to clean the frame and its edges first and then clean the main screen.
Please note that cleaning chaos will ensue with curious kung fu kittens in the house.
Step 3: Wipe the panel
Dampen your microfiber cloth using warm water, the water/dish soap mixture, the vinegar/water mixture, or the isopropyl alcohol/water mixture. Again, NEVER EVER spray directly on the screen, but instead spray the cloth (or dip the cloth if not using a bottle). Your cloth should not be dripping wet when cleaning the screen.
Gently wipe horizontally or vertically. The jury is out on whether this is the best approach, as using circular motions could lead you to unintentionally leaving buffer marks as you frantically work to remove a spot. Be extremely gentle – don’t bear down, rub or scrub – even if a stain refuses to budge. You may even need to let the damp cloth sit over troubling spots. With a little patience, the spot will eventually disappear.
Step 4: Dry the panel
Finally, you’ll want to take the second microfiber cloth and gently dry the screen or area in question. If you still see stubborn stains, repeat Step 3 and dry again until you’re happy with the results. Don’t power up the display until the screen is dry.
Step 5: Admire your work
With your clean screen, you’ll wonder how you ever left the gunk on for so long. Enjoy!