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New year's resolution: A clean Mac

It's that time again when Mac users make their New Year's resolutions. How about a simple pledge to keep your computer clean? I'm not talking about deleting cache files or removing old apps you no longer use. I'm talking about your Mac's screen and keyboard, or its dusty, grungy innards. It's not difficult to do, but keeping a clean Mac can help it run smoother, and keep you from getting sick as well. Here are a few ways you can keep your Mac looking new and fresh.

Clean that keyboard

It's fair to say that the dirtiest part of your Mac is its keyboard. Even if you wash your hands every time you sit down to type, the keyboard collects the germs and sweat from your fingers, and the dust in your room or office. This can make for sticky keys and transfer cold viruses, or worse.

First, unplug your keyboard from your computer or, in the case of a wireless keyboard, remove its batteries. (If you're cleaning a laptop keyboard, shut down the computer and unplug the power adapter.) Blow out the dust and, if necessary, vacuum the space between the keys (or under them, depending on the type of keyboard you have).

Next, clean your keys with disinfecting wipes. (Apple recommends Lysol and Clorox Kitchen disinfecting wipes.) Since the alcohol evaporates, there's no risk of liquid damaging the keyboard, and it's a better disinfectant than soap. Still, make sure to squeeze out sopping wipes.

If you don't have wipes, put a drop of standard dishwashing detergent in a glass of water. Soak a soft cloth in this concoction and then wring it out until it's barely damp. Now wipe the cloth over the keys to get rid of the grime. Rinse the detergent out of your cloth, wring it out, and then finish up by wiping your keyboard off again. Be very careful not to get water under the keys. You should do this regularly, to make sure that no germs fester under your fingers.

Prevent the keyboard from getting dirty

If cleaning your keyboard proves a mighty chore, or if you have a new one you want to protect from pet hair, cookie crumbs, and the like, you might want to use a keyboard protector, such as the iSkin ProTouch, a silicone keyboard protector that's easy to wash, starting at $25. You can get one for your desktop keyboard and for your laptop, so when you're out in a coffee shop, you can make sure that no stray liquids get under your keys.

An even thinner option is the $25 Moshi Clearguard CS for an Apple Keyboard or $30 ClearGuard FS for the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. Moshi also offers a line of Clearguard protectors for laptop users.

Get rid of dust

While most Macs today are designed so you can't open them, the Mac Pro remains the one model that's easy to get inside. Unfortunately, because of the way it's designed, it also collects a lot of dust. I had one for several years, and found I had to clean it every few months.

It's OK to vacuum the outside of your computer with a standard vacuum, but you want to avoid using it on the inside of your Mac because of the possibility that static electricity from the vacuum could zap its electronics. Instead, purchase a vacuum specifically designed for electronic components or use a battery-powered vacuum. Alternatively, haul the computer outside and blow the dust out with compressed air.

I open my Mac Pro--after turning it off, of course--and vacuum out dust from some parts of it, notably the CPU and RAM areas. If I slide out the hard drives, you can get further inside the Mac Pro and get dust out of the nooks and crannies. I use a can of compressed air can help get dust out of the tightest corners.

Other Macs are harder to remove dust from. The iMac, for example, has inputs below the display and a large exhaust at the top, behind the display. If you have a powerful vacuum cleaner, you can suck some dust out of the bottom, but it's not easy, and probably won't help much.

The Mac mini doesn't seem to collect a lot of dust, but you can open the round bottom cover and check inside to see if there's an accumulation of dust, pet hair or anything else that your vacuum can remove.

Clean the screen

I keep a microfiber cloth--the kind you use to clean eyeglasses--handy to clean my Apple display. Sometimes I see little spots on the screen; I just breathe on them, the way I do with my glasses, and use that cloth to wipe away the offending grime. Apple recommends that you use a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth to clean screens more thoroughly.

I've never used any special monitor cleaning solutions on my Macs, though if you spill something on your laptop, for example, and get something really icky on its screen, you may need to go that route. You can buy many kinds of monitor wipes, pre-treated with appropriate cleaning solutions, and these might be worth keeping around in case of a disaster. Check iKlear and RadTech for options including iPad and iPhone cleaning kits.

Clean behind the screen

I had an iMac that went for service and when it returned, I thought it had a dead pixel. Looking closely, though, I realized that there was a bit of dust behind the screen; actually, between the display's plastic cover and the actual display. To my surprise, it was easy to remove the front cover to clean this out. (Beware--doing so may void the warranty.)

Find a suction cup, at least a couple of inches wide. Press it onto the black bezel near the top of the display. (Don't worry, you can wipe off any marks from the suction cup later.) Pull gently, and you'll find that the plastic cover of the display comes right off; it's held onto your Mac or your display by magnets. (This is the case for Apple's current and recent iMacs and its displays that have black bezels surrounding them.) Clean off the inside of this cover, with a soft cloth, and put it back in place starting from the bottom edge, then let the magnets do their work. You can watch a helpful video of this process here.)

While you don't need to be obsessive about cleaning your Mac, these simple tips can help you spruce it up regularly--that's an especially good idea if you have a laptop that you tote around wherever you go.

[Editor's note: This story was updated in December 2012.]


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