This chapter comes from the 33rd edition of the "Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter. To read the rest of the book, look at


These tips will help keep your computer in good shape, so you’ll have fewer problems and need fewer repairs.


Clean your hardware

Eventually, your computer will get covered with dust, dirt, cigarette smoke, pollen, spilled drink, spilled food, dead insects, dandruff, and other unmentionable body parts.

Once a month, clean the computer, to increase the happiness of the computer and the people who see it (you, colleagues, customers, and visitors). To make cleaning easier, many companies prohibit employees from smoking, drinking, or eating near the computer.

Easy cleaning

Before cleaning the computer, turn its power off.

Just take a paper towel, dampen it with plain water, and wipe grime off the keyboard, the monitor’s screen, the monitor’s case, and the system unit’s case. It’s important to wet the towel and wipe gently, to avoid scratching the screen.

Don’t dribble water into the electronics. That would cause a short circuit and corrosion. Put water just onto the paper towel, not directly onto the hardware.

Don’t use the computer until the water has dried. Don’t open the monitor, since it contains high voltages even when “off”.

If the computer’s a desktop or all-in-one, clean the keyboard by doing this also:

Lift the keyboard off your desk. While the keyboard’s still in the air, flip the keyboard upside down, then shake it vigorously. You’ll be surprised at how much dust falls out of the keyboard and onto your desk! The “dust” includes many tiny pieces of food, skin, snot, and whatever other disgusting organic & inorganic materials you’ve been accidentally dropping into the keyboard. Then wipe that “dust” off your desk, and put the keyboard back down.

If the computer’s a laptop, do the same thing, but shake the laptop less vigorously, to avoid cracking the laptop’s electronics.

Inside the system unit

If the computer’s a traditional desktop or tower, occasionally remove dust from inside the system unit. To do that, open the system unit’s case (by removing the screws at the case’s back corners & edges, then jiggling the case until it pops). Cautions:

Remove screws at the case’s corners & edges but not other screws.

Don’t try to open a laptop or all-in-one computer: they require a special screwdriver.

When opening the system unit, be careful not to give your computer a shock of static electricity. The computer’s chips are delicate and can get destroyed by even the smallest spark. To avoid shocks, do this:

Avoid opening the computer in the winter, when the air is cold and the humidity is low. Wait until summer, when the air is warm and the humidity is high.

Avoid shuffling across the carpet in rubber-soled shoes. Remove your shoes and socks (so you look like a beach bum or hippie). Remove the carpet, or cover it with a plastic mat (or newspaper), or put anti-static spray on the carpet, or move to an uncarpeted room.

While fiddling inside the computer, keep it turned off but still plugged into a 3-prong grounded socket. Keep touching the outside of the computer’s case, which will be grounded. You can also keep touching other big metal objects in the room — so you’ll shock them instead of your computer.

Avoid directly touching the chips.

When fiddling inside the computer’s case, don’t loosen any of the cables inside, since if a cable gets loose you might forget which socket it belongs in and which direction it should be twisted in.

To remove dust, wipe it off — or just take a deep breath and blow, but try to avoid blowing spit.

Professional cleaning

That’s how to clean your computer for free. Professional repair shops usually spend extra money:

Instead of using water, they use isopropyl alcohol, which dries faster. But don’t use alcohol or traditional “glass cleaners” on the SCREEN, since they can harm the screen’s antiglare coating.

Instead of using a paper towel, they use a soft lint-free cloth.

Instead of blowing from their mouths, they blow from a can of compressed air.

Instead of touching objects to dissipate static electricity, they wear an electrostatic-discharge wrist strap (ESD wrist strap), which is a wrist strap that comes with a wire you can run from your wrist to a grounded metal object (such as the outside of a grounded computer case).

Clean your mouse

Here’s how to clean a traditional mouse (which contains a ball instead of shining a light).

Turn the mouse upside down. Using your fingernail, scrape off any gunk you see. (Gunk tends to accumulate on the mouse’s rubber strips or rubber feet.)

In the mouse’s belly, you typically see a rubber ball, whose purpose is to roll on your desktop (or on your mouse pad). Remove the ball’s circular cover (by turning the cover counterclockwise or sliding it toward you). Remove the ball.

On the ball, you’ll probably see a little dust, dirt, hair, or food. Clean the ball by rubbing it against your clothes. (Oooooh! That felt Gooood!) If you prefer, you can clean the ball by using water, but do not use alcohol, which can shrink the ball and make it lopsided.

Look inside the mouse, in the hole where the ball was. On the sides of that hole, you’ll see two rollers (looking like rolling pins) that the ball is supposed to rub against. One of those rollers is for motion in the X direction (horizontal); the other roller is for motion in the Y direction (vertical). Dust and dirt are probably caked onto the middle of each roller. Scrape the dust and dirt off, by using your fingernail.

Then put the ball back into the mouse and put its cover back on (by turning the cover clockwise or sliding it away from you).


Clean your software

For over 40 years, I’ve given free help to folks whose computers got messed up. That extensive experience taught me most computer problems can be solved by software cleaning: just remove any software routines that distract the computer from what you want to accomplish! If you remove those distractions, the computer can concentrate on accomplishing your goal. The computer’s headaches — and yours — will disappear. The computer will run reliably — and faster.

Here’s how to clean your software. To get free help using these methods and my other tricks (which are more bizarre), call me anytime (day or night, 24 hours) on my cell phone: 603-666-6644.

Turn off

Turn the computer off, then turn it back on. That procedure can solve several problems:

It can stop confused software from giving you a hard time.

It cleans out the computer’s RAM, so it’s not occupied by programs you wanted to close but which accidentally kept pieces of themselves still running.

It gives the computer a chance to reanalyze itself, search for updates, and install improvements.

It simplifies the question of what your computer is doing, so you stand a better chance of repairing it.

To do that effectively, make sure you turn the computer off completely.

Give the Windows command for “Shut down”, then wait a minute, until the computer shuts down, the screen goes black, all activity lights go off, and the computer gets completely quiet. Then unplug the computer from the wall (or from a power strip or turn the power strip off). Then turn the computer back on.

Yes, do that procedure completely:

Say “Shut down”, not “Restart”. Don’t trust the “Restart” command, whose effects may seem similar but whose details are unpredictable.

Give the Windows “Shut down” command (by clicking or tapping the words “Shut down”); don’t just press a power-off button, which might put the computer into a “sleep” mode instead of fully shutting down.

If you can’t do that procedure completely (because the computer refuses to let you click or tap “Shut down” or the computer’s lights refuse to go off), do the next best thing: pull out the plug. If pulling out the plug doesn’t make the lights go off, and the computer’s a laptop, do the next best thing:
remove the laptop’s battery (by flipping the laptop upside down and sliding open the battery door’s latch), then (as an experiment) try turning the laptop back on but without the battery in, then again with the battery in, to check whether your shut-down difficulty was caused by a battery defect or just a temporary hiccup.

Do disk cleanup

Once a week, give the computer permission to delete files the computer thinks are useless.

To start the process, do this:

Windows 10 In the Windows Search box (which is next to the Windows Start button), type “disk”. You see a list of things that contain the word “disk”. Tap “Disk Cleanup: Desktop app” then “OK”. The computer will say “Disk Cleanup is calculating”.

Windows 8.1 Go to the Start screen. Type “CleanMgr”. Tap the blue “CleanMgr” box. The computer will say “Calculating”.

Windows 8 Right-click the Start button. Click “Search”. In the white Search box, type “Disk Cleanup”. Click “Free up disk space” then “C:” then “OK”. The computer will say “Calculating”.

Windows 7 Click “Start” then “Computer” then the “C:” icon then “Properties” then the Disk Cleanup button. The computer will say “Calculating”.

Then you see a column of boxes. Put checkmarks in all the boxes, by clicking them. Scroll down to see all the boxes and make sure you put checkmarks in all of them.

Press the Enter key twice. The computer will delete the files.

Windows 7 issues

Windows 7 has these extra issues.

Stop the HP Advisor dock If the screen’s top shows the HP Advisor dock (ribbon bar that begins with the words “HP Advisor”) because you bought an HP or Compaq computer, stop it (because it’s distracting) by doing this:

Click “HP Advisor” then “PC Dashboard” then “Settings” (which is at the window’s bottom-left corner). Remove the check mark from “Launch Advisor PC Dock at every boot” (by clicking it). Click “Apply”. Close the HP Advisor window by clicking its X. Close the HP Advisor dock by clicking the faint-or-white X that’s to the right of the dock’s top-right corner.

(Here’s how to see the HP Advisor dock in the future: click Start then “All Programs” then “HP Advisor”.)

Stop the wallpaper When you’re not in the middle of running a program, the computer’s screen might show you wallpaper (a photo, or rays of colored lights, or your computer manufacturer’s name & logo, peeking from behind all the icons). Though that wallpaper might cheer you up at first, after a month or two you’ll find it distracting, and it makes the icons harder to see.

Here’s how to get rid of the wallpaper and change to a plain background:

Right-click in the screen’s middle, where there’s no icon. Click “Personalize” then “Desktop Background”. Near the screen’s top, you see a box labeled “Picture location” (and it probably says “Windows Desktop Backgrounds” in it); click that box’s down-arrow then “Solid Colors”. Maximize the window. You see 33 big colored squares. Click the dark-blue square at the top of the 6th column (because that’s the traditional restful color) or click whatever other color you prefer. Press Enter. Close the window (by clicking its X button).

If you want to change back and see wallpaper again, do this:

Right-click in the screen’s middle where there’s no icon. Click “Personalize” then “Desktop Background” then the Picture location box’s down-arrow then “Windows Desktop Backgrounds”. Scroll down to see all the icons. Click the last icon (which is in the Windows category). Press Enter. Close the window by clicking its X.