Cleaning computer cooling fans

How many times it happened that your computer fans got clogged up with dust? And not just dusty, but filled with flakes of dust. And what people usually do? They take the vacuum cleaner and stick it next to the cooling fan. Sure, it makes a nice whoooosh “turbo” sound, but most people don’t realize that by doing that, they effectively ruined the cooling fan. It’s dust free, but ruined. If it’s a PC cooling fan, replacement is rather easy and cheap. But if you ruin a laptop fan, replacement can be very difficult and costly because you have to disassemble entire laptop, replace a very specific fan that can’t be bought in any computer store (it usually has to ordered specifically for your model). End result is a very expensive lecture for 5 seconds of stupidity…

Why this even happens?

The reason for this is in the fan bearings (component that makes the fans run long, smoothly and quietly). Computer fans usually operate at up to 2500 RPM (revolutions per minute). There are rare exceptions that go beyond 5000 RPM (usually the famous Delta Electronics fans that sound like jet at take off). However, when you stick a vacuum cleaner hose next to the fans, especially with the pointy attachment, the fans will rotate exceeding speeds of 10.000 RPM. This causes the lubrication inside the bearing to disperse from the axis/bearings of the fan, causing the bearings to overheat, wear out and deform, because the bearings inside were never rated/designed for such speeds.

Ok, so how can I then clean them properly?

It’s really a rather simple trick. Stick a finger, a stick or any obstacle that will prevent the fans from rotating. This way, the fan won’t spin up to insane speeds and all will be well. Just pay attention that you don’t suck the fan blades to the pointy vacuum cleaner attachment, because that will deform the fan blades slightly and it will again become noisy and wear out the bearings on its own faster than they would otherwise. Keep some distance from the fan blades, just so it sucks the dust off. If you want to clean them entirely, use a soft micro fiber cloth and gently wipe the fan blades one by one.

What about laptop cooling fans?

Well, laptops follow the same principle, they are just a bit more difficult to clean since the fans are tucked inside the laptop case. Easiest way to clean them is to use a “bicycle pump” with a pointy end. And even if you don’t have any special pointy ends, it should do the trick. You can also use a more dedicated “air duster balloon” that is used for blowing off dust from watch movements during repair. The reason to use these instead of blowing air in there with your mouth is because these don’t blow saliva into the case/fan, preventing dust from sticking on it and making things even worse.

First check the direction of airflow through the laptop. They usually suck the cool air into the case from underneath and blow it out on the side or on the back. Turn it off, unplug it and take out the battery just to be sure.

Now take the pump and gently blow the air in the opposite direction of the airflow inside the laptop case. Do it gently, because you don’t want to spin the fan too quickly but with enough force to actually do something. You should see dust flying out the other end. Then you can also blow air in from the other end to help dust move around and out the cooling system. Repeat till it stops flying out.


You may want to check the intake if any flakes of dust have clogged up against the protective grill of the laptop underneath during the cleaning process. If it has, use thin tweezers and gently pull it out through the grill.


Repeat with the pump/duster balloon till it stops flying out. When it stops, you’ve most likely cleaned it entirely.

Prevention is better than cure!

This especially applies to laptops. If you never clean it, chances are, the cooling heatsink inside the laptop will be totally clogged up with dust, letting hardly any air passing through, cause laptop to overheat, be noisier and the cleaning process will be a lot more difficult since pushing flakes of dust backwards can clog up the fan instead, preventing it from performing its job yet again. Just use the bicycle pump or air duster balloon and clean the fan every few months. It’s faster and more effective than dealing with big flakes of dust after few years of no cleaning at all. Just make few blows inside the fan exhaust (opposite direction of the fan airflow), you should see some dust flying out and voila, job done.

End result will be a properly cooled and quieter laptop. And whole process costs nothing at all except few seconds of your time.

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