If you’re like most Americans these days, you have a computer and you use it a lot. You probably also have a printer, or speakers, or a scanner, or other things in the same area that also have electrical cords, and you probably at least occasionally eat or drink around your computer. Over time, our computer areas tend to get dirty, dusty, and all tangled up, which can lead to some serious problems. Keep your Austin home clean and safe by following our guide for keeping your home or office computer area in top shape.

Before you start any kind of computer area cleaning project, it’s essential that you unplug any and all electronics in the area. You don’t want to be tripping over cords or getting cleaning tools tangled up in them, and you don’t want to short out a machine if you accidentally spill some water or other cleaning fluid on it.

Begin by moving all of your electronics and other items off your desk and at least a short distance away from your workspace (the distance will prevent dust transfer). If you have any machines that are particularly heavy or bulky, it’s a good idea to ask a friend to help you out. Do any surface cleaning that your desk requires – at the very least, you’ll probably need to dust. If you have any sticky or dirty areas, try tackling them with a damp rag first, but if you need a little more scrubbing power, be sure to use a cleaning method that’s safe for the desk’s material. If your desk is wooden, check out our handy advice for cleaning wood finishes. For glass and metal, you can use a solution of four parts water and one part white vinegar or employ a commerical glass cleaner or rust-free metal cleaner. Be sure the entire area is dry before you put your electronics back in place.

Next, clean your machines. While it may be tempting to use a vacuum cleaner, this isn’t a good idea, since vacuums can discharge static electricity, which may damage delicate electronic components. Instead, gently shake lightweight devices (such as keyboards and modems) upside down, and swipe larger items with a dust-trapping cloth or duster. For an extra boost, especially in small crevices, use a few blasts of canned air. Pay special attention to fans and exhaust ports, as these areas are likely to collect dust and hair that will cause the computer to eventually overheat. Never stick anything into these areas. Then use a gentle rubbing alcohol and cotton balls or cotton swabs to clean the areas of machines that are touched frequently, such as keyboard keys and power switches (be sure to test on an inconspicuous area first to avoid fading colors or peeling labels).

When you’re ready to set your workspace back up, pay special attention to how many cords you have and where they run. There are several clever tricks you can use in this area of ATX home cleaning. You may be able to make things easier for yourself by attaching a power strip to the wall or the side of your desk with double-sided tape or velcro. Particularly long cords can be loosely gathered and kept out of the way with extra-long twist ties or cord-keepers purchased from an electronics store. If you have a problem with your cords getting twisted around each other, you can either use a store-bought device to keep them straight, or punch several holes in an old credit card or club card. Use scissors to cut little slits from the edge of the card to the edges of the holes, and then slip your cords in. If you struggle to remember which plug belongs to which device once your machines are all hooked up, label the cords near the plugs with masking tape or the little square plastic clips that come on bags of bread.

Whether you use your computer and other electronic devices for work, for pleasure, or both, it’s essential to keep your machines and your desk area neat and tidy. Not only will you stave off dust and germs, you’ll have greater peace of mind and get much more out of the experience each time you use your computer!

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