Your Laptop Is Filthy—Here’s How To Clean It, According to a Microbiologist and Cleaning Expert

Photo: Getty Images/Oscar Wong
I don’t want to be graphic, but—my laptop has seen some things. I’ve schlepped my work computer onto countless airplanes and to the sweaty gym so I could work between sets countless times. And who could forget the time I ugly cried all over my keyboard when Belly chose Jeremiah? (Why, Belly, why?)

According to microbiologist Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Files, there is a price for subjecting your technology to the world’s germs—particularly if you, like me, can’t be bothered to take five minutes and clean it.

Why you need to clean your laptop

“Laptops are today’s remote controls,” says Tetro. “They pick up any of the dust and dirt from surfaces or settling from the air, and they are constantly being touched over the course of a day, leaving behind oil and dirt and bacteria.” While estimates of the amount of germs on laptops are admittedly all over the place, some sources say that they contain up to 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat, with public computers being the worst of all.

Of course, it’s not exactly a surprise that the hunks of metal and plastic many of us use eight-plus hours a day would be filthy. “[Laptops] can harbor droplets from coughs and sneezes. Pets also can leave behind oils, saliva and, yes, fecal matter,” says Tetro. “Since laptops don’t get cleaned all that often, the dirt and grime pile up, as does the microbial load.”

Personally, this news is enough to make me want to dunk my laptop into a vat of bleach, but wait! It gets worse! As for whether a dirty laptop can get you sick, the answer is, maybe. “If people use [laptops] when sick, which tends to happen, they can leave behind the viruses and bacteria that can be transferred over to another individual’s fingers and then to their mouths,” says Tetro. Research estimates that people touch their faces an average of 23 times per hour, leaving plenty of opportunities for infections.

“As for how long those microbes can live [on metal surfaces], viruses like influenza tend to last about eight hours. However, norovirus, which is a cause of a very bad case of diarrhea and vomiting, can survive for about a month,” says Tetro. Bacteria and fungi can also remain on your computer for a matter of days, he says.

Here’s a plot twist, though: Your health and well-being shouldn’t be your number one concern when it comes to a dirty keyboard. “Most of the time, not cleaning a laptop will be worse for the laptop than your health,” says Tetro. Dust and dirt buildup in your device can clog the filters, causing it to overheat and shortening its shelf life.

Experts In This Article

And so, (you know what’s coming!), it will benefit your health and your wallet if you take a little time to clean your laptop every week. Below, Jennifer Rodriguez, chief hygiene officer of Pro Housekeepers, offers an easy, five-step process for ridding your computer of grime and grossness.

How to clean your laptop in 5 easy steps

Before we tidy up that laptop of yours, a word to the wise. Never (never!) spray cleaners or water directly onto your laptop. Even a tiny amount of liquid can damage your device’s internal machinery. Double check that the cloth you’re using to wipe down your computer is only slightly damp, never dripping.

1. Press the power button

First things first: Turn your computer off. After all, you don’t want to accidentally delete an important document while you’re removing dust from your keyboard. And cleaning the screen when it's on could damage it.

2. Swipe the entire computer with a soft cloth

“Use a soft, lint-free cloth—like microfiber—dampened with distilled water,” says Rodriguez. “Wipe the screen gently in a circular motion.”

3. Clean the keyboard

Grab a can of compressed air and use it to blow out any debris in the keyboard. “Then, a cloth dampened with isopropyl alcohol—at least 70 percent—can disinfect keys. Ensure the cloth isn't dripping wet,” says Rodriguez.

4. Remove dust from vents and ports

Grab that can of compressed air once more and use it to blow any dust or debris out of the ports and vents.

5. Wash your hands regularly

Clean hands, clean laptop. “Regular hand washing can also reduce the transfer of grime and microbes to your laptop,” says Rodriguez. That includes, yes, stepping away from your computer to take a lunch break. You might actually enjoy the meal, and your keyboard will stay cleaner. Win-win.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Anderson, Glenn BSc (Hons), and Enzo A. Palombo PhD. “Microbial Contamination of Computer Keyboards in a University Setting.” American Journal of Infection Control, 2007,
  2. Kwok, Yen Lee Angela et al. “Face touching: a frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene.” American journal of infection control vol. 43,2 (2015): 112-4. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2014.10.015
  3. Bean, B et al. “Survival of influenza viruses on environmental surfaces.” The Journal of infectious diseases vol. 146,1 (1982): 47-51. doi:10.1093/infdis/146.1.47
  4. Djebbi-Simmons, Dorra et al. “Survival and inactivation of human norovirus GII.4 Sydney on commonly touched airplane cabin surfaces.” AIMS public health vol. 7,3 574-586. 29 Jul. 2020, doi:10.3934/publichealth.2020046

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