How To Clean Thermal Paste

When talking about different computer components, sometimes we ignore discussing thermal paste. Thermal paste plays a big role in helping your computer to work properly. An issue of thermal paste can cause damage to your computer and prevent you from working on it. Here, we will discuss how to clean thermal paste and reapply it and why it is so important for your computer. We would also discuss the considerable points you should keep in mind while purchasing a suitable thermal paste for your computer.

Let’s get started

What is thermal paste? 

It is a paste that is applied to the CPU to prevent overheating. This substance improves the process of heat transfer between a computer’s integrated heat spreader and heat sink. The main motto of this substance is keeping your computer cool. Sometimes,  the contact surface’s microscopic imperfections can cause air pockets. To fill up these pockets and to spread heat within the entire surface, thermal interface material or thermal paste is used. It evenly spreads the heat from the CPU to the heat sink to avoid overheating.

Why is Thermal paste so important?

In simple words, thermal paste keeps your CPU cool. Computers are made for heavy work, and usually, personal computers are used for long working hours. If during this time, the CPU gets overheated, it will not only damage the processor but also can prevent you from working as an overheated CPU affects the functionality of the computer. If the thermal paste is absent on your CPU, your CPU is more prone to overheating, which can cause functionality issues and also can reduce the all-over lifespan of your computer.

Sometimes, the thermal paste gets dried out, and in that case, you can face a drastic drop in the performance of your computer, especially when you try to use smart programs. It can get stuck, and even your computer can face abrupt restarts interrupting your work. In that case, you would need to clean the previous dried-out thermal paste from your CPU without damaging it and reapply the thermal paste all over again. With proper guidance and knowledge, you can do it by yourself without any assistance.

How Often Should You clean Thermal Paste off CPU and Reapply it? 

This is a tricky question as you will always need to clean your thermal paste and reapply it whenever it is dried out. The time depends on the task you use your computer for and the quality of your thermal paste. If you use your computer for 2 to 5 hours per day, you will have more time to change your thermal paste. On the other hand, if you use your computer 8 to 9 hours per day, you may have comparatively less time. Usually, a person needs to reapply thermal paste once every 3 to 5 years. You have to reapply the paste when

  • You’re encountering issues that a poorly applied thermal paste can cause
  • Your CPU is running at a higher temperature which is not normal
  • For any reason, you are removing the CPU cooler etc.

Now, as we know, when we need to reapply the thermal paste, it’s time to know how we can do that.

How to Clean Thermal Paste off CPU and Reapply: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1- make sure you have your supplies

To clean the thermal paste gently from your CPU, you would need

  • 90% or higher isopropyl alcohol. 99% is recommended for the purpose. You can also use a dedicated thermal paste cleaning product
  • The thermal paste. Obviously!
  • Some dry clothes made by microfiber
  • Wiping-CPU- paste.

Note– While cleaning your thermal paste and reapplying, ensure that your workplace is clean and organized and doesn’t have any lint, dust, or debris.

Step 2- Remove the CPU cooler

To get access to your CPU, you would need to remove your CPU cooler in the first place. You will need to be careful while doing that. Follow the steps below to remove your CPU cooler gently

Let your computer run for around 15 to 20 minutes, as it will help you to remove your cooler by softening up the thermal paste.

Note– If the thermal paste is cold, it will keep the CPU and the heat sink connected. It will also increase the risk of damage while trying to remove the CPU cooler.

  • Then, you would need to switch off your computer and unplug every chord, including the CPU cooler power chord.
  • To remove the cooler, you have to lose the bolts. You can use the coolers manual to do that properly.
  • Twist the cooler back and forth to make it loose.

Note– Do not pull up the heat sink during this process, as it can poorly damage your CPU pins.

  • If you have non-stock coolers, they may not be difficult to remove.
  • When it gets loosened, the heat sink will easily come off.

Note– if your heatsink is still stuck, you must run your computer again for around an hour.

Step 3- Clean the thermal paste off your CPU

  • Use a dry microfiber cloth and gently rub that at the old thermal paste to lose the chunks
  • Now, you will have to apply a small amount of the solution ( isopropyl alcohol or thermal paste cleaner) to the cloth and wipe your CPU from top to bottom until the cleaning process finishes. Make sure to do this gently and slowly to avoid any damage to the CPU, and also make sure to wipe around the edges.
  • Let the CPU dry and wait during the process.

Step 4: Clean the heat sink

After cleaning off the thermal paste from your CPU, you have to clean it off from your heatsink by applying the same process.

Step 5: Reapply Thermal Paste

Now that you have cleaned off the thermal paste from your CPU and your heatsink, it’s time to reapply it again. Before starting with this process, make sure to read the thermal paste instructions first. Also, before starting that, ensure you know how to reattach the CPU. Once you are assured of both of these points, follow the steps below.

  • First, you would need to squeeze out a tiny amount of thermal paste directly onto the center of your CPU.
  • Now, carefully place the heat sink back on the CPU and make it as flat as possible so that the paste can spread evenly.
  • Fix your CPU cooler and hold it Steadily.

Tips for doing this step

If anyhow, your cooler gets slipped or slid, start the process all over again. When it slips, It breaks the seal and creates air pockets by ruining the workability of the thermal paste.

Ensure to get the right amount of paste. If you apply too little paste, it won’t be sufficient to cover your CPU, and if you apply too much, it can spill onto your motherboard and cause severe damage. You would need to understand the amount by using your senses.

Step 6: Check the CPU temperature

Once you are done applying the thermal paste to your CPU, you would need to check the temperature of your CPU. You can use Intel XTU for that purpose, or you can also check the temperature of your CPU in BIOS (or Basic Input-Output System). Ensure your CPU’s temperature is between 60° C to 70° C, as it is a safe range. If your CPU is overclocked, even 70°C to 80°C is also considered a safe range. In that case, you just need to look at the other cooling measurements once. But, if it is more than 80°C, it is a matter of concern, and you need to seek professional help

How to Clean Thermal Paste off CPU Socket Pins?

Sometimes, the thermal paste can spell on your CPU socket pins, and if it happens, you have to clean off that gently without damaging the CPU socket pins. The pins are usually extremely fragile, and if you apply too much pressure to clean them, they can be broken. It is usually advised to seek help from professionals in that case if you don’t have any experience working with this kind of fragile item.

However, considering you are an experienced person, we will move on with the solution.

For doing that, you would need

  • A soft-bristled toothbrush
  • 90%+ isopropyl alcohol
  • A dry microfiber cloth

Apply the same process you have applied while cleaning your CPU’s thermal paste but keep it gentle.

How to Clean Thermal Paste off PGA Socket?

Thermal paste can also end up in your PGA socket. There are two types of PGA sockets available in the market, and we will discuss both.

Pin Grid Array (PGA) 

  • First, you would need to dip your soft-bristled toothbrush into the isopropyl alcohol solution.
  • Determine the direction the pins are pointing towards, and you have to brush the toothbrush across the pins in the same direction to clean off the thermal paste. Keep it gentle and extreme light as these pins are extremely fragile.
  • Once you’re done picking up the paste, gently wipe it off with the microfiber cloth. Repeat the process until the thermal paste is totally gone. Remember, it is not necessary to remove all of it. You just can remove enough of it so that it can not interrupt the connectivity.
  • Let it dry for around 1 hour

Land Grid Array (LGA)

  • Use isopropyl alcohol to wipe the thermal paste off the surface. Make sure to wipe it gently and in a straight line.
  • Repeat the process until the paste is completely gone; make sure to use a new wipe every time.
  • Leave it to get dry for an hour.

Things to Consider When Buying a Thermal Paste

While purchasing thermal paste for your computer, you must make sure you buy a suitable one. There is a wide range of thermal paste available in the market. Here are some points to keep in mind while purchasing one for your computer

Viscosity

While purchasing your thermal paste, try to purchase a thermal paste with high Viscosity. Why? A thermal paste that has high viscosity is usually easy for application and also adheres better.

Thermal Conductivity Rating

Before considering this point, you must know what thermal conductivity rating is. It is the rating that indicates the activity of the paste to transfer the heat. Higher number indicates better quality thermal paste for transferring heat.

Volume 

Remember, when using the thermal paste for your CPU, you would need a small amount of paste. Also, you wouldn’t be able to reuse it. When you purchase an opened thermal paste, it will expire before the next time you need to reapply it.

Type

While purchasing the thermal paste, you should remember that there are two types of thermal pastes in the market. The conductive one and the non-conductive one. If you are not an experienced person and don’t have enough knowledge about computer processors, it is always advised to use the non-conductive one. On the other hand, if you are a computer gamer with enough knowledge about the pros and cons of each type, you can go for a conductive one. The conductive metallic thermal paste can sort your system if it gets spilled on the motherboard. As this type of thermal paste has a higher thermal conductivity, it is usually used by extreme builders.

Ending words

Hope you have successfully cleaned off and reapplied thermal paste onto your CPU. If you are not experienced at all and do not know how to reassemble your CPU, seek professional assistance to avoid any damage.

Frequently asked questions

Does Thermal Paste Application Method Matter? 

There are three types of application methods that one can use – pea, line, and X. According to the test conducted by Tech Illiterate, the application process doesn’t matter much if you follow the right instructions. You just have to apply the paste in the center of your CPU without applying too little or too much of it. The methods usually provide more or less the same results.

How Long Does Unused Thermal Paste Last? 

If your thermal paste is not used, you can expect it to dry after 5 years, as most thermal pastes have a shelf life of around 5 years. This also depends on which brand you are using and what is the manufacturing date.

What is the alternative of isopropyl alcohol to remove the thermal paste from the CPU?

Though 99% isopropyl alcohol or a dedicated thermal paste cleaner can be the best option for cleaning the thermal paste from your CPU, if you are not willing to use that, you can also use Acetone.

Note– If you have any plastic components in your computer, it is advised not to use Acetone as it can melt the plastic and cause severe damage to your computer.

Can Nail Polish Remover be used to Remove Thermal Paste?

Though nail polish remover has alcohol compounds within it, it also includes other contaminants such as fragrance oil which is not suitable for cleaning thermal paste off your CPU.

Can paper towels be used instead of microfiber cloth?

Paper towels usually leave lint behind. That’s why it is not advised to use a paper towel. If you can’t find a microfiber cloth, you can use coffee filter paper as an alternative.

How to keep the computer cool?

You must clean your clogged fans regularly to keep your computer system cool. Ensure your computer system has enough airflow and keep it in a well-ventilated area.

Experiencing difficulties with your Device, check out our “How To” page on how to resolve some of these issues.

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