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Can you use isopropyl alcohol to clean electronics?

Rubbing alcohol is perfect for cleaning televisions and phones

It is pretty normal to pause or hesitate when it comes to cleaning electronics. They represent a large investment and there is always some fear that the wrong cleaner will cause serious damage or leave behind something permanently streaky, especially when it comes to screens.

Computer screens represent a special situation, (please see below) but electronics, in general, are not as delicate as you might think. Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol may seem too strong but it is actually better than most cleaning products for maintaining your electronics collection. You just need to know how to use it.

What alcohol is used to clean electronics?

Household rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol is great for cleaning electronics. It kills fungus, bacteria and viruses, including E. coli, S. aureus, and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The CDC recommends a 70% diluted version for disinfecting homes and schools.

It can be convenient when you don’t like the smell or when you have a lot of electronics and only a little rubbing alcohol on hand. Keep in mind, though, that when it is diluted more than 50%, its effectiveness drops. If you are cleaning a computer in a crowded office you do not want the germ-killing power watered down.

It is important to distinguish isopropyl alcohol from ethyl alcohol. Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol is what you want for cleaning electronics. Ethyl alcohol is the type found in alcoholic beverages like vodka and in some cleaning products. It does not evaporate as fast and can leave an oily residue.

Some guidelines to cleaning your laptop

Rule 1: Use caution on the screen

Almost everything on your computer, television and phone can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol just fine. Sometimes the anti-glare designs of some computer screens can be a bit delicate. Check manufacturer instructions the first time you clean any screen to make sure you get the right chemical.

Rule 2: Do not spray directly

It’s best not to spray rubbing alcohol or any kind of cleaner onto a screen or any other part of your electronics. There is a slight chance of the mist getting into speakers, keyboards or other crannies, which could impact performance. Pour some rubbing alcohol onto a cloth or cotton ball and use that to clean instead.

Rule 2: Turn off your equipment

This is most important when cleaning your computer or e-reader screens. When your computer is on, it is hard to see the fingerprints and other marks.

Rule 3: Don’t use paper products

Paper towels might have been fine for old televisions with their glass screens but they do not work on modern screens. They can leave tiny scratches and residue.

Rule 4: Put down the Windex

Glass cleaners are formulated for windows and mirrors. Also, they don’t kill germs. Rubbing alcohol does. If you are cleaning a computer in an office during flu season you know how important this is.

Rule 5: Put down the Clorox wipes

If you are very focused on killing germs, it may seem like a Clorox wipe would work just fine. On many computer brands, it is OK to use those pre-moistened wipes (Apple says it is fine for almost all of their devices), but there are brands that can be damaged by Clorox wipes.

What you need to buy for cleaning electronics with alcohol

MG Chemicals Electronics Cleaner

This has a very high alcohol concentration so it will kill germs easily and dry quickly. It is well regarded and will work perfectly with a cotton ball or microfiber cloth.

Cleansky Pointed Swabs

These pointed swabs can help you get to the tiny spots where the big microfiber cloth can’t reach.

iCloth Cleaning Wipes

Pre-moistened wipes are a convenient way to remove any guesswork. Their large size ensures you can do everything with one wipe.

Falcon Dust Compressed Gas

A cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol are great for cleaning electronics but for the spots they cannot reach, compressed air is perfect.

Progo Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

Moisten a corner of one of these with alcohol and you can clean with confidence. They are well regarded and come at a low price.

Elgood Latex Free Gloves

It’s good to be protected while cleaning with isopropyl alcohol. These gloves from Elgood are a comfortable option because of the cotton lining.

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