CPUs require a specially made thermal compound to serve a few functions – to aid in cooling, increase surface area and act as a semi adhesive to aid the mounting system. At least once a year it is good practice to swap out your old, dry, thermally degraded thermal paste for some shiny new stuff. But how exactly is that achieved? How do you remove thermal paste from a CPU?
How to clean thermal paste off of the CPU
Surprisingly, thermal paste is incredibly viscous and adheres well to almost any surface. Clothes especially (you have been warned) so it’s best to roll up your sleeves to avoid some frustration later.
There’s a technique
Before we explore the items that aid the removal of your crusty old thermal paste there is a technique that’s been tried and tested by PC builders for decades that will make your life a whole lot easier when exploring how to remove thermal paste form the CPU.
Leave the CPU in the socket on the motherboard, especially if it’s an AMD CPU (because of the pins). This ensures that the CPU stays put when you’re trying to shift the thermal paste. Just be careful not to smear any of the thermal paste onto the motherboard.
There’s an incredibly low chance that this is going to cause many issues but it will look appalling and take a stupendous amount of time and effort to properly clean.
Getting thermal paste of a CPU’s IHS is not difficult, but what is difficult is removing thermal paste from areas where the thermal paste shouldn’t be, like on the side of the CPU and under the IHS lip.
As long as no thermal paste has located itself into the socket or onto any of the CPU pins or pads then this won’t be an issue but it is terrible to look at.
Here’s how to avoid it… When wiping a CPU, wipe from the outside or edges inward, scoop all the thermal paste into the middle like a tiny fleshy digger and then wipe away with central circular motions. That’s it, simple.
This technique will save you a rather unpleasant headache later down the line.
There are more than a few options available when it comes to removing thermal paste. Here are some of the simpler choices.
Microfiber cloths can be relatively expensive for something you wipe muck away with, but they have applications in day-to-day life outside of just cleaning a CPU so are generally worth the investment. The reason you should choose microfiber clothes over anything else is due to the fact that they dont shed, they keep their fibers to themselves and don’t leave bits of cloth over what you’ve just wiped.
This trait is perfect when you’re looking to remove thermal paste as having an IHS covered in cloth fibers will impede heat transfer efficiency making your cooling worse.
Give your CPU a gentle wipe with your swanky new microfiber cloth and your CPU will be sitting pretty, ready to receive a fresh new dollop of thermal compound.
An easy, inexpensive way to clean thermal paste off of your CPU is to simply wipe it off with a disposable kitchen towel. no, kitchen towel and toilet roll are not the same.
You’re going to have a bad day trying to mop up thermal paste with toilet roll.
Wipe in small, circular motions being mindful not to put too much pressure on the CPU as you go. The thermal paste should come right up after a few revolutions.
Just be mindful not to accidentally smear thermal paste on your motherboard. Thermal paste is technically electrically insulating but it does not mean you should paint your motherboard with it.
Isopropyl alcohol / rubbing alcohol
Adding to the list of compounds in this article you shouldn’t consume is rubbing alcohol. One thing to remember with rubbing alcohol is a little bit goes a long way, you don’t need much.
Rubbing alcohol is inexpensive and commonly found in most households and not electrically conductive. A 99% or even 70% water/alcohol solution will only be as conductive as the water part. Which is still inhibited greatly by the alcohol portion. Try not to go less than 70% though as a precautionary measure.
Dab a little alcohol on the kitchen towel, again not toilet roll, and wipe in the same circular fashion outlined previously. The alcohol will serve to soften dryer, older thermal paste, and make the compound much less adhesive.
Alcohol also evaporates, and the higher the concentration the quicker the evaporation. This is generally why alcohol is the best product to use. After evaporation, there’s no residue and it isn’t electrically conductive, in case you accidentally (or intentionally) go a little mad with it.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
It’s safe to say that in this day and age you probably have some hand sanitizer laying around. It may be a little unorthodox but it’s essentially the same as rubbing alcohol if you have an alcohol-based sanitizer. However, it’s important you only consider this if your sanitizer is alcohol-based and you really can’t wait to pick up any alcohol.
Hand sanitizer (much like alcohol) evaporates after a time to leave behind no residue. Hand sanitizer or any liquid in this article for that matter should be used ONLY on the IHS of the CPU, never on any circuitry or exposed copper, and never in excess, no more than a drop will suffice.
In the event, the unthinkable has happened when exploring how to clean thermal paste off the CPU and you’ve now thoroughly saturated the sides and lip of your CPU with thermal compound, fear not.
One of the reasons this is so inconvenient is due to the small workable area of a CPU lip, and the fact that not many things comfortably sit in that space well enough to clean sufficiently.
Dipping the trusty cotton swab in a little bit of alcohol and carefully wiping along the lip and side and wherever else you coated will work wonders. Just be careful not to get any alcohol where it shouldn’t be.
In the event you do, just allow the alcohol time to evaporate and don’t panic. Mistakes happen and that’s one that you can fix with time.
Thermal paste can be a tricky substance to move if you aren’t equipped with the right tools for the job. your endeavor can often be made more difficult, It can involve some risk if you go about it the wrong way. We have full confidence in you – and that armed with a microfiber cloth, some alcohol, and this article, is how you remove thermal paste from a CPU, and hopefully, you’ll be able to get the job done successfully.