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Tools that sustainably replace canned "Dust Remover Spray" for cleaning electronics  RSS feed

 
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My ten-year-old desktop computer that I now mostly use for streaming radio and podcasts has taken to rebooting itself every ten minutes. It's time to tear it down and blow out all the dust bunnies that are infesting its fans, nooks, and crannies.

With distaste, I just now picked up my can of 3M "Dust Remover" product, which my techie friends usually call "spray air". I shook it. It's effectively empty, not enough left in there to do the job. Shit, I'm going to have to buy some more.

I hate this stuff. I hate buying it at roughly five bucks a can (this one is the last can from a Sams Club 3-pack, purchased some years back) and I hate using it. It's ten ounces of liquid 1,1-difluoroethane, with a special "note to doctors" on the warning label that "exposure may increase myocardial irritability." Who wants that? But my true objection is that awhile ago they started contaminating the product with an undisclosed nasty chemical. The stuff gets on your fingers and can't be washed off, it tastes terrible and leaves an aftertaste that lingers for days, and if you get a puff of dust in your face, now it's nasty-tasting dust that makes you choke twice as hard. The final maggot in my cheese is that they put that shit in there deliberately to make using the product as unpleasant as possible! From the label:

Contains a bittering agent to help discourage inhalant abuse



I can confirm it's a bittering agent; them putting it in there has made me bitter as hell!

Let's move on from bitching to problem solving:

If you've ever sprayed the dust out of a computer, you'll know that there are lots of tiny enclosed spaces that fill up with dust. There's no way to disassemble them, and human breath puffed through a drinking straw is not strong enough to clean them out properly. A jet of compressed gas is really the only efficient way.

So, how can we accomplish that in a sustainable way? In this case, "sustainable" also has to include some notion of practicality and expense; over time, the nasty poison-contaminated 11,difluoroethane costs about five bucks a year at my usage level and is incredibly handy. It's not sustainable to spend several hundred bucks on, say, an air compressor and hand-portable tank and nozzles and hoses to replace that function.

Here are some of the impractical notions I have come up with. They all require a capital investment that's grossly out of proportion to the task, although some of them might be more practical if you already own some of the necessary components:

1) Conventional shop air compressor, air hose, and air spray nozzle, just like you might find at a tire shop. Would work great; is too capital-intensive; might be impractical depending on how hard it is to bring your computer within the reach of your shop setup or vice versa.

2) Portable air tank (perhaps a repurposed propane torch?) refilled with conventional air compressor. Would need special hoses and fittings (they exist) and a custom spray nozzle to replace the torch attachment. More practical than #1 but even more capital-intensive.

3) Portable air tank refilled with human-powered air pump. Possibly could use a smaller or handier (less heavy, plastic instead of metal) air containment container. But the engineering tradeoffs (how much air in the reservoir do you need? how much pressure to clean efficiently? how much pumping or pedaling does the task justify) are not intuitive; there would be development work. My gut tells me there's a solution in this space, but you wouldn't hit on it without a lot of engineering and tinkering.

4) Hand tool (some sort of bellows or squeeze bulb) for puffing air directly. I've seen small blacksmithing bellows that could do the job with some nozzle re-engineering. A foot bellows with a four foot hose might be easier to use. A turkey baster doesn't have enough oomph, nor does a kid's bicycle horn bulb. Something like an old-fashioned automotive hand-squeezed horn might, but who has one of those with rubber in good condition?

What I want is a common cheap hand tool or household item that can be repurposed for this task. Just because I can't think of one doesn't mean it doesn't exist, right?

My own best idea -- and what I'm planning to try next if this thread doesn't offer me something that sounds better -- is a length of plastic tubing in a larger gauge, maybe half-inch, with some sort of makeshift nozzle (duct tape and a ball-point-pen body?) on the end. I think I have enough lung-power to create an effective jet. We'll see.

I invite all of your speculations about things that might work -- come, let us brainstorm together! -- but my true hope in posting this thread is that someone will reply "Oh, that's easy, here's what I do..." with a proven and tested solution. So, whatcha got?
 
pollinator
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Empty plastic bottle- washing up liquid maybe thin rubber tube on the end .?
Or a balloon ?
 
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Dan Boone
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Nice! Spendy but not unreasonable; will pay for itself over time, if it works. That's totally going on my Santa list.
 
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Cool find, John!

Dan, here are two other directions to hunt:

1. There's a purpose-built gadget for this. It's got just enough of a blower for dusting things, not enough for compressing a tank of air, so it's much more affordable.

Here's one:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00VAYIWSM/ref=mp_s_a_1_5?qid=1446517878&sr=8-5&pi=AC_SX110_SY165&keywords=Air+duster&dpPl=1&dpID=515651hLDOL&ref=plSrch

2. Some people are into PCP. No, not the drug. That's Pre Charged Pneumatic. Airguns. You pump up a tank to shoot your bullet. Did you know Lewis and Clark had several very serious airguns? Like, .50 cal. For deer. Took them along because, if your gunpowder gets wet, then your gun is useless, but your airgun didn't need any powder.

Anyhow, here's a place to start seeing about what those guys know:
http://www.pyramydair.com/article/Using_a_hand_pump_May_2006/30

I'm afraid that's all the time I've got right this second, enough to share this starting point, not enough to do the full homework. But maybe it will help!
 
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Dan Boone wrote:What I want is a common cheap hand tool or household item that can be repurposed for this task. Just because I can't think of one doesn't mean it doesn't exist, right?



I've always cleaned my computers with plain old compressed air. I can't imagine a household without an air-compressor of some sort or other... And they can be incredibly inexpensive, for example a bicycle pump with a basketball filling nozzle. Other common gadgets that can generate a burst of air are turkey basters, basting syringes, leaf blowers, the blowers on vacuums, etc.



 
pollinator
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Careful with vacuums and computers, you can in destroy components with ESD/static. Specialty vacuums exist, but generally cost prohibitive...

Compressed air can have moisture in it which is another risk, in theory... I'm generally comfortable using it on my gear anyhow. I do take the precaution of not powering the gear up for a while after cleaning. Obviously you'd need to keep your distance or have the pressure regulated to a reasonable level; the blast from a shop compressor can damage delicate bits.
 
Dan Boone
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Air from a shop compressor can also have oil in it, in addition to moisture. There are inline filters, for added expense, for removing these things.

Thanks, everybody, for the useful feedback and suggestions!
 
Dan Boone
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John Wolfram wrote:Here is a link to a $25 refillable air sprayer that can be filled with a bicycle pump.
http://www.amazon.com/Aluminum-Pneumatic-Refillable-Pressure-Sprayer/dp/B00JKED4MS/ref=pd_sim_86_3?ie=UTF8&dpID=31d3TD-aEQL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=0YTW8JD3W8X8VE679Z0A




My interest in this particular product declined when I saw one of the Amazon reviews:

I wanted to use this an air blower to remove dust, but forget about that. It doesn't hold enough pressure. I guess I'll simply use it for misting liquids, but it was kind of a let down. I really would have loved a refillable duster but that just isn't going to be possible for the moment.



However, in the "customers have also viewed" section I found this Rocket Air Blaster that looks very promising:



 
Dan Boone
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Mike Cantrell wrote:

1. There's a purpose-built gadget for this. It's got just enough of a blower for dusting things, not enough for compressing a tank of air, so it's much more affordable.

Here's one:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00VAYIWSM/ref=mp_s_a_1_5?qid=1446517878&sr=8-5&pi=AC_SX110_SY165&keywords=Air+duster&dpPl=1&dpID=515651hLDOL&ref=plSrch



Picture:



At $55 it's too spendy for me, sadly. Though I'm not too worried about destroying my 10-year-old computers with static - it's a risk any time I open them up, but with care it can be avoided, and frankly, if they were easy to zap they'd have fried long ago from all the abuse I've subjected them to.
 
Dan Boone
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

I've always cleaned my computers with plain old compressed air.



Yeah, it's the technology for doing that easily and efficiently that we're mostly exploring in this thread.

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

I can't imagine a household without an air-compressor of some sort or other... And they can be incredibly inexpensive, for example a bicycle pump with a basketball filling nozzle. Other common gadgets that can generate a burst of air are turkey basters, basting syringes, leaf blowers, the blowers on vacuums, etc.



The tricky part is delivering a jet of air that's small enough to puff into small holes, forceful enough to remove entrenched dust bunnies, sustained enough to set fans spinning and clean their blades, and handy enough to deliver into a constrained metal box at hard-to-reach angles. For example, a lot of bicycle pumps need two hands to operate, making it hard to figure out how to point the nozzle (with my teeth? Though, sure, foot-operated pumps do exist.) Also, a ball-filling needle has two slits or holes, one on each side, delivering diffuse sideways jets of air. A turkey baster simply doesn't give a big enough, long enough, or strong enough puff. A leaf blower should do the job by mass brute force, like a shop air compressor, but I'd probably have to take my computer outside to do the job unless I wanted every item in my workplace recruited into a swirling indoor cyclone. A reversible vacuum cleaner with the right wand is a good idea I'm adding to my list of possible solutions. Pretty much any of those things (except possibly the turky baster) could be made to work with enough custom tinkering with hoses and nozzles. But it's the details -- to make the job easy and convenient -- that make this challenge interesting.

Thanks again to everybody for the suggestions!
 
Dan Boone
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Wow! It turns out that the embodied energy in a dumb little ten ounce can of compressed liquid 1,1-difluoroethane is astonishingly a lot when converted into human labor terms. This is why the post-petroleum hangover is going to hurt so bad, people.

Joseph's laundry list of suggestions (of varying practicality) got my mind going. My computer needed cleaning today, not after I scrape up some discretionary funds and wait for an Amazon order. Since I have several hoarders in my family (not necessarily excluding myself) I decided to go and rummage several of the hoards to which I have access, looking for something that could do the job today, for free.

What I came up with was a Coleman dual action quick pump with a narrow nozzle designed for filling up air beds and swimming pool vinyl inflatables:



Slow travel of the pump plunger did not generate enough air pressure, but a brisk plunge developed a very short puff of air that had the requisite strength for the job. I had to set up the work carefully (on a low table, with the pump on the floor held by my left foot, with my right hand on the plunger and my left hand holding the nozzle and directing the air). It was an awkward thing to coordinate, a bit like I imagine playing the bagpipes might be.

The thing is, I'm used to cleaning a computer with long bursts (3 to 6 seconds, maybe) from the nasty little can of compressed hydrocarbons. The bursts from this pump only lasted as long as a fast stroke of the pump, maybe half a second? So it took a lot of bursts to get the job done, at least two or three hundred strokes from the pump.

By the time I was done, my arm was tired and I was breathing hard. My conclusions from this were:

1) We're really gonna miss the petroleum when it's gone;
2) I'm really skeptical about any of the hand-held squeeze tools for delivering a burst or puff of air; even if they could be engineered to deliver a big enough burst of air, the sheer energy needed to squeeze that much would wear out most people's hand muscles too soon. You're gonna want large muscle groups on this job.
3) The ideal human-powered solution (no grid or electrics) would probably involve a foot pump and a detachable reservoir. The work involved in compressing the air is sufficient to be distracting from the fiddly job of blowing out your electronics. It would be a lot better if you could focus on the work first (charging the reservoir) and then focus on the cleaning task while not distracted by the pumping task.
4) Not kidding, we're really gonna miss the petroleum when it's gone.

Meanwhile my video card core is running about eight degrees (F) cooler than it was before the cleaning job, and it hasn't rebooted itself while I was typing all this. So the operation may have been a success!
 
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well, one must admire your dedication to avioding petro products, i hope it has indeed worked out for you and i alos hope that you can find some suitable replacement before you need to go about doing this again

this thread did bring up some good alternatives and some good brain teasers that will hopefully result in the right product... eventually that is:)
 
Dan Boone
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By the way, I just noticed that after visiting and searching Amazon to find the product photo in my previous post, I am still an entire month later seeing ads on Facebook trying to sell me the product I already own, just because of that one Amazon search. Welcome to the modern world of electronic commerce and ear-tagged consumers!
 
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What if you modify a ball needle: cut its two eyed head off (and maybe squeeze it a bit)? What if you use it with a floor pump for extra energy? Also, one person works the pump, other person aims. Thoughts? Anyone found anything that works?
I find the idea of using these compressed air bottles repulsive since once some white stuff flew out of one of them. It could have done damage had it shot into a wrong place.
 
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I just flip my keyboard over about once per week and tap it on the desk.
 
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I like the idea of making a variety of options that you could attach to a pedal bike like a bike powered compressor: https://www.instructables.com/id/pedal-powered-air-compressor/ or http://www.brumbypumps.com/bikecompressor

You could also take a used clothes washing machine, and attach the agitating drum to the bike, slowly pedal when washing and rinsing, then gearing it up high to spin dry at high RPM.
 
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I have used small compressors similar to the Compu Cleaner pictured. In a professional capacity, on mountains of computers & other electronics, in an effort to avoid cans of dust remover. They half way work but not nearly as good as the cans. Cylinders of nitrogen or CDA plus an air gun with a needle attachment (& static dissipators) are the only truly effective substitute I've ever found. Using hand squeezed puffers & blowing through tubing works best with frequent cleanings.  plink plink that's my 2 cents worth.

 
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Is there some reason why using the small brush attachment on my vacuum cleaner is bad?  
I make sure everything is off and run it across the keyboard and the front and back grills on my refurbished (from someone's office upgrade) and very old HP.  I don't do it very often and looking now I see it could use some dusting again.

If we blow the dust where does it go? ...seems like it will just move around and likely resettle back on the fan, etc?

 
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Judith Browning wrote:Is there some reason why using the small brush attachment on my vacuum cleaner is bad?  
I make sure everything is off and run it across the keyboard and the front and back grills on my refurbished (from someone's office upgrade) and very old HP.  I don't do it very often and looking now I see it could use some dusting again.

If we blow the dust where does it go? ...seems like it will just move around and likely resettle back on the fan, etc?



That is what I was wondering too, I don't blow my dust, I suck it up. I have a set of tiny attachments for the vacuum from Harbor Freight, and I use them all the time on my computers. Is this bad for some reason?? I don't want dust all over the place if that's not most effective. I DO use a leaf blower to clean my bookshelves, but I have a system that keeps it moving out of the house, doesn't just let dust end up all over.

If I wanted to blow it, I think I'd do Dan's inflater pump for air mattresses, but mine's a foot one, not a hand one.
 
Dan Boone
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For removing the small dust bunnies that you can see stuck to the holes and vents on the exterior of your computer, a vacuum or brush is fine.  This thread is about the much more difficult maintenance task where the dust inside your computer is choking the internal flow of cooling air, which eventually causes most computers to overheat, crash, or burn out and die.  Lots of modern computers have fans on the video cards that fill with dust, shrouds that direct fan air to the CPU that fill up with dust bunnies inside the shrouds, cooling fins on the CPU and on the chips that operate the video card that get dust down inside the fins, and all sorts of tiny tight spaces that are designed to have air flow, but which fill up with "crud" eventually.  

The problem is worse if, like me, you have slovenly habits so there's more dust in the general environment to get sucked inside the computer in the first place.  Or, say, pet hair.  

It is very much the case that when "blowing out a computer' with canned air or any other tool, a large cloud of choking nasty dust is usually created.  Environmental conditions permitting, taking the computer outside to do this task is very much a good idea.  But no vacuum cleaner I've ever seen has the "suck" to pull dust bunnies out of tiny channels that go deep into the shrouds and fins and electronics in the innards of a computer.  You really do need a directed jet of high-pressure gas in pretty considerable volume.
 
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The problem with vacuum cleaner brush attachments & brushes in general is twofold. It's fairly easy to break off small components from circuit boards. Vacuum cleaners & nylon brushes create a LOT of static which can damage components. You can get away with it most times, until one day you won't. High humidity days are safer for dusting than low humidity days.

I don't use canned or compressed air at home. I use a horse hair (or other natural fiber) brush & just blow through a straw. Turn unit upside down & shake to remove the loose dust. The main objective is to keep the fan & vents clear with no big globs of dust bunnies elsewhere.

 
Pearl Sutton
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Interesting. Thank you. I have always gotten away with it, I guess. I'm careful, but have done it in the desert since 1992 when I got my first system. I'm pretty careful as far as itty bits go, the static/humidity thing is interesting. Does turning the vac to blow, with my itty attachments, mess with static too?
 
Mike Barkley
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Does turning the vac to blow, with my itty attachments, mess with static too?



That GENERATES static. Would be slightly safer to use it in vacuum mode.
 
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