How to clean my computers like a professional after a small office fire.

Posted on 2006-11-03
Last Modified: 2012-02-26
      So the office suffered a small fire overnight from a malfunctioning clock it would seem. Luckily nobody was hurt and the extent of the damages are small in comparison to what could have happened. There wasn’t much damage from the actual fire but the soot traveled far beyond expectations.

      What I need right now is a list of things I should purchase and how best to go about cleaning about 5-7 desktop machines and one decent-sized server. The fire was never near any of these (save one desktop machine that has a lot of black on the outside) but I know that soot has a way of traveling far and seeping in through vent holes.

      I am mainly interested in how to properly and professionally clean the insides with the lowest risk of damage. I already understand that a data vac would be a good start but what about cleaning, wiping or whatever. Perhaps you had a similar experience?

Please do not bother with a solution like, “hire a pro to clean them” as I will be the pro that cleans them.

Thank You

Question by:joeystarr1
LVL 69

Accepted Solution

Callandor earned 250 total points
ID: 17870116
Here's a concise guide on cleaning PCs:,14872-page,1/article.html .  Make sure all components dry thoroughly before reassembling.
LVL 23

Expert Comment

ID: 17870578
And make sure you wear gloves!!! Take a look at this:
LVL 34

Expert Comment

ID: 17870886
After doing this my self, its not worth it you will never get the smoke smell out. After submerging and scrubbing one in alcohol i thought it was gone but once i turned it on and it warmed up the smoke smell was back. I finally gave up, connected the hdds as slaves to recover data and let the insurance company replace them. If they were far enough away not to get smoke damaged then the cleaning that phototropic suggested should be adequate. The desktop with black on the outside is most likely a lost cause and should just be included in the list of damages going to the insurance company.
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LVL 32

Expert Comment

ID: 17871547
It's not that difficult, just time consuming to do it properly.

First, completely disassemble PC including removing motherboard and power supply.  

Remove front bezel from case and clean using 409 or similar cleaner, a scrubbing sponge used for dishwashing, and running water.  Clean case thoroughly with 409, sponge, and damp cloths.  Clean exterior of optical and floppy drives with a damp sponge and 409.  The cases can be washed and rinsed with a hose if necessary.  Allow to dry well.  

Brush cards, motherboard, memory, and hard disks with a 2" natural bristle paint brush.  Then wipe with alcohol dampened cloth.

Remove CPU HSF and clean as needed.  I spray with 409, rinse with running water, and allow to dry thoroughly.  There's a risk to fan motor but I've only had to replace one fan and I've done the process many times (I routinely get PCs with the HSF vanes plugged with "greasy" dust that canned air won't budge).  Secret is to allow HSF to dry completely - several hours, or dry well with hair dryer.  If you aren't comfortable with water on fan, remove fan and clean heatsink with 409 and water and use brush and alcohol to clean fan.

Remove cover from power supply and brush out.  You may need to replace power supply if it was on and sucked in smoke/soot.

Canned air and/or vacuum cleaners are of little use in cleaning smoke and soot.
LVL 91

Expert Comment

ID: 17872538
i did it with warm water and a drop of normal detergent for dishwashing; submerged the motherboard and all parts, except disk and cd drives - to which i only did outside cleaning, brush off, let it dry on a mild heater, or for some days without a heater. Then reassemble and test.

Author Comment

ID: 17884645
Actually, there doesn't seem to be any smoke smell from the computers. my concern is that there WAS a fire in the same office, just not a big one thankfully. We lost one wall clock and a watercooler(the source?) and of course there was plenty of black stuff that ran from where the fire was into the ceilings and the nearby desk. I have a sneaky suspicion that there will be very little to no visible soot inside these computers. My going to clean them will likely be a precautionary measure at best, minor soot removal at worst.

I would rather clean these then take a chance that they will fail later due to the soot. Especially the server. Just to note, we have been using most of these computers with no problem. The server was the only machine that was running at the time of the fire.

Author Comment

ID: 18120378
I do apologize for the long delay. We are waiting for the cleanup crew to finish with the ceilings etc. They have been dragging their asses on it too! So I will now pick the answer that best matches the way I intend to tackle this problem when I get the go ahead.

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