How to Clean a Laptop Screen Without Damaging It

Whether you use a PC or Mac, laptop or monitor, this guide will teach you how to safely clean your computer screen.

Computer screens take a lot of abuse. Between sneezes, fingerprint smears, and plain old dust, they can get pretty filthy. It’s bad enough when your screen loses its luster during Zoom calls or makes text difficult to read. But during cold and flu season, and with COVID-19 still in play, a dirty screen can also be a source of germ transmission, especially if it’s a touch screen. That’s why you need to know how to clean your computer screen.

You should clean your screen any time you notice a buildup of dust or dirt, says Jessica Ek, an expert at the American Cleaning Institute. But, she adds, your cleaning schedule should be more frequent if someone in the space has asthma or allergies.

Of course, the first step is understanding how to clean your computer screen the right way. While there are similarities, it’s not quite the same as cleaning your phone or cleaning tech gifts and other tech items.

Step away from the household cleaners

No matter which device you’re using, your first step is the same: Read your user manual. It’s the authority on cleaning your specific product.

If you haven’t received specific instructions from the manufacturer on how to clean your computer screen, you might think it’s as simple as grabbing a bottle of Windex. But that’s about the worst thing you could do. While it may work wonders on household windows, glass cleaner can be very damaging to PC Windows (and to Mac screens as well). Ammonia (the main ingredient in most window cleaners), bleach, acetone, propylene glycol, and other solvents and household cleaners can erode the protective coating on your screen and cause discoloration, scratches, and smudges.

Even plain tap water can contain minerals that might leave a residue on your screen, so many experts recommend using distilled water if a dry cloth isn’t sufficient. Other cleaners may be acceptable, depending on the type of screen you have (more on that below).

Follow the golden rule of screen cleaning

Say it with us: “I will not spray cleaner directly on my screen.” The number one rule of cleaning computer screens is to never apply any liquid or aerosol cleaner directly to the screen. “Spraying directly risks liquid dripping down into the cracks of the display and potentially damaging internal components,” says David Whalen, founder of TechHub Denver. “Liquid and computers/electronics are sworn enemies and should never be introduced.”

Use the right cleaning cloth

Just as important as the screen cleaner is the cloth you use to apply it. Ek says paper towels and household rags are too abrasive for cleaning a computer screen. She recommends using a clean, dry microfiber cloth. “Microfiber cloth is woven with very small fibers, making the pressure on the screen more even and reducing the chance of causing scratches or damage,” she says.

Even with microfiber, be careful not to apply too much pressure when wiping the screen, or you could damage the embedded sensors, especially on a touch screen. And trying to scrape some schmutz off with your fingernail is an absolute no-go.

Know how to clean a Mac vs. PC screen

Most computer screens are one of two types: a “naked” liquid crystal display (LCD) or an LCD screen with a covering. But the types of covering vary widely. “There’s not one type of display for PCs. You can get every variation under the sun: glass, matte, plastic, coatings, no coatings,” says Whalen. “Macs typically have glass displays.”

Cleaning a Mac screen

According to Apple, you can wipe down (and actually disinfect) a glass-covered Mac screen using a bit of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol on your microfiber cloth. You can even use a Lysol or Clorox disinfecting wipe—just be sure to wring it out first to avoid getting excess liquid on the screen.

Some Apple products (the Pro Display XDR and iMac) have “nano-textured” glass designed to reduce glare while preserving contrast, so they require a specialized approach. Apple includes a special polishing cloth with those devices. It’s also available for purchase, but experts say it’s not necessary for standard glass or LCD screens.

Cleaning a PC screen

For PCs without a glass coating, the only recommended liquid to dab on your microfiber cloth is a small amount of distilled water mixed in a 1:1 ratio with white vinegar. Commercially formulated computer screen cleaners are also available. Do not use alcohol or disinfecting wipes.

If you’re not sure what type of screen you have, Whalen says to “read the manual and go with the manufacturer’s recommendations.”

Learn how to clean a computer screen

powering down laptop to prepare for cleaningMackenzie Williams/rd.com

1. Always power down your computer before cleaning it. Unplug the cord, too, as well as any connected devices. Not only will this prevent a possible electrical surge, but it will also make it easier to see all the dirt on your screen.

wiping laptop screen with dry microfiber clothMackenzie Williams/rd.com

2. Using a dry microfiber cloth, gently wipe the computer screen to remove any dust. Be sure to get into the corners. If dirt and smudges remain after this wipe-down, proceed to the next step.

wetting a microfiber cloth with distilled waterMackenzie Williams/rd.com

3. Dampen a corner of your microfiber cloth with a few drops of distilled water. Lightly wipe the screen, starting at the center and using circular motions to avoid leaving streaks. If stubborn marks persist, proceed to step four.

spraying microfiber cloth with cleanerMackenzie Williams/rd.com

4. Lightly spray your microfiber cloth with the cleaner that works best with your type of screen. Remember, for PC screens that lack a glass coating, you’ll need to use a 1:1 ratio of water and vinegar. For Macs (and only Macs), you can use a microfiber cloth dampened with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol or a wrung-out disinfecting wipe.

wiping the center of the laptop screen with microfiber clothMackenzie Williams/rd.com

5. Lightly wipe the screen, starting at the center and using circular motions to avoid leaving streaks. Don’t wipe the corners of the screen with the damp cloth; moisture might seep inside.

clean laptop screen dryingMackenzie Williams/rd.com

6. Allow the screen to air dry.

7. If streaks are visible once the screen is dry, wipe once more (lightly!) with a dry microfiber cloth. Be sure to wash your microfiber cloth after use.

Keep your computer screen clean

Once your computer screen looks shiny and new again, you’ll want to take proactive steps to keep it that way. Sure, you can (and should) avoid touching the screen with your fingers. That’ll go a long way toward keeping a monitor screen clean, though you’ll still need to know how to clean a monitor screen of the inevitable dust buildup.

Preventing smears isn’t so cut and dry when it comes to laptops. Your fingers are constantly depositing oils and dead skin cells onto the keyboard. When you close your laptop, that dirt transfers to your screen. One solution is to lay a thin microfiber cloth on top of your keyboard every time you close the screen. Yes, you’ll still need to know how to clean a laptop screen. And yes, you’ll need to clean it regularly. But you can go longer between cleanings with this simple trick.

If your computer has a touch screen, it’s a good practice to wash your hands (and let them dry!) before using your device. Once you’ve mastered how to clean a computer screen, you may be inspired to clean your TV screen, phone charging port, and other pieces of technology.

Sources:

  • Jessica Ek, director of digital communications for the American Cleaning Institute
  • David Whalen, founder of TechHub in Denver
  • American Cleaning Institute: “Computer Cleaning: Hotspots for germs in the office”
  • Apple: “How to clean your Apple products”
  • Apple: “Clean your Mac computer’s screen or display”
  • Apple: “How to clean the nano-texture glass on your Apple display”
  • Samsung: “Clean your Samsung monitor”
  • HP: “HP Tech Takes”
  • Two River Computer: “How to Properly Clean/Sanitize Your Computer & Devices”
  • The New York Times: “Apple’s Most Back-Ordered New Product Is Not What You Expect”
  • NBC News: “Many common household cleaning products can kill the coronavirus if you use them properly”
  • PowerMax: “How to Clean your Laptop Screen”

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Laurie Budgar
Laurie Budgar is a certified speech-language pathologist (MS, CCC/SLP) who spent over a decade helping people with brain trauma, stroke, MS and Alzheimer’s regain language, speech, swallowing and cognitive skills. She contributes regularly to RD.com, where she writes about health, pets and travel. Previously, she was the editor at Momentum, the magazine of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Under her direction, the magazine won its first-ever Folio awards for best complete issue and best article. She has covered health, nutrition and lifestyle topics for Healthline, Parenting, LIVESTRONG.com, Delicious Living, Natural Solutions and more. She has written about travel destinations and profiled small businesses for AAA Colorado, American Way, the University of Denver and Fortune Small Business.