This is one of the most frequent questions among PC-building aficionados, computer gurus, and even engineers: How long does thermal paste last?
Read on to learn how long thermal paste lasts in the package and on your computer.
You’ll also discover what affects its lifespan and learn how you can maximize it.
How Long Does Thermal Paste Last?
Generally, thermal pastes can last between two and five years when still in the tube.
However, this span may vary depending on the ingredients and the manufacturer.
The most common types of thermal gels are metal, silicone, ceramic, and carbon, each with different performance, function, and durability.
As a rule of thumb, non-metallic compounds tend to last longer in the package.
If you want to buy one, though, it’s not a wise idea to base your decision on the solvents’ durability since thermal conductivity is much more crucial.
Make sure you’re buying from an authentic company, and you need to check the expiration date on the back of the bottle to see how long it will last.
Also, make sure you store the product in optimum condition, so it won’t go bad before the expiry date.
Here are a few tips:
- Make sure you tightly close the cap after each use.
- Keep the paste away protected from extremely hot or cold temperatures.
- Put it in a sealed container or plastic bag.
- Don’t expose it to direct sunlight.
What Is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is a sticky substance used as a heat-conductive interface between a microchip and its heatsink.
This agent covers the microscopic air gaps between the heat source and the heatsink, maximizing heat transfer and cooling effects.
It goes by other names, such as thermal grease, conductive paste, heat sink compound, CPU grease, and thermal gel.
No matter what you call it, without good paste, you’ll risk overheating your CPU, which could compromise your entire system.
That’s why it’s important to know how long thermal paste lasts while in the tube and then once applied.
How to Tell If a Thermal Paste Is Spoiled
If you see significant changes in a thermal paste’s texture, it’s not usable anymore.
Thermal pastes are similar to glue.
Therefore, if you find them too hard or too watery, they may have lost their sticky properties.
A non-smooth, transparent liquid is another sign of a wasted paste.
However, if you pinch out the colorless liquid and a white or gray mixture comes out, you can still use it.
How Long Does Thermal Paste Last on the Device?
A standard thermal paste will last about five years on your CPU or any other chip.
Depending on the climate, the computer’s cooling system, usage, and the compound’s quality, this number can decrease to three years or increase to as much as ten years.
Here’s why and how these factors affect the duration.
1. Excessive Use
You may need to replace your thermal paste sooner than normal if any of the following situations is true about you.
- You’ve overclocked the computer.
- You’re a gamer and run graphically demanding games on your PC.
- You’ve noticed a temperature rise in your computer, especially in the motherboard area, but you’re sure there’s nothing wrong with the fan or cooler.
All the above scenarios make your CPU overrun and excessively hot.
A hot CPU means a shorter lifespan for the conductive grease.
That’s why pro gamers and computer geeks replace their CPU grease yearly.
Your usage pattern is another determining factor affecting the lifespan of your thermal paste.
If you use your computer 24/7, be aware that it won’t serve you more than a year or two.
2. Thermal Paste Quality
If you prioritize price over performance and refuse to invest in a prime thermal paste, then you shouldn’t expect it to work for more than a maximum of three years.
Other than quality, the ingredients play an important role here.
As a rule, the more heat a thermal paste conducts, the sooner it becomes unusable.
3. Climate and Surroundings
If you live in a hot area or happen to place your PC in a hot room like an attic, your thermal compound loses its efficiency more easily.
Try to balance your computer’s internal temperature by installing the right fans.
However, just regulating the temperature won’t be enough.
Dust, lint, grime, and dirt also degrade your thermal gel’s properties.
Use a can of compressed air to clean your PC’s internal parts at least every three months.
You can also install a dust filter to prevent further dust accumulation.
4. Too Much Paste
Some people tend to apply too much paste, thinking that if they use more, it’ll last longer.
However, excessive paste on a chip often lasts less and could end up damaging your processor.
5. Component Replacement
Whether it’s because of a system upgrade or repair, you may decide to disassemble your PC.
Once you do that, however, the thermal paste will unstick, and you’ll need to apply it once again.
If your new CPU comes with pre-applied thermal paste, you won’t need to reapply it. (Check if you see some silver-like substance at the bottom of your heatsink.)
How to Apply Thermal Paste
Correct application of thermal paste helps prolong its lifespan on the chip.
Here are the steps:
- Dismantle your PC using a screwdriver or whatever tool you have.
- Uninstall your CPU fan, heatsink, and CPU. Depending on the device, you might not have to remove the heatsink. (Note: handle the CPU with extreme care since it’s highly sensitive.)
- Dampen a lint-free rag with isopropyl alcohol, and then wipe it all over the heatsink surface.
- In case you notice bumps and pits on either of the surfaces, use a fine grit sandpaper to smooth it out.
- Squeeze a little drop, twice the size of a rice grain, directly to the center of your cooler base.
Note 1: Although some may advise you to apply a pea-sized dot, that will be too much since it spills your glue over the CPU borders and, even worse, your motherboard. Besides, a thick layer discourages heat transfer rather than boosting it.
- Place the heatsink on your CPU and press it gently, so the solution spreads evenly.
Note 2: Once you apply the cooler, don’t lift it to check how the paste is distributed. Otherwise, you’ll have to wipe out the glue and repeat the process all over again.
Note 3: Don’t use a card or anything else to spread out the paste since a minimal amount of pressure on the cooler will perfectly do the job. Dispersing the liquid via a card creates air bubbles between your devices, which can adversely affect the heat transfer.
- Restart your computer and check if the fan is running before you reassemble the case.
- Make sure your CPU temperature doesn’t go above 40°C using your Hardware Monitor.
How to Tell If the Thermal Paste Needs Replacement
When your thermal paste decays, it looks dry and starts to crack, split apart, or come loose from your device.
All the microscopic dents and gaps that you’ve filled will become exposed again, and your heatsink will fail to do away with the extra heat.
This, in turn, causes the entire system to overheat.
Can I Use My Old Thermal Paste?
You may want to reuse your old thermal paste rather than buy a new one for one reason or another.
You might wonder if it’s possible and how to do so.
Unless you notice a major change in the color, consistency, or stickiness of the product, you can reuse old thermal paste.
However, make sure you follow the steps below:
- First, squeeze out a tiny amount of the paste on a piece of paper. This initial substance is usually a clear fluid that’s no longer adhesive due to potential air exposure. Squeeze until you reach the usable white, silver, or grey material. Then throw the paper away.
- Depending on the packaging, shake the bottle or pinch the tube, so the contents get all mixed and consistent.
- Follow the manufacturer guidelines to apply the thermal grease.
Can You Apply New Thermal Paste Without Clearing the Previous One?
You shouldn’t add new paste before removing the old product because it results in a bulky layer that fails to conduct the heat.
Besides, it won’t fill the tiny gaps effectively.
Old paste tends to crack over time, and when you apply the new solution, it finds its way into those fractures instead of covering the plate.
How to Expand Longevity of Thermal Paste
Here are a few other tips to consider when dealing with thermal paste:
- Store the product per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Make sure you apply enough paste and in the correct way.
- Clean your PC regularly.
- Never disassemble your PC components if you don’t know how.
- Install dust filters inside your computer case.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Often Should Thermal Paste Be Changed?
You shouldn’t change your thermal paste very often unless your CPU temperatures start to rise without any reason, or you want to detach your CPU and heatsink.
High-quality thermal pastes don’t need to be changed sooner than two years.
2. Can I Use Toothpaste as Thermal Paste?
You can use toothpaste as a thermal paste, but only if it’s a temporary solution.
The toothpaste material is a great heat conductor.
It’s better than nothing until you get a premium thermal paste.
You must remember, however, that it won’t last more than a couple of weeks until it flakes out and dries.
It’s always wiser to spend your pretty pennies on a premium thermal paste.
3. Is Thermal Paste Toxic?
Thermal paste can be toxic to humans, animals, and aquatic creatures.
You should be careful not to ingest it.
It’s better to wear gloves when handling thermal paste.
In case the paste comes in contact with your hands, wash them thoroughly to avoid contact with your eyes and mouth.