If you’ve experienced a heating problem in your PC, you may want to consider replacing the CPU’s thermal paste as one of your options for correcting this.
You first need to clean off the old, probably dried-out, thermal paste.
Since the CPU is a very sensitive computer component, you need to be careful while cleaning thermal paste.
This article offers a step-by-step guide to clean old thermal paste off the CPU.
How To Prepare For Removing Thermal Paste
The actual process of removing thermal paste off the CPU doesn’t take that long.
However, the preparation process is much more important since you need to stay safe.
1. Things You Need
- Microfiber cloth, Q-tips, or coffee filters
- Isopropyl alcohol or thermal paste cleaner
- Plastic Spudger
- Anti-static bracelets
- Latex gloves
2. Prepare Your Workspace
Preparing your computer and workspace is different for laptop and desktop computers.
For a desktop computer:
- Turn off your PC. If your computer is on, it’s better to shut it down using the start menu on the screen instead of the power button. That’s because it may put your system into sleep mode.
- Unplug all the cables and cords. If you have any other devices connected to your computer, including printers or HDMI cables, disconnect all of them.
For a laptop computer:
Preparing your laptop computer can be more challenging as you need to open the back of the device.
Again, you should start by shutting it down and unplugging all the cords and devices, including the charger.
Then flip the device over and separate the battery compartment by sliding the release latch.
Now the battery is released, and you can remove it.
Although you’ve unplugged the power cord, the motherboard may still have some electric charge.
Therefore, hold the power button for at least 10 seconds to let the charge fully dissipate.
3. Disassemble The PC
To dismantle your laptop, loosen the screws on the laptop’s bottom (depending on the model and make, the number of screws will be different).
Now flip the laptop back up and slide the keyboard tabs upward to remove the keyboard.
After removing the keyboard, locate and remove the fan and the heat sink.
Since every laptop will have different construction details, it’s important to consult the manufacturer’s instructions and follow the steps carefully to dismantle the laptop.
Before proceeding to the next steps, you need to consider some safety precautions.
First, make sure your workspace is clean and dust-free, as dust can enter your system’s components and cause damage.
You may also want to wear latex gloves to prevent your skin oils from touching and damaging the components.
It’s also a good idea to wear an anti-static bracelet to ground yourself to the computer chassis and keep your fingers from producing static discharge.
Now that everything is ready, you can access the heatsink and the CPU.
Depending on your computer model, you may need to go through different processes.
Use the owner’s manual or search online to see how you can remove the components.
4. Clean The Components
After removing the heatsink, use a can of compressed air or a small brush with fine bristles to clean any dust from the vents.
If you use compressed air, keep the nozzle at a 40-degree angle from the computer parts.
Plus, direct the air away from other components so that the dust doesn’t end up on other parts.
5. Clean The Thermal Paste
Now that you have access to the heatsink, you can clean off the old thermal paste.
Gently remove the wires and lift the heatsink to separate it from the CPU.
If it’s stuck to the motherboard, gently wiggle it back and forth until it’s loosened.
After separating the heatsink, use a brush or compressed air to remove any dust built up inside the vents.
You could use a spudger to scrape off some of the old paste, but you need to be careful since you may scratch the components.
You could also rub off some layers of the paste using a dry paper towel or cloth.
Try to remove as many big chunks as possible.
However, if you think you can’t do it safely, you can skip this stage.
Using a spudger doesn’t guarantee getting rid of the paste entirely.
Whether you use the spudger or not, you will need a gentle solvent such as rubbing alcohol (isopropyl).
Now, take some Q-tips, coffee filters, or lint-free cloths such as microfiber cloths and wet them with rubbing alcohol.
Rub the cloth or Q-tip carefully on the old paste until it comes off entirely.
Isopropyl or other cleaners specifically designed to remove thermal paste can moisten and loosen the paste and remove it scratch-free.
Repeat the process using clean cloths and apply alcohol as many times as needed until there’s no trace of the old material.
Do the same with the CPU and the heatsink.
When you wipe off the old paste, be careful not to brush it off, making it end up in other parts of the processor.
Carefully rub it off using upward motions with the cloth.
Now inspect all parts of the processor for any traces of old paste.
If you applied the old paste yourself, it may have ended up elsewhere and dried to other components.
If the paste has gotten into hard-to-reach places, use thin Q-tips and rub them gently inside any gaps to avoid damage.
After cleaning and wiping all components, you’ll have a mirror-like surface on the CPU and the heatsink, just like when you bought it.
If you feel the thermal paste has leaked under the CPU, you can safely open its latch and clean the sides of the processor.
To make sure there are no remaining particles of lint or dust, you can use compressed air.
Any tiny dust particle may cause the heatsink not to lay completely flat on the CPU, reducing the cooling process’s efficiency.
Here are some tips to consider when cleaning thermal paste off of the CPU.
1. Lint-free Cloth
The cloth you use to clean the old thermal paste needs to be lint-free since lint can inhibit heat transfer.
That means you can’t use toilet paper, facial tissue, or regular cleaning cloths.
The only safe options are microfiber cloth or coffee filters.
Since thermal paste ruins the cloth, it has to be disposable or something you don’t plan on using afterward.
You could also use an old T-shirt as a lint-free option.
Isopropyl is the best option as a solvent fluid, but you still need to be careful.
There are different purity percentages of rubbing alcohol on the market, such as 70% or 90%.
The best purity percentage is 99% because others may contain additives such as color or oils.
That means the fluid doesn’t evaporate fully, and you’ll have some residue left on the CPU.
Other options such as nail polish remover, vodka, tequila, acetone, or other cleaners are a definite no-no.
Some users have reported using these materials successfully with no residue, but you need to be careful as they’ll leave residue and damage the components.
You could also use cleaners specifically designed for removing thermal paste.
If you don’t have access to any of these, alcohol rubs are also a good option if you’re sure they don’t contain any added oil.
One of the most important things to consider is to steer clear of water.
When you use water, you can never be sure if it’s completely dry or not because it doesn’t evaporate as fast as alcohol.
Plus, it can’t dissolve the thermal paste completely, and you may damage your CPU by rubbing too much.
Also, since alcohol isn’t conductive, you don’t need to worry about damaging your components after you reassemble the parts.
How To Clean Thermal Paste Off CPU Sockets And Pins
Sometimes you get thermal paste inside the CPU’s pins and sockets, especially if you have applied the thermal paste yourself or accidentally get the thermal paste inside the pins after removing it from the CPU.
The first thing to do is look at your socket type since there are two types of CPU sockets depending on the make.
- PGA sockets, used in AMD CPUs, have holes in which pins are inserted, and the pins are on the processor. That makes cleaning the thermal paste more difficult because you may bend the pins if you’re not careful.
- LGA sockets, used in Intel CPUs, have slots instead of holes and the pins aren’t on the processor but on the motherboard.
Since the LGA pins are at a 45-degree angle, you should clean them in the exact direction, or you’ll bend them.
Plus, the pins will grip on the cloth, making lint stick to the tips.
You can use a magnifying glass to clearly see how the pins are pointing out.
If you can’t see the direction of the pins, you can try this method:
Put the CPU socket directly under a bright source of light.
Place a magnifying glass at a 45-degree angle to the CPU socket and look at the pins’ shadows through the magnifying glass.
The direction of the shadows is the direction in which you should wipe.
Clean the pins using a dry cloth or Q-tip from the bottom to the tip.
Then apply the isopropyl alcohol or the thermal paste cleaner directly on the thermal paste, covering all the holes and gaps between the pins.
Wait for five minutes for the thermal cleaner to pull it apart.
Brush in a straight line, from the bottom to the tip, using a microfiber cloth.
If you see paste building up on the cloth, change it to ensure a tidy cleanup.
Since the PGA socket has holes, you need to clean each hole gently using a fine toothpick.
If the alcohol or cleaning fluid has spread out, you should clean it thoroughly with gentle mopping actions.
For an LGA socket, you can put the cloth on the pins to get the excess fluid absorbed.
Since it’s not possible to clean the thermal paste completely, don’t exert too much pressure because it’s safer to leave some thermal paste behind than to risk damaging the fragile pins.
Now, you need to give the motherboard enough time to let it dry.
The sockets and holes need at least 24 hours to dry completely.
Use a magnifying glass to inspect all holes, and if they’re still wet, wait for another 24 hours.
Now, you can use a surface purifier to make sure everything is spotless.
Wet Q-tips with a few drops of the surface purifier and move it in the direction of the pins.
For a PGA socket, you can gently move the Q-tip inside the holes.
Remove the excess surface purifier by dabbing a microfiber cloth on the holes, and then let it dry for 24 hours.
Do You Need To Apply A New Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is an essential part of your computer that helps conduct the heat between the CPU and the heatsink, a heat distributor.
Although the top of the CPU and the bottom of the heatsink are in close contact, it’s not enough for a smooth heat transfer.
That’s because the surfaces of these two components aren’t smooth and have microscopic gorges and valleys.
The thermal paste fills all these pores and creates perfect contact between the two surfaces.
However, the layer has to be as thin as possible because you only need it as a smoothing agent.
If it’s thick, it will block the contact between the CPU and the heatsink.
Reapply Thermal Paste On CPU
When you remove the thermal paste, you need to reapply it to make sure your system’s cooling remains functional.
After cleaning the old thermal paste, give the components enough time to dry completely and prepare the surface for the application of the new thermal paste.
Depending on the type of CPU, there are different recommended methods to apply the thermal paste.
There’s the dot method, cross line, spread method, vertical line, or horizontal line.
The dot method involves putting a dot of thermal paste on the core and putting the heat sink on it.
You don’t need to spread it as the pressure applied by the heatsink will spread the paste evenly.
Don’t use too much paste, or it will spill out onto other surfaces.
The cross method means drawing a line from one corner of the core to the other and repeating for the other two corners.
There’s also the spread method, which involves putting a tiny dab of paste on the CPU.
Then you wear rubber gloves and spread the paste all over the surface of the core using your index finger.
Then you gently place the heatsink on the CPU.
The key point in all of these methods is not to apply any pressure when you place the heatsink.
You also don’t need to apply the paste to the heatsink as you only need a minimal amount of paste.
Never move the heatsink after putting it on the core because, otherwise, you won’t have an even distribution of the paste, and you need to clean and reapply it.
Applying too little thermal paste will make the cooling process ineffective because it can’t conduct heat properly.
After reapplying thermal paste, you can reassemble the parts and test your system to see if it works.
If you don’t know how to do it, you can use your owner’s manual or watch video tutorials online.
Removing Thermal Paste From GPU
GPU is another main component of PCs that needs cooling, and thus, applying thermal paste.
The process of removing old thermal paste is similar to that of the CPU.
You need to disassemble the GPU carefully and use the same materials to clean it.
The only problem is that disassembling the GPU will void your warranty, so do it only if you’re okay with that.
Turn off your PC and remove any power cable or cord attached to it.
To disassemble the GPU, loosen the screws that connect the GPU and the heatsink.
Disconnect the cable that connects the fan to the card and detach the GPU cover.
Disconnect the heatsink from the GPU and remove it with gentle movements.
To remove the heatsink, you need to undo the screws on the back of the card, but some models have plastic clips that you can release using a pair of pliers.
Use compressed air or a small brush to clean the GPU of dust.
As with the CPU, use a lint-free cloth and alcohol to remove the old thermal paste from the GPU and the heatsink.
Then, apply a few drops of surface purifier on a piece of clean cloth and rub it on the GPU to make sure it’s completely clean.