Most people know about the power of thermal paste to allow the PC components, more specifically the CPU, to operate at peak efficiency and give you improved performance.
Aside from choosing which thermal paste brand you should use, considering all these different varieties on the market, the amount of thermal paste you need to use is another critical factor.
If you want to know how much thermal paste is enough, or if you’ve used too much thermal paste by mistake and now wondering what to do, this article will be helpful for you.
Too Much Thermal Paste (5 Steps To Fix)
If you’ve used too much thermal paste for installing the CPU cooling system and don’t know what to do next, follow these five simple steps to fix your mistake.
Step 1—Removal Of The CPU Cooler
If you’ve installed the CPU cooler after applying too much paste, the first step would be to remove it.
If you haven’t installed the cooler yet, move on to the next step.
Step 2—Cleaning Off The Paste
Now, it’s time to clean up the thermal paste you’ve applied.
If you’ve let the thermal paste solidify, you’ll need to use the flat end of a spudger to scrape as much of it as you can from the surface of the heatsink.
You need to do this very carefully and gently without using any metal objects.
After scraping off much of the thermal paste, there will still be some residue present on the surface.
Use a coffee filter, cotton swab, cotton ball, or any lint-free cloth and dampen it with isopropyl alcohol.
The higher the concentration of the alcohol, the better.
You can use 70 percent, but 90 percent or higher is better (that is if you can find some).
You can also use a dedicated cleaning solution like Arctic Silver Arcticlean Thermal Material Remover.
Use the cloth to gently clean the remaining residue off the thermal contact surface of the heatsink.
You should also use a cloth with some alcohol if the thermal paste is still liquid.
Be careful not to get any paste on the other components.
After you’re done cleaning, don’t touch the chip or the heatsink surface because even your fingerprint can be an obstacle to heat transfer.
Allow the alcohol to dry.
Use a paper or microfiber cloth that doesn’t shed to wipe off any dust or debris that might have gathered on the surface.
If you’re experiencing issues with applying the thermal paste or your CPU has overheated in the past, it may be because the thermal paste you’re using isn’t what you need.
Here are a few factors to consider when shopping for a thermal gel compound:
- Density: It’s essential to choose a thermal paste with the proper density to simplify the application process and allow the paste to squeeze through the heatsink surface easily.
Liquid paste with a lower density is more challenging to apply than regular thermal paste.
- Viscosity: The higher the viscosity of the paste, the thicker it’ll be, and the better it’ll stick the cooler to the CPU.
Pastes with a low density are more liquid and runnier, and they come with the risk of leaking onto the motherboard if you use too much of them.
- Thermal Conductivity: The thermal conductivity rating of each thermal paste you see on the market will tell you how efficiently it can transfer heat from the CPU to the heatsink.
Liquid thermal pastes have a conductivity rating of about 70W/mK, while non-metallic compounds stay around 4–10W/mK.
Generally, the higher the rating, the better.
- Conductive or Non-Conductive: Some pastes that can conduct electricity should be applied with absolute care because if they leak onto the motherboard, they can cause harmful short circuits.
Carbon-based compounds are non-conductive, and you shouldn’t worry about the mentioned issue with them.
- Type of Paste: There are four main types of thermal pastes based on what they’re made of, including metal, silicon, ceramic, and carbon-based.
Metal pastes are very electrically conductive, and at the same time, the most effective heat conductors.
They’re best for avid PC gamers and those who overclock their CPUs.
Ceramic pastes aren’t conductive, and they’re easy to apply.
They provide good results, and they’re cheap, but they won’t decrease the temperature as well as liquid metal pastes.
Silicone pastes come pre-applied to thermal pads that you should place between the processor and the heatsink.
They’re easy to use, but they don’t have the same effect as others.
Remember that although the market is very crowded with various brands of thermal compounds, they’re not all high-quality.
Don’t choose a mediocre thermal paste to save money.
Read its instructions before you proceed to the next step.
Also, attach the CPU to its socket on the motherboard and secure it if you haven’t already.
PC enthusiasts have developed many thermal paste application methods over the years.
Let’s learn about the most popular ones so you can choose the best one for your situation.
1. A Small Dot At The Center
The dot method indicates that you should place a pea-sized glob of thermal paste at the center of the surface, no bigger than a few millimeters in diameter.
This method is straightforward to learn, which is why it’s best for beginners.
It’ll leave you with less chance of spilling the thermal paste accidentally or using too much of it.
It’ll also leave fewer air pockets compared to the other methods.
However, its downside is that the corner of the heatsink might not receive enough coverage.
2. A Thin Spread
Some people prefer to spread a thin layer of thermal paste on the surface with their fingers.
You need to wear latex gloves for this process.
The coverage will be even, and you’ll get maximum contact between the heatsink and cold plate.
However, the chances of air pockets forming are high.
This method is ideal for thermal pastes with medium thickness or viscosity.
Evenly spreading liquid pastes is hard to do, and thick pastes are hard to spread thinly.
3. A Cross
Some people suggest that you draw a cross shape with the paste at the center of the surface.
The cross shouldn’t be too big or too small, and the lines shouldn’t be too thick.
This method allows the paste to get to all the corners of the heatsink better.
Here’s a short video comparing the cross method with the dot method.
4. Two Parallel Lines
With this application method, you’ll have to draw two parallel lines using the thermal paste.
The lines’ length should be about a third of the processor’s width.
Space the lines so that each of them is placed a third of the width of the processor.
After you’ve picked your application method and put the paste on the surface, you need to place the base plate or water block of the cooler onto the CPU, using a top-down pressure.
You’ll have to use enough force to prevent the cooler from sliding and hold it, but not so much that it damages the CPU and the motherboard.
The pressure should be even, so the paste covers the whole surface.
If you’ve spread a thin layer of thermal paste on the surface, you’ll have to install the heatsink at a slight angle, so bubbles don’t form.
If your motherboard needs you to use a screw mechanism to attach the cooler, keep it in place while you do it.
Install the screws in a diagonal pattern like you’re drawing an “X” shape with them.
Don’t tighten the screws completely until you’ve installed all four of them.
Tighten each of them a little and move on to the next one in order until they’re fully tight.
Step 5—Checking The Result
Double-check your work and ensure that there isn’t any thermal paste spilling over the edges of the CPU or somewhere on the motherboard.
If the cooler doesn’t move when you touch it, and everything looks clean, you can celebrate and relax!
What Is Thermal Paste, And Why Do You Need It?
Thermal paste, thermal grease, thermal gel, thermal interface material (TIM), CPU paste, or heat paste refer to the same substance used when installing any type of cooling solution.
However, when dealing with a PC, thermal paste is used when installing a CPU cooler, and in some cases, for aftermarket cooling solutions for a GPU.
As you must know, a PC’s CPU can run very hot when dealing with a load of work, especially if you overclock it.
When it reaches high temperatures up to 100 degrees Celsius, the CPU will start to throttle, causing your system to start freezing and stuttering.
Because of this, CPUs must have a cooling solution, such as a fan or a liquid coolant, to chill the heatsink that dissipates the CPU’s thermal energy.
No matter the type of the cooler, you’ll have to attach it to the processor via a cold plate made of either copper or aluminum.
They’re meant to absorb the heat from the processor’s built-in heat spreader.
The heat spreader and the base of the CPU cooler look smooth to the naked eye, but they have microscopic imperfections and bumps, preventing the contact between these two surfaces from being optimal.
Micro air bubbles usually get trapped between them, and we all know that air isn’t good for heat conduction.
Therefore, we use the thermal paste as a liquid medium to insulate the interface area and fill the air gaps.
This minimizes thermal resistance and helps to maintain the CPU temperature in the proper range.
How Much Thermal Paste Is Enough?
When you ask CPU and GPU manufacturers how much thermal paste is enough, they answer pretty bluntly: “Not too much.”
Both AMD and Intel recommend using thermal paste at the size of a pea or a grain of rice.
You might think to yourself that the mentioned amount couldn’t be enough to cover the whole surface sufficiently.
However, you must know that too much paste isn’t a good solution for fixing CPU temperature issues.
It might actually have the opposite effect than what you’ve intended.
The thick paste will prevent the surfaces from connecting and act as an insulator.
It can make the paste ineffective or cause overheating and damage to the components.
Remember that we’re only trying to fill tiny, microscopic dents.
Another danger you’ll face when using too much thermal paste is if it expands out beyond the chip and the plate.
If it invades the space of the CPU, it can transfer unwanted heat to the CPU’s electrical contacts and the surrounding PCB.
If you use too little thermal paste and realize it later on, you can easily clean it out and redo the process.
However, cleaning out thick thermal paste from the surface isn’t easy, and cleaning it out of the socket or other components can be very troublesome.
Remember that too little paste is always better than too much paste.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do CPUs Come With Thermal Paste?
The thermal paste will never be attached to the CPU itself when you receive it.
The manufacturer might apply it on the cold surface of the cooler, though.
Both Intel and AMD processors don’t include thermal paste normally unless they’re boxed with a CPU cooler.
The only processor that includes a thermal solution in AMD’s new generation of Zen 3, Ryzen 5000 Series CPUs, is the Ryzen 5 5600X.
As for Intel CPUs, all boxed non-K and non-X variant CPUs include a cooling solution.
Also, for second-hand CPUs, it’s best to apply your own thermal paste.
2. What Happens If You Don’t Use Thermal Paste?
If you don’t use thermal paste for installing the CPU cooler, the heatsink conductivity and the ability of the CPU to displace heat will suffer.
The processor will operate at temperatures higher than it can handle, especially if you’re stressing it or overclocking the system.
You’ll first experience throttling and stuttering, and your PC might shut off unexpectedly.
If you don’t solve the issue, your CPU can fail when overheated repeatedly.
3. How Often Should You Reapply Thermal Paste?
You need to reapply thermal paste to your CPU cooler every two to three years in a normal situation.
Doing it every year is unnecessary.
There are other situations for which you need to reapply your thermal paste.
Firstly, if you remove the heatsink for any reason, such as cleaning it, you need to replace the thermal paste.
That’s because once you put it back, you’ll introduce air bubbles onto the surface.
Secondly, it’s best to replace the thermal paste if you receive a pre-built PC because some manufacturers use low-quality thermal pastes to increase profit.
4. Does Thermal Paste Go Bad?
Yes, thermal pastes can go bad, just like food and medicine.
Most manufacturers state that the shelf life of their thermal paste compound is about three to five years for packages that aren’t opened yet, given they were stored correctly.
However, you should consider the fact that the paste you buy might have been sitting on the shelf for quite some time, and it might have already gone bad when you purchase it.
It’s essential to buy such products from larger shops with higher turnover rates.
5. How Should You Properly Store Thermal Paste?
To properly store thermal paste and prolong its lifespan, you’ll have to take some preventative measures.
When applying the paste, don’t pull the plunger back because it’ll introduce air into the barrel and the remaining paste will become oxidized.
Secondly, after using the paste, twist the cap on the syringe tightly.
If the syringe’s structure doesn’t allow that, putting it in a Ziploc bag will be the next best choice.
Store the thermal paste in an area with an average temperature and avoid places like the basement or attic that can get too hot, cold, or humid.
Cover the tube somehow to prevent exposure to sunlight.
You can put it inside a box or drawer.