Unless you're into the subject of acetic acid in a big way, you probably never heard of the National Vinegar Institute.
But it turns out we have them to thank for declaring January to be National Clean Up Your Computer Month.
Obviously, they were thinking of the cleansing properties of watered-down vinegar when they dreamed this up but the notion caught on, not so much as an inducement to buy gallons of the stuff to scrub up our PCs and keyboards, but to encourage us to clean the digital parts we can't see.
That's the stuff that comprises the data, apps and programs that constitute the business of computing and that somehow contrive to run slower and slower as the year progresses.
But, still, a bit of a vinegar rub-down is probably also in order as well.
So if you want your PC to sparkle inside and out, read on.
How to Get Your Computer in Clean Running Condition
Yes, it happens to everyone. You buy a new computer that flies like a supersonic jet. Then you install and uninstall software and updates, maybe replace a few parts, change the operating system, and before you know it, you're tapping your fingers waiting for things to happen.
But you don't need to buy a new computer to recapture that speed and efficiency you enjoyed so much. A few simple steps can get things (almost) back to the way they were. And you don't need to be an expert to do most of them.
But cleaning up your computer doesn’t just mean speeding up its performance. It also calls for improving security and making stuff easier to find by removing clutter.
Below are 10 of the most effective actions you can take. But before you start, make a full backup of both your computer system and, if it's on the same hard disk, data. If you don’t know how to do this, you can find and download free backup software such as Easus, AOMEI or Macrium Reflect.
10 Ways to Clean Up Your Computer Drives and Software (for Windows PCs)
- Remove unwanted programs. They take up space and may also be running in the background all of the time. If you don’t know how to do this, use free uninstallation software such as Revo.
- Likewise, delete unwanted documents and other data files. Or move them onto removable devices like USB drives or SD cards. Again, this will free up space on your internal drives and make it easier to manage your file management system.
- Delete cookies. These are small pieces of computer code that sites you visit place on your machine so they recognize you when you come back. They may also track your user behavior and generally slow down the operation. You can remove cookies from within settings in your Internet browser.
- Delete temporary files and empty the recycle bin. Windows has a program called "Disk Cleanup" that will do the job for you -- as well as giving you the option to remove other unneeded files.
- Stop programs from running at startup. You may not realize that some programs run by default as soon as you switch on your PC, whether you like it or not. You can often stop this in the individual software settings. Or you can run the built-in configuration program (type "msconfig" in the search bar) and switch them off from there.
- Defragment your hard disk. Your main drive (usually "C") stores and moves bits of data all over the place, using a flagging system to remember where all the parts of a file are. Over time this process becomes slower and slower. Type "defrag" in you taskbar search window. Note: This only applies to mechanical hard drives. Solid state drives look after their own defragmentation.
- You might also be able to speed up your PC by adding extra memory and storage. This requires a certain level of skill that might call for someone more computer savvy. However, you can also gain speed via a USB drive using Windows' ReadyBoost feature. See https://tinyurl.com/R-Boost for more.
- Run a deep security scan to remove adware and malware that might be slowing you down. Most Internet security apps include a function that enables a detailed scan that can even detect hidden viruses. It may take a while to run.
- Update existing programs. New versions of popular software are always being issued. Make sure you have the latest. They're usually the fastest and most efficient.
- Get your files in order. Use Windows' own file manager to build a structure where everything is easy to find, or choose another file manager (see this list: https://tinyurl.com/file-mgrs). And clean up and organize your email while you're at it!
Alternatively, consider a clean-up program. Yes, you can get software that promises to do all of the above tasks and much more. See this latest list: https://tinyurl.com/clean-win But BEWARE! Some of these programs have a habit of removing more that they should -- so choose one that allows you to undo its work, and do a backup before you start, just in case.
Clean Up Your Computer's Looks
Research tells us that not only are dirty, greasy computers and keyboards unsightly, they're also a breeding ground for bacteria. But cleaning them requires a degree of sensitivity because you're dealing with electronic equipment and delicate screens.
Let's start with the keyboard: Unplug it (or switch off the PC). Turn the keyboard upside down and give it a gentle shake to loosen debris. Buy a can of compressed air (made specially for this purpose) and blow out all the particles. You might also use a purpose-made mini vacuum and cotton swabs. Then use a damp cloth (minimal water) or moist household wipes to clean keys individually -- and the space between them.
If you're brave enough, you can also use the compressed air and vacuum to clean the inside of your PC, but only do this if you're confident.
Next, the plastic-ware. By this, we mean your computer and monitor case (but not the screen). Again you can use a household wipe or two, or -- Ta Da! -- a weak vinegar and water solution used to dampen a cloth.
You can also use a moist cloth to clean your mouse or other pointing device.
Finally, the screen. First, and most importantly, DON'T use glass cleaners like Windex or others with ammonia or ethyl alcohol. And don’t use paper towels. Use your can of compressed air to blow off dust and then a lint-free cloth lightly moistened with a solution of 1 part water, 1 part vinegar (there it is again!) and one half part of isopropyl alcohol.
Wipe gently -- don't press the screen -- from top to bottom so that any debris is collected at the bottom for easy removal. Also, wipe around the bezel area of the screen for a finishing touch.
Voila! You can be proud of your PC again. It might not look exactly brand new but at least you won't have to throw a towel over it when company comes.
And it should run smoothly again -- at least until National Computer Cleanup Month in January 2021!