My Tips and Techniques for Cleaning the Dust and Mold Out of Your Beloved Take-Along Device
One of the questions I get most often via email or through the blog is whether or not you can clean laptop for mold after an exposure. This is a difficult topic to address, since laptops pose the unique situation of being both non-porous (smooth, hard surfaces) and semi-porous (they allow air to circulate through them, and some have many contours such as carvings). To some, a laptop computer seems like it should be easy to clean. Unfortunately, laptops and desktop computers with inner fans and air flow, cooling mechanisms make them particularly difficult to remediate successfully. (Note: Desktops are one of the hardest electronics to clean, because the dust inside can be overwhelming even when mold exposure isn’t a factor. It is best to adopt a practice of using your HEPA vacuum with a soft brush attachment to clean the outside of the computer casing and the fan vents once a week to thwart dust build-up from a mold prevention standpoint.) As a matter of fact, none of our computers were not able to be saved after our mold ordeal. I must have cleaned each one at least four different times before I finally gave up and threw them out. It was definitely a sad and expensive loss.
Now that I have more knowledge and experience with mold, I know that the biggest hinderance to my success was not what I was using to clean the computers, but, rather, the way that I was attempting to clean them. I was not fully addressing all of the mold and dust trapped inside within the fan. Thus, I was never able to get them to a place where I could turn them on and not have an almost immediate reaction—sneezing, headaches, skin rashes, and itchy, watery eyes. It was as if the mold spores were still actively circulating inside the computers no matter what I did. At the time, I definitely did not know as much as I know now about mold and cleaning for mold, so my “tool belt” wasn’t as stocked with options and ideas of other ways to clean them besides continuously wiping them down, blowing out the fans with an air compressor, and trying to allow them to run in outdoor environments to essentially blow the mold spores out from continual use. Admittedly, not the best strategy.
Let’s be honest, even when unhealthy levels of mold and mold illness are involved, a computer is a large expense. Computers are also very personal items, and if you can avoid having to replace or repurchase one, most people want to—regardless of the mold danger. I am here to tell you, though, that of all potentially contaminated items that you should try to not introduce to a “safe,” mold-free space, a computer is a big one, for the very same reason that it is hard to clean—its inner fan. This fan, and cooling system, if full of mold spores can swiftly deposit mold all over your things and home in a manner of minutes. Thus, it is never a good idea to remove computers or electronics from a mold-contaminated home and to continue to use them without proper and targeted cleaning, as well as testing when the cleaning is complete to make sure that it actually worked.
That is precisely why I am bringing this post to you today. I have been working on a “new” technique for cleaning computers or other fan-based electronics for mold. I think I have finally found the best way to clean a laptop specifically and I want to share it. Although I don’t have a mold-contaminated computer to TAP test, clean, and TAP test again to see how well this technique worked at this point in time, I think the sheer amount of dust and dirt that I was able to remove is evidence that you will find a great deal of success with this method, if you follow it step-by-step, and use proper protective gear while doing so.
(Note: For this job, proper protective gear, since I am assuming that those doing this are dealing with a computer that is mold contaminated, should consist of disposable gloves, clothing that you can throw away, or wash immediately with EC3 Laundry Additive, eye protection, and a N-95 respirator mask. I would even go for a half respirator mask, if you are very sensitized. You should also do this outside in the open and should never try to clean any contaminated items inside your home or anywhere that you are living and that is free of mold. Any items that have not been properly remediated should always be kept in air-tight plastic containers, and should be stored outside of your safe indoor space. Once properly remediated, and you either have a successful TAP test (culturing 0-2 colonies), or have zero reaction to the computer when turned on and running, you can bring it back into your home and make it a part of your life again. If you cannot get a clean TAP test or still react to the computer after cleaning it, it is best to cut your losses and dispose of it. No matter what, I have accepted, and I think you should too, that there are just some items that cannot be successfully cleaned, no matter what you do. In other words, there are always outliers. Thus, I encourage you to try your best to save those things that really matter and are important to you, but to also be ready and open to letting things go for the sake of your health, if your efforts do not yield positive results.)
How to Clean a Laptop Computer for Mold:
- HEPA-certified vacuum with brush attachment (I have a Miele that I love.)
- 70% Rubbing Alcohol
- Compressed Air cannister
- EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate diluted per package instructions, or EC3 Mold Spray
- Phillip’s Head Screwdriver to fit the small screws on the back of your computer
- 2 Soft dusting cloths
- EC3 Mold Screening Test Plates or other mold testing plates purchased online or at a home improvement or hardware store
- Make sure your laptop is unplugged and not connected to any power source.
- Place laptop on a hard surface, covered with a towel for cushion.
- HEPA vacuum all outside surfaces of the computer. You should be careful to get in between the keys and to remove any visible dust or dirt from all exposed spaces.
- Blow compressed air through fan exhaust and throughout the unit.
- Saturate a clean, lint-free dusting cloth with alcohol. Wipe all outside surfaces and keys with the alcohol. You are using it as a disinfectant and to remove any bacteria. Bacteria are also a huge issue with sickness and computers, so you also want to address this while cleaning it.
(Note: Researchers have discovered that computer keyboards contained 7,500 bacteria per swab – much more than an average toilet seat, which has 5,400. James Francis, the microbiologist who carried out the research, said: “A count of 600 on a plastic device of any sort is incredibly high.”)
- Flip your laptop upside down and using the screwdriver, carefully remove the bottom panel of your laptop. Different manufacturers construct different types of laptop enclosures, but most employ screws that can be removed with a small Philips-head screw driver. The processor fan should be plainly visible once the inside of the laptop is exposed.
- Hold the fan in place with your finger, so that it does not rotate while you clean it. Never remove the fan, because removing parts without advanced knowledge of the hardware could damage the processor or its heat dissipators.
- Saturate the other dusting cloth with EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate or EC3 Mold Spray.
- Clean the face of the fan with the cloth, gently rubbing dust and dirt away from the center.
- Once dry, gently blow compressed air into the fan to dislodge dust that may have fallen into the fan. Repeat the process until the fan is clean.
- Use the EC3-saturated cloth to clean the underside of the piece that you removed to reveal the fan. This piece can get a lot of dust and debris lodged on it as well, so you need to give it some attention.
- When finished, and the fan and inside of the computer are bone dry, replace the laptop’s bottom cover.
- Use the EC3-saturated cloth to clean the exterior of the laptop just as you did before with the alcohol.
Once you have completed this process, you should use EC3 Mold Screening Test Plates, or other mold screening plates available online or from a local home improvement store to test the computer for mold. To do this, open the plate and position it near the back fan of the laptop. Turn the computer on and allow it boot up and run for a few minutes. When the fan is running, pick the laptop up and gently tap the plate against the exterior fan opening. This will ensure that you are dislodging any dust or mold that may still be on the inside and capturing it in the plate media to culture. It is not a perfect method, but one that can still yield viable and helpful results. Close the mold plate, seal it, label it, and cover it with aluminum foil.
The plate will then need to incubate for 5 days—incubation time will ultimately be determined by the manufacturer’s directions for the plates that you use. After the incubation period is up, you can check your results. You can also TAP test the laptop after cleaning it by gently tapping the open mold plate against the laptop to produce a puff of air between it and the plate. This must be done while the computer is running, though to get an accurate picture of whether or not mold is still circulating inside of it. Once you have your test results, you can decide whether or not to keep or dispose of the computer.
(Note: It is my opinion that if you are ill, or know that the computer was exposed to mycotoxin-producing molds, that you should not keep it if you cannot get the mold test plates below 3 colonies after cleaning. This may sound extreme, but even a small amount of carcinogenic mold can keep you very sick.)