One of the telltale signs that your laptop’s fan is due for a thorough cleaning is when you notice the temperatures are spiking, but the amount of airflow coming out of the exhaust is very little. How do you monitor the temperatures? Well, most people don’t run software like MSI Afterburner which tells you the load on your GPU/ CPU, RAM usage, temps, etc.
However, if you notice that your laptop isn’t performing as well as it normally does, one of the primary culprits is overheating.
A CPU that is running in the high 70s and mid 80s should be fine since most laptop hardware is designed to run at higher temperatures compared to desktop chips.
Laptops do have limited cooling power after all. However, once things get into the 90s, your CPU and GPU run the risk of thermal throttling.
You can check the normal operating temperatures for your specific CPU and GPU by looking up the hardware model number within Windows device manager (maybe you already know what CPU and GPU you have).
Then, compare your temperature data with online records/ forum posts from users with the same laptop model.
Remember, the exact same processor can perform differently in two different laptop models depending on power limits in the BIOS, as well as cooling fan design.
Either way, if you use your laptop somewhat regularly and it has been over 2 to 3 years since you purchased it, the fan probably needs a good cleaning.
When a laptop’s fan is clean, you’ll notice a good bit of air coming out from the exhaust next to where the fan is located. You can test this by putting your hand next to the fan.
If you’re running a game or encoding video the CPU will be stressed and a lot of air will flow out. If you’re just browsing the web or listening to music, the fan won’t have to work as hard so you won’t get a ton of airflow.
In a dirty laptop with a clogged fan, the system itself will be running hot so the air coming out of the exhaust should be very warm. However, the quantity of air coming out will be lower than usual since the fan bay is clogged with debris.
This procedure varies from laptop to laptop. But basically, you’re opening up the chassis to access the fan bay.
You’ll need a Philips head screwdriver, number 0 and 1. Preferably with a magnetic head, so you retain the screws that you remove.
Always put the screws in a cup or tray so you can easily retrieve them later. Many people end up with missing screws after disassembling their laptop because they forgot to place the screws in a secure location.
If your laptop has a removable battery, detach it before you open up the chassis. The screws for opening your laptop are all on the underside of the chassis.
Some laptops have an optical drive, so remove that before you take apart the chassis. Look for a screw that holds the optical drive in place, it will let you slide out the drive.
Before you commence disassembly, look up online guides or YouTube videos on how to take apart your specific laptop model. Look up the user manual for your laptop, check if it has any details regarding disassembly.
If this your first time taking a laptop apart, you should look up guides or ask for the assistance of a friend who is familiar with laptop hardware.
Once you’ve removed all the screws holding the laptop chassis together, you can either detach the keyboard deck from the top or remove the underplate of the chassis from the bottom.
Some laptops require you to remove the keyboard deck, others require you to remove the bottom panel. The final goal is to access the bare motherboard and heatsink + cooling fan.
Don’t yank the panels off, as they might have wires connected to them. For instance, your keyboard deck might have a stereo speaker system connected to the mainboard with thin wires.
If you pull the keyboard panel off in a hasty or reckless manner, you’ll damage these wires and end up with a dead speaker system. Be careful when you remove panels from the laptop chassis.
When you are able to access the mainboard after removing the chassis, you should be able to see a bunch of stuff. Like the cooling fan itself, as well as the copper heat pipes leading into the cooling fan from the CPU and GPU.
If your laptop is a gaming laptop, it probably has dual cooling fans and individual cold plates + heat pipes for both the CPU and the GPU. There should be a stack of metal fins in front of the cooling fan.
If you’ve been using your laptop for 3+ years on a regular basis, the fin stack in front of the cooling fan should be clogged with dirt and debris. The fan itself should be covered in dust.
First, detach the power cables connecting the fan with the motherboard. Then, unscrew the fan and remove it.
Take a can of compressed air and blow out all the dust from the fan. If you don’t have compressed air, you can just blow out the dust with your mouth (it is going to be less effective and a lot messier).
On some fan designs, you can disassemble the fan unit and separate the fan blades from the motor. This allows for more thorough cleaning with a brush.
Once you’ve cleaned the fan, you need to use the can of compressed air to blow out any dust and debris clogging up the fin stack.
The fin stack is basically an array of metal fins at the end of the copper heatsink. It is right behind the exhaust. This fin stack is how your laptop’s CPU and GPU dissipate most of their heat.
The copper heat pipes carry the heat to the stack which is kept cool by the constant influx of air from the fan. Over time, it gets clogged up by any debris that the fan sucks up and blows into the fins.
And eventually, so much debris accumulates that your laptop’s fan can’t generate enough pressure to blow air out of the fin stack.
And without sufficient airflow, the heatsink/ fin stack can’t dissipate heat, which causes your CPU and GPU to overheat.
Apart from using compressed air, you can also take a coffee filter or microfiber cloth with some rubbing alcohol and cleaning up the fins.
While you have the laptop disassembled, you can reapply thermal paste to your laptop’s CPU and GPU.
After you’ve removed the fan, you can unscrew the heat pipes. There will be a cold plate that connects the heat pipes with the processor (CPU and GPU).
Unscrew this plate, and you should be able to see the actual CPU and GPU dies.
Take a coffee filter or microfiber cloth (don’t use paper towels) and wet it with some rubbing alcohol.
Proceed to wipe off all the old thermal paste which should be caked up and solidified by now.
Once the die surface is shiny clean and all the rubbing alcohol has dried up, take some fresh good quality thermal paste.
Add just a tiny bit (pea sized drop) to the CPU surface. If you received a plastic applicator with your thermal paste purchase, use that to spread the paste around in an even layer.
Or you can just clamp the cold plate down onto the CPU, this will spread the paste around. Once you’ve applied new thermal paste, you can screw the heat pipes back onto the motherboard and reconnect the cleaned fan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Will this void my warranty?
A. Just removing the back cover won’t void any warranty, nor will the act of cleaning the fan. However, if you break any components during this process you won’t get warranty coverage for the damaged parts.
For some people, their laptop is already out of warranty coverage by the time they choose to clean their fans (it takes at least 2 years from the date of purchase before the laptop fans get very dirty).
Q. How do I know when the thermal paste needs to be changed?
A. There is no specific expiration date on the thermal paste that comes pre-applied within your laptop from the factory. The OEM manufacturers like Dell, HP, etc. purposefully use low grade thermal paste to cut down on costs, however the thermal paste they use is sometimes engineered to go 4+ years without problems.
So even though the pre-applied stuff doesn’t conduct heat that well compared to aftermarket alternatives, it lasts for a long time.
You can swap out the paste when you open your laptop to clean the fan, since you’ve already got everything in place. It is a pain to open your laptop just to swap the thermal paste, so might as well do it when you’re cleaning everything else.
You don’t have to change thermal paste that often, so any time you apply paste it will take at least 3 years before you need to change it again.
If you notice CPU and GPU temperatures are spiking while playing games or running hardware intensive applications, even though you cleaned the fan, your thermal paste probably needs to be changed.
Q. How can I keep the laptop fans clean so I don’t have to maintain them as often?
A. Your laptop is designed to prevent large amounts of debris from getting sucked in by the fan, so you don’t have to take any special measures to prevent the fan from getting dirty.
It is just an inevitable process that will happen over a sufficient period of time (2 or 3 years of daily usage). What you can do is operate your laptop on flat surfaces so the fan gets ample cold air to feed its intake.
Plus, a flat surface will ensure your laptop’s exhaust vents aren’t blocked. A blocked exhaust means the fan will have to work at higher RPMs to prevent the CPU and GPU from overheating.
Remember to look up your laptop’s user manual and other official documentation before you take apart your laptop to clean it’s cooling fan.
Especially if you’re doing it for the fist time. YouTube guides might exist for how to disassemble your specific laptop model, so do a quick Google search before you take it apart.
Once you learn how to open your laptop and clean its fan/ change thermal paste, you will also be able to do other basic stuff. Like upgrading the storage, RAM, swapping out the Wi-Fi card, etc.
This is a nice way for you to learn DIY maintenance of your own computer, and it teaches you many things that will be useful in the future when you buy a new laptop or build your own desktop PC.
Even though laptops are built differently, the basic principles of cooling remain the same.