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Back to August 2013 ITS Newsletter

Screen Cleaning 101

By Geoff Hale

When it comes to our computer screens, nothing can be more aggravating than a viewing space that is filled with more fingerprints and smudges than icons on the desktop! The advent of touch technology only makes matters worse. We are often asked for cleaning advice and while there are a number of cleaning supplies at our disposal, only a few stand to carry the responsibility of the approved monitor cleaner.

LCD Cleaning

The most common display you'll find on our desks these days, the flat panel liquid crystal display (LCD), is subject to a lot of dirt and dust over time. This display, which replaced the older cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor, tends to fair much better when it comes to dust collection directly on the screen because it generates less static electricity.1 However, the LCD is more delicate than the glass face of a CRT. The screen has an exposed soft surface made of polymers that does not fare well with many of the cleaning products acceptable for CRT monitors.

  • LCD monitors essentially have exposed pixels so that excess pressure on one particular region can damage those pixels, cleaning should be an even light pressure along the surface.
  • It is best when cleaning the screen to have the monitor off for at least a few minutes so that it may cool, as damage is more likely when the monitor is warm.
  • Steer clear of paper products as they are made from wood pulp and may have hard particles contained in them.2 Any material that has a greater hardness than another material can scratch, it is important to keep this in mind when searching for a candidate to clean a screen.
  • A safe bet is to always use a microfiber cloth as they are specifically designed for this purpose. It is best to use a new or clean cloth to avoid having dirt particles already in the cloth.
  • If possible, cleaning liquids should be avoided as they may deteriorate the surface as well. In extreme cases where a liquid is absolutely necessary the best item is distilled water. Tap water contains particles that may have a greater hardness than the makeup of the screen and will also leave smudges.
  • Other chemicals, such as Windex, which contain ammonia can react with the screen discoloring or deteriorating the quality of the screen.
  • Rubbing alcohol gets mixed reviews with some recommending a diluted mix of rubbing alcohol with distilled water as a safe practice. Alcohol is fast evaporating, lessening the chance of harm to the monitor, it is also found in some store bought screen cleaning wipes, but often in a lower concentration.3 Making your own mixture should be a last resort.
  • With any liquid, never spray directly on the screen as the liquid will run into edges potentially harming the screen, spray on the cloth directly.

Touch Screen Cleaning

As display units transition to also function as input devices, many of the screens will come with protective capacitive glass over the displays. A prime example of this is an iPad; this device sports a Corning Gorilla Glass surface that was developed by Corning to protect from glass shatter and breakage from accidental forces. The material is essentially the same aluminosilicate substance in other glass applications, but hardened by a chemical process with potassium.4 This makes the material much harder than traditional glass, and absolutely more durable than LCD monitors.

  • Use a microfiber cloth. It will do a better job of really removing the smudges from the surface. 

A Soft Touch

While our phones and tablets can usually take a little more of a beating, they'll certainly benefit from a delicate touch. Practice these techniques to keep your screens clean and you will be one happy user when interacting with your computing environment!

References:
1 http://h30565.www3.hp.com/t5/UK-Articles/How-to-Care-for-Flat-Screen-Monitors/ba-p/4686
2 http://pcsupport.about.com/od/maintenance/ht/cleanflatscreen.htm
3 http://askville.amazon.com/alcohol-clean-laptop-screen/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=454174
4 http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2375657,00.asp