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This screen cleaning mistake could cost you hundreds of dollars

There's a right way and a wrong way to clean the screen on your laptop or smartphone. And the wrong way can wreck your display.
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Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributor on
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Getting ready to clean the display on my Atomos Ninja V field monitor

Screens, especially touchscreens, collect a lot of dirt, grease and hair. This means that periodic cleaning is something we all have to and should do.

Now, plenty of people get away with wiping a smartphone screen against their t-shirt or pants or using a sleeve to clean a laptop display, but this is not the best way and can itself damage the display.

Do a quick search on the internet, and you'll find that isopropyl alcohol is the weapon of choice in cleaning displays. This is true, but if used incorrectly, this chemical can also damage the display.

And not just damage it in a small way, but totally ruin the display.

Note: Use the 70% isopropyl alcohol. The higher concentrations might be too harsh.

The big DON'T of using isopropyl alcohol is this -- don't pour or even spray isopropyl alcohol on your display. If you put too much isopropyl alcohol on a screen, damage can occur in two ways:

  • The isopropyl alcohol can seep between the layers of the display, completely ruining it and requiring the device to have a replacement screen fitted
  • The isopropyl alcohol can leach into the seals and damage the adhesive holding the display in place and compromise the waterproofing

The safest way to use isopropyl alcohol is to lightly spray it onto a soft, lint-free cloth (not a harsh cloth, or something like a paper towel as these can damage the finish of the display), and then use the moistened cloth to clean the display.

Alternatively, you can use screen cleaning or lens cleaning wipes (I use the Zeiss pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes). Here you're guaranteed that the cloth is soft and correctly pre-moistened.

With the device turned off, apply gentle pressure, and clean slowly and carefully. Take your time.

Apple has, naturally, published detailed information on safely cleaning a whole range of products, from notebooks to tablets to smartphones. While this is aimed at Apple users, the information applies to other brands too.

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