Temperature is the greatest enemy of your processor. It doesn’t matter even if you are running a Core i9, inadequate cooling will always result in lower performance.
And guess what, an old dried thermal paste can increase the temperature by not dissipating the heat properly.
So, you must remove the old thermal compound and reapply a fresh blob. And today, I will provide you with detailed instructions on how to do that in this article.
Without waiting any longer, let’s start.
How to Clean Thermal Paste Off CPU
To clean the thermal paste from your CPU, you will need rubbing alcohol, paper towels or a microfiber cloth, and some Q-tips.
You can use rubbing alcohol from any brand to clean the thermal paste. Most of them have a strength of 70%. If you find one greater than 90%, that is the best you can use. But those are priced higher and not often found in stock.
Now let’s go through the steps.
These are the steps to clean thermal paste off your CPU:
Step 1: Remove the CPU Cooler
Thermal paste typically resides between the processor and the cooler. To remove it, you must unplug the cooler first.
Dusting the computer before removing the cooler is a good thing to do. Since you have already opened the case, why not remove the dust build-up? A blower machine or a can of compressed air will do this in real quick time.
Now, remove the cooler. If you use an Intel stock cooler, move the pins counter-clockwise and then pull them up. You can also use a screwdriver to do this. For AMD coolers, just remove the screws holding it down against the processor. The steps are the same for a third-party air cooler.
If you use water cooling on your computer, removing the cooler is quite trickier. For AIO units, you can simply unscrew them from the mounting plates.
But for an open loop-based system, first, drain out the liquid from the pump. Then provide some distilled water in the pump and then remove the existing liquid. You need to do this continually until all the water from the loop is gone. Yet, you can see some water on the loop.
This is when you will tilt the entire system. Remove the water by opening the tap and repeating the process every time. Then open the tubings and safely remove them keeping the water away from your components. Place a few paper towels underneath to keep the water away.
Patience is key when working with liquid coolers. You would not want to water damage your expensive components by hastening things up.
Step 2: Remove the Old Thermal Paste
Now you can see the old thermal compound smeared on the processor.
To remove the thermal paste, apply some rubbing alcohol to a paper towel. Then use it to soften the old thermal compound. Rub the paper towel with a gentle force and the thermal paste should come off.
If the thermal paste is hardened, you can apply some more alcohol on top of it and scrape it off using a prying tool.
Do not place the removed thermal paste on your motherboard. While it is harmless and electrically non-conductive, why take a chance to short your PC components in the first place?
Remove the thermal paste on the underside of the CPU cooler in the same way. Finally, swipe the CPU with a lint-free cloth.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can also remove the thermal paste from GPU, motherboard chipset, and heatsinks. Just remove the cooler and heatsink from the GPU/chipset first by removing the screws. Then proceed in the same way as you would do with a CPU cooler.
In case you spilled the thermal paste on your motherboard, check our separate article where we describe how to clean thermal paste easily.
How do you Know When the Thermal Paste Needs Replacing
A thermal paste is good for 2-4 years. The only time you need to change it is when the temperature of your CPU gets too high. If you see a constant high temperature even when running simple tasks, then it is time for you to change the thermal paste.
Running the CPU without thermal paste isn’t good as it can increase the temperature of your processor. You can monitor the processor’s temperature using CPU-Z, HWiNFO, CoreTemp, etc. Anything below 90 degrees is fine for your computer.
Running strenuous tasks will increase the CPU’s temperature but when browsing the web or editing documents, the temperature should remain at a safe temperature.
For OEM computers, it is wise to change the thermal paste. Because these PCs are used continuously and their cases do not have the greatest airflow. So, heat can build up very easily inside them. Additionally, due to long usage times, the thermal paste can dry off. This negates the cooler’s ability to dissipate heat properly.
Not just that, you can use toothpaste as thermal paste and apply it on the CPU as a replacement of the regular one.
How to Re-Apply a Thermal Paste
Once all the old thermal paste is removed, the CPU is ready for applying a fresh unit.
To reapply the thermal paste, place a small blob of the thermal compound in the middle of the CPU’s IHS (heat spreader). Other popular methods are an X shape or circular pattern created.
Once the thermal paste is applied, install your CPU cooler on top of the processor.
Scrape any residual thermal paste seeping from the sides of the processor using a Q-tip. Always apply a small amount of thermal paste. Using excessive will not give you any extra cooling benefits. Just ensure that the amount you used is spread evenly across the heat spreader of the processor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I clean the thermal paste off CPU?
If you are getting a higher-than-normal temperature on your CPU, it is recommended to change the old thermal paste and apply a new one. Use isopropyl alcohol to remove the old thermal paste.
Can I use water to clean the thermal paste?
No, you should not use water to clean the thermal paste. Water is conducive to electricity. If water gets on your components, it may short the circuit and result in permanent damage.
Can I clean the thermal paste with wet wipes?
Yes, you can safely clean thermal paste using wet wipes. They contain alcohol, which helps to dissolve the old thermal paste. Then it becomes easier to scrape it off.
Can isopropyl alcohol damage the CPU?
Isopropyl alcohol is totally safe for your computer’s components. It is extremely volatile and can soften dust, gunk, and thermal paste. This makes it great for cleaning.
How to clean thermal paste without alcohol?
You can use a lint-free cloth to rub off the thermal paste. This takes longer when you do not use cleaning alcohol. Using alcohol will soften it and make the process easier.
Giving your computer a spring cleaning every few months is like changing the engine oil of your car. The PC not only runs cooler but performs faster for longer periods.
At the heart of all this is changing the thermal paste. Which you can easily change if you follow the instructions stated in this article.
So, go ahead and let the spring cleaning start.