Monday, September 03, 2007

Cleaning a LCD display...

It is interesting to note that many people don't really know how to clean things. This is especially true when it comes to electronic components. In particular, cleaning monitors on computer systems is a widely varied practice and no one seems to have a definitive answer on what the best method is. We pay a lot of money for our LCD flat-panel displays and then spray harsh chemicals on them that causes the display to go murky...where is the logic in that?

Some people might say that the safest chemical is water. However, is fluoride, found in most city water, really good for the plastic film on a LCD display? Probably not. How about all those minerals and "floaties"? Also, probably not good. Fluoride is for strengthening tooth enamel and the minerals probably contain corrosives. And water doesn't mix well with electricity and the delicate circuitry in the monitor.

Other people mention really harsh chemicals and household items as the solution to cleaning LCD displays. In particular, soap comes up often. Not only is soap harsh on the plastic surface, it tends to leave a nasty film behind that is usually worse/harder to remove than the original problem. Soap is for human skin, not delicate computer equipment. If you have ever gotten soap in your eyes, you know that it burns like crazy.

Also, soap contains numerous ingredients. Take Dove, for example, a Ph-balanced, hypoallergenic soap that contains:

- Sodium cocoyl isethionate
- Stearic acid
- Coconut acid
- Sodium tallowate
- Water
- Sodium isethionate
- Sodium stearate
- Cocamidopropyl betaine
- Sodium cocoate or palm kernelate
- Fragrance
- Sodium chloride
- Tetrasodium EDTA
- Trisodium etidronate
- BHT
- Titanium dioxide
- Sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate.

I can't pronounce half of those chemicals. I wouldn't want them on my computer monitor. Would you?

Windex, on the other hand, contains ammonia (among other chemicals). Some people report success with this, but ammonia-based products have this amazing tendency to interact with plastics negatively (read: chemical interactions). LCDs have plastic...not glass coatings. Actually, I wouldn't even recommend ammonia-based products for CRT displays either. These displays usually have anti-glare coatings with a plastic to bond to the glass. Chemicals would damage this coating and possibly remove sections entirely from the glass, thus ruining the display.

There is a product called Klear Screen that is recommended by every major computer manufacturer. I have no idea what they put into it, but most people probably spray it right on the monitor, which will tend to do more harm than good. It also costs money.

Computer equipment is manufactured in a sterile environment and then used in non-sterile environments. People engineering LCD displays clearly don't think, "I wonder if we are making something the average person can clean?" Nope - their minds are clearly thinking of that sterile clean-room that Monk dreams of living in.

Here is how to clean any monitor safely:

1) Go to your local grocery store or Walmart.
2) Locate and purchase two items:

One or two "3M Microfiber Lens Cleaning Cloth"(s) (roughly $3 each).
A jug of Distilled Water (about $2).

3) Go home.
4) Put a little distilled water on the cloth so that part of it is damp and the rest is dry. (Not soaking wet!)
5) Clean the monitor. Don't apply very much pressure or you'll damage the display itself!
6) Dry the monitor with the dry portion of the cloth.

In most cases, this will clean the monitor (in some cases, just using the cloth by itself will clean it up nicely). If not, repeat once more.

Now you will remember I said water is probably a bad idea. There is a significant difference between tap water and distilled water: Almost all of the impurities are removed in distilled water. Tap water is healthy for people, but distilled water isn't. Distilled water is used in chemistry and biology experiments for its purity. I don't recommend using "double-distilled water" because it apparently interacts and reacts with carbon dioxide (which may or may not be "okay" for the monitor). Also, don't drink distilled water - studies have shown it to be detrimental to one's health if drunk exclusively - there are many important health benefits when drinking tap water that you don't get from distilled water.

The microfiber cloth is essential as well. It won't scratch the delicate surface. Generally you use these things for cleaning glasses and camera lenses (even digital camera lenses), but they also work well for computer monitors. Many people swear by 3M's microfiber cloth. T-shirts and most "soft" cloths are much harsher on the surface and will cause scratches over time.

If it still isn't clean, it is time to pull out better ammo. Go find a bottle of Klear Screen and purchase it. You can obtain it online and possibly at a local computer/office supply store. Again, just dampen your microfiber cloth with this mysterious solution. Repeat the procedure once more if necessary.

If the monitor still isn't clean, it is time to pull out the big guns. Go to the store and get a bottle of 90%-98% rubbing alcohol (about $3). Go home and create two different strength solutions in two sterilized containers:

1 part distilled water to 1 part rubbing alcohol. (Roughly 50% alcohol)
1 part distilled water to 2 parts rubbing alcohol. (Roughly 66% alcohol)

Try the weaker solution first using the microfiber cloth. Use a clean cloth - don't mix this solution with even dried-on Klear Screen - who knows what chemical reaction will occur! When cleaning the cloth via a washer/dryer, remember to never use fabric softener or dryer sheets (they will both ruin the cloth)!

If that fails, try the stronger solution. Remember! Never apply too much pressure or you'll damage the monitor itself (assuming a standard LCD monitor)!

If all of these methods fail, either live with the problem, get a new monitor, or go to a professional computer repair shop and see what they can do (they'll have access to chemicals consumers don't have access to - probably take them five minutes to determine if it is even feasible to attempt to clean).

DO NOT EVER use any ammonia based or strong household cleaners to attempt to clean a computer monitor screen. You will more than likely cause irreparable damage to the surface.

This has been a friendly computer geek announcement.

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