PC ComponentsCooling

How To Clean Thermal Paste Off the CPU


If you’ve been around PC hardware for any time, you’ve probably heard of thermal paste. However, over time, the glue-like material your CPU cooler rests on often becomes old and dried out and can be challenging to get off.

Quick Answer

If you’ve ever had to clean thermal paste off of a CPU, you know it’s not easy. But it doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck — you have to scrape away the hardened dried pieces and wipe away the residue with rubbing alcohol.

Thermal paste is the go-to way to lower temperatures on your CPU and make it work more efficiently. Sometimes, the paste can get dry and become hard to remove. It is often difficult to get off the chip, but it can also be messy and time-consuming.

In this article, we’ll explain how you can remove the old thermal paste from your CPU and apply the new one so you can improve its performance, prolong its lifespan and improve its thermals.

Things You’ll Need

If your CPU is heating up faster than usual or your computer crashes more frequently, you may need to clean off the thermal paste and reapply it.

But, before we dive right into the process, there are a few things that you’ll need before you start cleaning thermal paste off your CPU.

  • Microfiber cloth.
  • Rubbing alcohol (Isopropyl Alcohol).
  • Thermal paste cleaner (alternative to rubbing alcohol).
  • Cotton swabs or Q-tips.

All right, that’s about it! You are ready to begin if you have these items.

How To Clean Thermal Paste off the CPU

You can follow the steps to clean the thermal paste off your CPU and prepare it for a fresh application once you’ve gathered all the necessary tools.

Step #1: Remove the CPU Cooler

The cooler and heatsink of your CPU need to be removed first to clean the old thermal paste off. To do this, you’ll need to remove the screws that hold it in place and gently wiggle it free.

The process may vary depending on the model and manufacturer of your cooler. But, in most cases, the cooler is held in place by four screws, and you need to remove these screws to remove the cooler. 

Once the screws are out, grab hold of both sides of the cooler, lift it, and set it aside.

Step #2: Clean Residue off the Cooler

The first thing you can do after removing the CPU cooler is to clean all the thermal paste residue left behind on it. In this way, you will be able to focus on the main culprit later: the thermal paste on the CPU.

Remove as much old dried-out thermal paste from the heatsink as possible using a flat spatula, preferably made of plastic, to avoid scratching. 

Rub the area with a cotton swab or Q-tip buds dipped in rubbing alcohol or a specialized thermal paste cleaner.

Finally, use a lint-free microfiber cloth to clean the area until all the paste is gone.

Step #3: Clean the Surface of the Processor

Now that we’ve got the CPU cooler out of the way, we can repeat the same process with the processor’s surface and wipe it clean.

First, make sure you have the right tools. You’ll need a microfiber towel, some rubbing alcohol or thermal paste cleaner, and some Q-tip cotton buds.

Once you have all the necessary materials, start by soaking one end of your microfiber cloth in the alcohol. Then, use it to rub the paste off of your CPU gently. 

You can also use rubbing alcohol-dipped Q-tip buds to clean the processor’s corners. Make sure to work in small circles until all the paste is gone.

You should take care when cleaning thermal paste off of a CPU so that you don’t damage the other components on the motherboard or spill anything on the electrical contacts.

Step #4: Reapply the Thermal Paste

Having cleaned the old thermal paste from your CPU, the top surface of it should now look completely clean, free of old paste residue or streaks. The new thermal paste can now be applied.

Ensure the CPU surface is completely dry before applying the new thermal paste. Start by applying a small amount of the thermal paste of your choice to the middle of the CPU.

Apply a small amount to the middle of the processor’s top surface, about the size of a grain of rice or a small pea.

If you apply too much, the paste may spill over from the sides of the CPU and cooler and cause a short circuit between the electrical components, resulting in a fried motherboard.

Step #5: Put the CPU Cooler Back On

Having just applied the new thermal paste to your CPU, it’s time to reinstall your CPU cooler and heatsink.

Put the CPU cooler and heatsink back on the motherboard, ensuring that the thermal paste is appropriately aligned and in contact with both the CPU and heat sink.

Make sure to apply a reasonable amount of even pressure so that the thermal paste can properly adhere to the CPU and has even coverage. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, as this could cause damage to the CPU.

Replace the screws that hold down the heatsink and CPU cooler, being careful not to tighten them too much, or you could damage the motherboard or CPU cooler/heatsink assembly.

This way, you can maintain even pressure between the CPU and the cooler. Plug in any cables you removed during the process, and you’re done.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use water to clean the thermal paste?

The best you can do is clean with a few drops of water on tissue paper, but unless you prefer risking frying your motherboard, it’s highly recommended not to.

How often should I clean off old thermal paste?

Thermal paste typically needs to be replaced every two to three years, but if your PC overheats, it’s a good idea to replace it as soon as possible.

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