If you are a gaming enthusiast, delayed gameplay and frequent jolting might be one of your worst nightmares. Several factors can limit your CPU performance, and if your processor has been continuously overheating during usage, it might be because the thermal paste has gone bad. Thermal paste is one of the cheapest yet most effective components of a computer. This article is going to cover all the information you need on how to remove the thermal paste, so without further ado, let’s get straight into it.
What is Thermal Paste? And what does Thermal Paste do?
Whether you use AMD or Intel, none of the processors are perfectly made. A processor generates heat when electrical energy passes through it, and that heat needs to be transferred to a heat sink. The heat sink draws the heat away from the processor, preventing it from overheating.
Suppose your processor is a car engine. The heat sink acts as a radiator to prevent overheating, limiting the performance of your car, and this is where thermal paste comes in. The heat is carried away from the processor to the heat sink through the CPU thermal paste and further dissipates throughout the rest of the computer.
If you are buying a pre-built machine, there are chances that the manufacturer will have applied CPU thermal paste already. Such thermal pastes are called stock thermal paste and usually are not good conductors. This is why most people remove stock thermal pastes and apply pastes from their preferred brands.
If you are wondering what thermal paste does, it can get into small hardware surfaces and create an air-tight seal by expanding through heat. This helps them increase the rate of heat transferring from the processor to the heat sink. However, thermal pastes get old and dry over time, which is why it is important to remove and reapply them after a while as a computer maintenance step. Dry thermal pastes reduce the effectiveness of processors by causing them to overheat quickly.
Types of Thermal Paste in the Market
There are several types of thermal pastes available in the market, and your purchase decision depends upon your preferences. Thermal pastes are categorized on the basis of their composition, performance, and viscosity.
Thermal pastes are generally classified as conductive and non-conductive pastes. Listed below are the common types of thermal pastes.
Metal-based thermal pastes contain silver and aluminum, which are some of the best heat conductors. A liquid metal paste contains gallium, which has a high boiling point and a low melting point. It is combined with other substances, and when the melting point falls further below, the paste remains liquid at room temperature.
If you are using a metal-based thermal paste, you need to be extra careful while applying since negligence can cause short circuits and component failure. You cannot use a liquid metal thermal paste if you have an aluminum heat sink since aluminum reacts to gallium, which is the key component of liquid metal-based thermal pastes.
Unlike metal-based thermal plates, ceramic-based plates are not electrically conductive, which makes them safer to apply and use. This property makes ceramic-based thermal pastes the best option for the beginners out there.
These are used in the processors that heat quickly when several programs are running on the computer.
Carbon-based and Diamond Carbon Paste
Like the ceramic-based thermal pastes, carbon-based thermal pastes constitute material that does not conduct electricity, which makes them safe to use. The small carbon fibers inside the carbon-based paste increase the overall efficiency of the paste.
Some carbon-based thermal pastes have microscopic diamond particles as well. The particles do not damage the surface on which they are applied and make heat transferring more effective.
Carbon-based thermal pastes with diamond powder are generally more expensive than all the other options.
How to Remove Thermal Paste from CPU
If your computer’s speed has been decreasing and the processor has been overheating, it might be the right time to learn how to remove the old thermal paste and replace it with a new one. You can also replace the thermal paste if you have just bought a pre-built PC. As mentioned earlier, the stock thermal pastes are ineffective and can dry out very soon. Since you do not know when the paste was applied, it is best to remove it and replace it with a new thermal paste from any renowned brand.
To know how to clean thermal paste off the CPU, follow the steps mentioned below.
Switch off the computer
It is best to switch off your computer before opening the processing unit, and power can be harmful to both the computer and your own self. Shut down the computer by opening the main menu on the home screen. Do not press the power button directly to shut the computer off as most of the time; this only puts the computer into sleep mode.
Unplug all the cords
After your computer is switched off, remove the power outlet if it is still plugged in. If you are going to remove the thermal paste from your laptop, make sure there are no wires attached to it. You should also take out the battery of your laptop if you are removing thermal paste from it.
After you have removed the battery from your laptop, press the power button for at least a couple of seconds. This will discharge any remaining energy inside the laptop and will make it safe to open.
Wear a pair of latex gloves
No matter how easy this may sound, there are several risks attached to the process. Even a little negligence can have serious consequences.
Before you open your computer’s processing unit, or open your laptop, get a pair of latex gloves and wear them on both hands. You will also need an anti-static bracelet to prevent your fingers from charging static electricity as it can damage your PC’s sensitive components.
You can purchase an anti-static bracelet from any local store or from online stores such as Amazon.
Take the main units to a clean place
Your processing unit might have a clean and shiny exterior, but you should expect the interior to be dusty. It is best to clean your workplace or room before starting to open the components. The interference of dust cannot just be annoying but problematic too.
After you have found a nice, clean spot to work, get your computer or laptop’s user manual and go through it. The process of gaining access to the heatsink of a computer may differ, depending upon the versions, which is why it is essential to keep a user manual with you. You can also find user manuals for computers online. If you want to search yours, enter the computer’s model number and look for it on authentic sites.
Remove the heatsink and dust its vents
After you have found a user manual and have accessed the heat sink following the directions mentioned, take it out. Expect the heat sink to be extremely dusty as it is not something you can clean every day or week.
Once you have removed the heat sink, you can use a small brush or a can of compressed air to remove the dust trapped inside the vents. We personally prefer using a brush, since it can reach deep areas and clean all the corners.
Find the thermal paste and remove it
After you have cleaned the CPU cooler, find its copper core. You will notice hardened and old thermal paste on the top. Now take a scraper and scrape the old thermal paste using its flat end. This step is risky, as the scraper’s flat end can scratch the components, which is why you need to be extremely gentle and careful. Do not rush.
You can also use a paper towel or a small cloth to rub the thermal paste off the heatsink’s copper core.
Get rid of the residue
Dried thermal paste does not come off easily, which is why using a scraper is not enough. After you have taken most parts off, get some q-tips or coffee filters. We personally prefer q-tips as they are easy and comfortable to hold while cleaning sensitive areas. Dip the q-tip inside an alcohol and rub it lightly on the residue.
Repeat the process a couple of times until you get a clean heatsink. Now check the processor and look for any thermal paste residues on it. If you find any, make sure to use a plastic scraper as you do not want to damage your processor. Repeat the same process at all the places you find any thermal paste residues.
How to remove thermal paste without alcohol
If you are wondering about how to remove thermal paste without alcohol, you can also use cleaners that are made specifically to remove thermal pastes (thermal interface material). These cleaners are available in Walmart, and if you want to buy them online, you can search on Amazon.
Let the heatsink and processor dry
After removing the old thermal completely using cleanser or alcohol, let the components dry for a while. You can use a lint free cloth to dry the surface of the removed heatsink. Applying thermal paste again directly onto the wet or moist surface can damage the components.
When the parts are all completely dried, wear a new pair of latex gloves and apply a small bead of your new thermal paste on the surface. While applying thermal paste, make sure to avoid applying too much to the components. Spread the thermal paste on the surface carefully using your finger.
Now carefully place all the components back together, and you are good to go!
Frequently Asked Questions
Listed below are the most commonly asked questions about removing thermal paste.
Should you remove thermal paste?
If you have been noticing a decline in the performance of your PC and it heats up quickly, you should remove the old thermal paste and apply a clean thermal paste. You should also remove it from your heatsink and processor of your gaming laptop or PC if you are replacing them. A fresh application of a clean thermal paste has better heat transferring capabilities.
It is best to remove thermal paste once you have removed the heatsink from the computer.
Can you use water to remove thermal paste?
If there are paper transformers on the components of your PC or gaming laptops, you should avoid using water to remove thermal paste. Water can contaminate the components after being dried so using isopropyl alcohol is a better option.
If you are using water to remove thermal paste, make sure to let it dry completely before turning your PC on. Once you have removed the thermal paste using water, you can use paper towels or coffee filters to wipe excess moisture off. Paper towels would not damage the surface of CPU coolers.
What can I use to wipe off thermal paste?
When you are removing thermal paste, it is best to use thermal interface materials that are non-conductive. Similarly, you should use non-conductive clothes to wipe off thermal paste, such as a coffee filter. If you do not have coffee filters, use a clean lint free cloth to wipe the paste off.
Can you use nail polish remover to remove thermal paste?
Using a nail polish remover to remove thermal paste from the heatsink and processor is not a good option since the acetone derivatives can be harmful to the components. You should use isopropyl alcohol on the CPU cooler and other components on which you find thermal paste residues.
That’s it, folks!
We hope our step-by-step guide on how to clean off thermal paste will clear out all the confusion and make the process simple for you. When you are applying new thermal paste, make sure to avoid applying too much, as we mentioned earlier. You can also use acetone to remove thermal paste if you do not find any cleanser or alcohol.
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