Old thermal paste can interfere with cooling and make a mess, so you need to know and have the right tools for removing thermal paste. If you use your computer for a long duration, it is natural to heat up, but your CPU needs to stay cool. Therefore, knowing how to clean thermal paste off the CPU is crucial.

Applying thermal paste is essential to keep your processor cool and happy. Follow this step-by-step guide to help you clean thermal paste and reapply the thermal paste. Read on.

What is Thermal Paste?

Thermal paste is a conductive compound that helps transfer heat and eliminate air gaps in two surfaces to better transfer. In computer construction, some thermal paste is placed between the CPU and the CPU cooler to remove heat from the processor effectively. Without thermal paste, your CPU could overheat and get damaged, and this paste needs to be replaced occasionally.

There are two types of thermal paste. The conductive and non-conductive thermal paste. If you are inexperienced, it's advisable to stick to the non-conductive types of thermal pastes.

The conductive metallic thermal pastes can cause a short to your system if they spill on your motherboard. However, they have a higher thermal conductivity and are quite expensive, making them suitable for extreme builders.

How to Clean Thermal Paste Off CPU

If you own a computer that needs you to reapply thermal paste, you will first clean the old paste. Before you start cleaning, ensure the CPU cooler is removed and you can see the thermal paste, which is usually white or grey. Below are step-by-step instructions on how to remove thermal paste from the CPU.

However, if you install thermal paste to a new machine, you will not need to remove the old paste, and you should get straight to the reapplication process.

What You Will Need

Before the cleaning process, there are a few things you will need to have in hand:

  • Microfiber Cloth- Suitable for cleaning thermal paste as it leaves no residue and minimizes the risk of scratching
  • Isopropyl alcohol- Thermal paste reacts with alcohol, and this makes it easier to clean
  • Plastic spudger
  • Cotton swabs

Step 1

First, you may notice that the thermal paste may have dried up and left some small solid chunks. Gently rub the old thermal paste using a dry microfiber cloth to remove loose chunks. Next, wipe the top of your CPU to get as much thermal paste as you possibly can without hassle.

Step 2

Apply a small amount of your ideal solution to your microfiber cloth, either isopropyl alcohol or thermal paste cleaner. Alternatively, dip the end of your cotton swab into rubbing alcohol and use it to wipe the top of your CPU gently to help break any hardened thermal paste.

In addition, you can use a plastic spudger or something flat to get rid of any stubborn paste without scratching the surface.

Step 3

Wipe the CPU using a clean microfiber cloth or paper towel from the top to the bottom until the thermal paste is no more. The alcohol will evaporate almost immediately on its own. Do this step slowly and gently because it could potentially damage your CPU.

Step 4

Repeat the above process, remove any thermal paste stuck under your CPU, and wipe around the edges. Remember to clean any thermal paste stuck in the heatsink using the same process.

Step 5

Allow the CPU to dry where the time it will dry will depend on the solution used, but generally, you should wait for an hour.

How to Clean Thermal Paste off CPU Socket Pins

Sometimes, you may find that the dried thermal paste found its way into your CPU socket connection and could potentially damage the CPU pins. Again, it is a delicate process that requires the right tools since some hasty actions could destroy the component.

The first thing to check is the socket type since there are two types of CPU sockets, and they depend on the make.

a). PGA Sockets

These PGA (Pin Grid Array) types are used in AMD Ryzen CPU and have holes where the pins are inserted and the pins are on the processor. This makes cleaning the thermal paste extra difficult since you can bend the pins if you are not cautious.

b). LGA Sockets

These LGA (Land Grid Array) types are used in Intel CPUs and feature slots instead of holes where the pins are not on the processor but are on the motherboard. Since LGA sockets are at a 45-degree angle, they should be cleaned in the same direction to avoid bending them.

For removing thermal paste on the CPU pins, you will need:

  • A soft-bristled toothbrush
  • A dry microfiber cloth
  • 90%+ isopropyl alcohol

Notably, most thermal pastes don't conduct electricity, except for liquid thermal compounds, so you will need to remove enough thermal paste to allow the CPU pins to get proper contact with the socket.

How to Clean Thermal Paste off PGA Socket

  • Dip your soft toothbrush into your alcohol solution
  • Check what direction the pins are pointing towards
  • Brush your toothbrush across the pins with thermal paste in the same direction. To remove thermal paste from these pins, remember to brush lightly with little to no pressure and in a straight line
  • When your toothbrush picks up thermal paste, wipe it off on your microfibre cloth
  • Repeat the process until a large amount of thermal paste is off
  • Give it an hour to dry off

How to Clean Thermal Paste off a LGA Socket

  • Use an isopropyl alcohol wipe and wipe the thermal paste off the surface straight.
  • Repeat the process gently until all the thermal paste is gone
  • Give it an hour to dry

Using Thermal Cleaners

There are dedicated thermal paste cleaners in the market, and if you want a straightforward way to remove thermal paste, you should get one. Also, you will need a packet of q tips to use as the cleaning tool, and you can also use a magnifying glass if you need it.

Apply a small amount of thermal paste remover or cleaner on the CPU's affected area, but be careful not to apply too much thermal paste. It's better to use a small amount then add some later than apply a lot of it in the first application.

Thermal paste cleaners usually take some time to bind with the thermal paste, and therefore you need to leave it on for bout five minutes. Use your q-tip to brush over the tips gently since too much pressure may cause damage, especially when cleaning an AMD Ryzen CPU. Intel CPUs don't have CPU pins on the CPU, meaning it's flat.

Use gentle wipes for the cleaning and take time without applying pressure as you only need to take enough paste to allow good contact. Swap the q-tips as thermal paste lumps may get stuck in the q-tip.

Once you feel like you have cleaned enough, dry out the excess liquid where you can use a fresh q-tip to mop excess liquid.

How to Reapply Thermal Paste

Once you remove thermal paste, it's time to reapply the thermal paste and ensure you read over the thermal paste instructions. Thermal paste will last a while, and therefore you will not need to apply it regularly. However, ensure you observe the temperatures because if they are spiking, it could signify that your thermal paste has dried up.

There are several reasons why you may need to reapply thermal paste, including:

  • If the original paste was applied poorly
  • If you remove thermal paste on the CPU cooler
  • If your CPU is running at higher than normal temperatures

What You Will Need

  • A clean CPU installed on a motherboard socket
  • CPU thermal paste
  • A clean CPU cooler ready to get installed
  • A microfiber cloth or paper towel

You should follow the steps below for applying thermal paste:

Step 1

After installing the CPU in the motherboard socket, put a pea-sized drop or layer of thermal paste on the CPU's centre.

Step 2

Install your CPU cooler while applying a top to downward pressure on the unit without too much pressure. There will be no need to spread the new thermal paste before you install the cooler, as the cooler's pressure will evenly distribute your thermal paste.

Step 3

Once the cooler has been installed, check your CPU's edges if any thermal paste falls or spills over and wipe it using paper towels or microfiber.

Why Use Thermal Paste on CPU?

While the CPU heat spreader may seem like a perfectly flat surface with the naked eye, it's not the case. Under a microscope, there are tiny grooves and pockets all over the heat spreader, and when you put on your CPU cooler, the air pockets and grooves act as air gaps that don't transfer heat properly. As a result, thermal Interface Material (TIM), popularly known as thermal paste, comes into play.

Therefore, your CPU will not get adequate cooling and even refuse to operate. The pastes fill the tiny grooves and pockets to ensure a proper connection between the CPU cooler surface and the CPU heat spreader. In addition, they conduct heat quickly, increasing the cooling efficiency.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do you remove thermal paste from the CPU without Isopropyl alcohol?

A dedicated thermal paste remover or a 99% isopropyl alcohol is super effective. Acetone or nail polish remover is a great alternative if you don't have one of the above. However, acetone shouldn't be used if your computer has plastic PC components because it will melt the plastics.

2. How Do you Clean the CPU cooler?

If you intend on using the same cooler you were using previously, it's essential to clean the thermal paste from the heatsink also. It is the same process as cleaning the old or excess thermal paste. Notably, ensure you add the thermal paste to ensure you get proper conduction between your CPU and CPU cooler.

Image Credit: techiepassion.com

About the Author Jacky Chou

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