Subscriber OnlyBusiness

Tech clean-up: not every threat is digital

Get rid of old devices, clean up ones you still use and clear out the crumbs from your keyboard

Spring is in the air, which usually means one thing: spring cleaning. But that doesn’t apply to your home; you should also tidy up your technology.

Think about it: when was the last time you cleaned your smartphone? The devices go everywhere with us now, even to the bathroom. And in the meantime, we are poking about at the screens with our fingers and touching everything around us before prodding at them again. During the pandemic, we all became very aware of the germs we were harbouring and cleaning our hands, and smartphones were regularly wiped down – along with the groceries.

But smartphones aren’t the only culprit. Do you regularly clear dust from computer fans and make sure the pet hair has been removed? Or shake out the crumbs from your keyboard before swiping it with an alcohol wipe to get rid of the remnants of lunch? A few simple steps could not only cut out the germs lingering in your technology but also keep them in good working order.

Smartphones and tablets

Let’s start with the biggest offenders: your smartphone or tablet. The screen itself is easy to keep clean; a damp cloth or screen/alcohol wipe every now and again will deal with the worst of the problem and remove any sticky residue. Don’t spray anything directly on to the device, and make sure liquid doesn’t get inside the ports. Most phones these days are water resistant, but that refers specifically to fresh water rather than salt water or soap solutions. Tablets can be a toss-up. Best not to take the risk.


But what about the charging port that can get clogged with dust and lint? A recent “tech advice” video on Instagram showed among other things, hot glue and sharp metal being used to dig debris out of the port. We can’t stress this enough: please, don’t do any of that. Metal in particular can damage the charging contacts inside the port, and hot glue isn’t likely to help much either. Phone makers aren’t keen on aerosols either, so maybe skip the compressed air here.

It’s probably safer to avoid shoving anything inside the ports on your phone that wasn’t expressly designed by the manufacturer to fit in there, but if you must clean it, you can get a specific kit online; alternatively, and at your own risk, a gentle clean with a soft bristled toothbrush or a very gentle clear out with a wooden toothpick might help. But proceed at your own risk, and if in doubt, bring it to the professionals.


Whether it is your smartphone or your computer monitor, it is likely that the one piece of technology that gets cleaned on a regular basis is your screen. That’s not really surprising, considering they are right in front of your eyes and any smudges or dirt will be immediately obvious.

You don’t need anything harsh to clean your displays. There are plenty of specialised screen wipes out there, but a damp microfibre cloth will work effectively, removing dust, dirt and fingerprints with ease. Just don’t use too much liquid, and allow the screen to dry completely before storing it.


If you have a laptop that needs a bit of TLC, there are few things you can do. First, use a can of compressed air to blow dust from the vents and the keyboard keys. Removing the clutter from the vents will allow your device to work more efficiently.

If you have an external keyboard, turning it upside down and giving it a good shake will also remove some of the worst debris.

Next, it is time to clean off the accumulated grime. If you have alcohol wipes suitable for electronics, you can rub these gently over the keys to remove oil and dirt. Alternatively, a damp microfibre cloth will remove the dirt.


Take a good look at those silicone tips on your ear buds. Get right inside there and have a look. There is bound to be a bit of ear wax in the crevices; you spend half the day with them inside your ear canal, after all. Even if there is nothing visible, there is a good chance that your regularly buds are hiding a bit more than your cheesy musical tastes.

The safest way to clean them is by keeping all liquids away from your delicate technology. Tempting as it may be to break out the cleaning alcohol, liquid inside your ear buds will definitely reduce your music quality, and risks damaging them beyond repair if it gets into the wrong place. A can of compressed air comes in handy here, blowing dirt and debris out of the buds, but remember to angle the buds away from your eyes.

If you need to dislodge any additional debris, remove the silicone tip and use a dry cotton swab to clean inside it without damaging anything delicate.


We are all guilty of hanging on to devices past their sell-by date. There’s always a “what if?” element to this type of decluttering. But the truth is that you are unlikely to even look at half of these devices again, and by keeping them in your desk drawer you are preventing the valuable elements inside from being recycled. So do a clear-out, wipe them of your private information and send them to a reputable company to be recycled. You will claim back some drawer space and the valuable metals and elements inside your old phone will stand a good chance at a new life.


Now your physical technology has been cleaned up, it’s time to tackle the digital clutter we have been amassing over the years. How many documents and old files have you got cluttering up your laptop’s drive? Now is a good time to sort through and delete the files you no longer need. A quick glance at our own desktops reveals some files lurking from 2006. If you have time to go through the files, you can sort them by date to see which are the oldest and therefore the least likely to be still needed.

If not, dump the files on to a USB key and deal with them later on. Either way, you’ll have removed them from your laptop drive, giving it a much-needed break and avoiding it creaking under the strain.

Photographs and videos

Digital photography has made it easier for us to record every moment of our lives, in full 4K if necessary. But all that takes up a lot of space, and unless they are really precious memories, you can claw back some space by getting rid of the blurry shots, the duplicates and the accidental photographs that live on in the digital world.

There are third-party programmes that will clear out duplicate images for you, but there are also free tools built into Apple and Google devices to help you get a grip on your photo library. In Apple, you will find these tools in the Photos app under “Albums”; scroll down to Utilities and you will see options for imports and duplicates. In Google’s system, go to the Google One app, and tap Free up Account Storage. There you will find some suggestions – large files, unsupported images and videos – that you can delete to free up space. Accessing it on a web browser ( will also give you the chance to review blurry images that you can delete with a few clicks.

In the Google Photos app, you can search by keyword – the photographs of your food that you took for Instagram all those years ago can probably be binned, for example – and reduce the number of unnecessary photos you have stored in your accounts.

You could also purge your photo libraries of people you no longer want to be reminded of, by giving naming faces in your chosen photo library. The software will automatically label each of the instances where that person appears, leaving you free to remove them from your digital life at least with a few clicks.

Video takes up more room than images, obviously, so it is worth purging your devices of blurry, unwanted videos of events you will never look at again.