Thermal paste is an essential but often overlooked component that keeps your computer cool and functioning. Old thermal paste can reduce heatsink cooling performance, so if you notice your performance dropping or your computer heating up, you may need to clean and replace the thermal paste on your CPU.
Before replacing the thermal paste on your CPU, you need to remove the old paste. First, dampen a microfiber cloth in isopropyl alcohol. Then, you can clean the thermal paste by carefully rubbing the paste off the CPU with the cloth.
If you want to learn about cleaning thermal paste off CPU pins, keep reading this guide. We will teach you everything you need to know about thermal paste!
What Is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste, also called a thermal compound or a heat paste, is a paste-like chemical compound that keeps your CPU cool. It is applied between the top of the CPU case and the heat sink to create a uniform heat spreader and prevent air from getting in. As a result, you get better heat transfer efficiency between the two components, especially during intense processing tasks.
A CPU heatsink typically has some thermal paste pre-applied to it. However, the paste quality is not always the best, so replacing it with another paste may be better.
When Should You Clean Thermal Paste Off Your CPU?
Typically, you need to remove and reapply thermal paste once every 3 to 5 years, depending on how intensive your workloads are. You should also clean thermal paste off your CPU in the following situations:
- The original thermal paste is low quality or is improperly applied.
- Your CPU is running hotter than usual.
- You are removing or replacing your CPU cooler.
Pay attention to the quality of the original thermal paste because you will need to reapply cheap pastes every year.
How to Clean Thermal Paste off CPU
Learning how to remove thermal paste is a simple task. While it is easy to clean thermal paste, you still need to be careful to preserve the integrity of your CPU and heat sink.
Supplies You Need
You can use cotton swabs or toilet paper, but a microfiber cloth is your best option. It will leave no residue and will not scratch the surface.
Isopropyl alcohol is not electrically conductive and makes thermal cleaning paste easier. You should get a 90% or higher isopropyl alcohol solution, so it evaporates quicker.
Compressed Air or Small Brush
A spudger is a small handheld tool used to manipulate computer components safely. You can also use the spudger to scrape off the thermal paste from the CPU.
Before beginning, you need to shut down your computer and unplug it from the power outlet. Do not just push the power button because that may put the computer into sleep mode. Instead, open the main menu on the home screen and select Shut down.
Now, follow these instructions to clean thermal paste off your CPU:
- Hold the power button down for about ten seconds to discharge any residual electricity left in your device.
- Refer to your user manual to gain physical access to your CPU.
- Remove the heatsink and use a small brush or a can of compressed air to remove any dust from the heatsink’s vents.
- Use a spudger to scrape off the thermal paste from the CPU. You can also use a dry microfiber cloth to rub off some paste and avoid scratching the surface.
- Dampen a clean microfiber cloth with isopropyl alcohol to rub away the thermal paste residue. Repeat this step until you have removed the residue completely.
- Let the CPU dry for at least an hour.
Now, the surface of your CPU is ready for new thermal paste! However, if you notice that your CPU pins have thermal paste, you will need to clean them too.
How to Clean Thermal Paste Off CPU Pins
You need to clean thermal paste off CPU pins properly because they are exceptionally fragile. For example, you can ruin them by applying too much pressure. Ideally, you should leave the job to a professional if you have little experience with such delicate components.
Supplies You Need
A microfiber cloth is excellent for cleaning the thermal paste off CPU pins. You cannot use cotton swabs or toilet paper because they leave a lot of residue, which is difficult to clean.
Isopropyl alcohol is not electrically conductive and makes thermal cleaning paste easier. Remember to get a 90% or higher isopropyl alcohol solution, so it evaporates quicker.
You should use a small brush or soft-bristled toothbrush to clean the CPU pins. Using compressed air can easily damage the fragile CPU pins. The spudger is also unnecessary because you will not be scraping the thermal paste off.
To clean thermal paste off CPU Pins, follow these steps:
- Dip your small brush or soft-bristled toothbrush into the isopropyl alcohol solution.
- Brush across the CPU pins with thermal paste in the same direction that the pins point toward. Brush in a straight line, applying extremely light pressure.
- Wipe off the thermal paste on the brush on the microfiber cloth.
- Repeat the process until you have removed most of the thermal paste and let the pins dry for about an hour.
You do not need to remove all the thermal paste from the CPU pins, but just enough to allow a proper connection.
How to Reapply Thermal Paste
You should read the instructions that come with your thermal paste because some brands may require a different approach to the one we use.
To apply thermal paste on your CPU, follow these steps:
- Make sure your CPU is completely dry.
- Squeeze out a small bead (about the size of a rice grain) of thermal paste onto the center of your CPU.
- Place the heatsink on the CPU, making sure it is as flat as possible so that the paste spreads evenly.
- Install the CPU cooler and hold it firmly to avoid sliding.
- Inspect the thermal paste to ensure it does not spill over the edges of the CPU.
If you notice thermal paste spilled onto the motherboard, it means you used too much paste. You can clean it off with isopropyl alcohol and restart the process. A successful thermal paste application should look clean, with the cooler staying firm when you touch it.
Tips For Buying Thermal Paste
There are many options for buying thermal paste, especially online. It can be difficult deciding which to choose, so keep the following in mind when selecting a high-quality paste.
Look for thermal paste with a higher viscosity because it will adhere better and be easier to apply. A high viscosity paste will have a thick consistency, while a low viscosity paste will be more liquid.
Thermal Conductivity Rating
Thermal conductivity rating determines how effectively the thermal paste transfers heat. So, aim for a higher rating when choosing a thermal paste.
If you are only using the thermal paste for the CPU, you will only need a small amount of paste. There is no point in buying large amounts of paste because it will expire before you need to reapply.
There are two types of thermal paste, conductive and non-conductive:
- Conductive thermal paste has metal components that conduct heat better. However, their electrical conductivity can damage components if you accidentally spill them on the motherboard.
- Non-conductive thermal paste is usually ceramic or carbon-based, making it a safer option for those who want to apply it themselves. While this paste does not transfer heat as well as conductive ones, it will not matter unless you want to overclock or use your computer in a hot environment.
Where To Buy Thermal Paste
You can buy small tubes of thermal paste at nearly any electronics store, but you can also find them online for about $10 to $15. We recommend these highly-reviewed thermal paste options:
- Corsair XTM50 High Performance Thermal Compound Paste
- Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut High Performance Thermal Paste
- Arctic MX-4 Premium Performance Thermal Paste
Frequently Asked Questions
How to Remove Thermal Paste From CPU Without Isopropyl Alcohol?
If you do not have isopropyl alcohol, you can use a dedicated thermal paste cleaner instead. Some suggest using acetone as an alternative, but it can melt plastic pieces in your computer, so we do not recommend it.
Do CPUs Come With Thermal Paste?
A brand-new CPU that comes inside a box with a stock cooler will likely have thermal paste pre-applied to the cooler. So, the CPU does come with thermal paste, but it is not applied to the chip itself.
However, if you get a custom-made PC, you will need to apply thermal paste separately.
Can You Reuse Thermal Paste?
Reusing thermal paste can cause air bubbles to form, interfering with thermal conductivity. If you have to remove the CPU, you should completely clean all the paste and reapply, regardless of when you last applied the thermal paste.
Can You Run a CPU Without Thermal Paste?
You can technically run a CPU without thermal paste. However, your CPU would be vulnerable to overheating, worsening performance, and shortening CPU lifespan.
Does Thermal Paste Application Method Matter?
There are many methods to apply thermal paste on your CPU, but they all provide more or less the same result. You still want to ensure there is paste in the center, that you are not applying so much that it spills onto the motherboard, or that you do not use too little that it will not cover the CPU.
Maintaining your thermal paste is essential to keep your computer and CPU cool and healthy. Thermal paste does not last forever, so you need to know how to remove and replace it when it gets old. If you want to find the perfect motherboard to pair your CPU with, check out the best motherboards for Intel CPUs!