How do you salvage perfectly good but filthy electronics and tools?
August 7, 2012 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Your best hacks for cleaning filthy items such as computers, electronics, tools?

I inherited many possessions of a relative who died recently. He was an early adapter in the computer/hacker world and his apartment was a treasure trove of great things- cd burner, MacBook, tools like you wouldn't believe and all sorts of great pop culture items from the last 40 years. The problem is that he was very messy hoarder type and all of his stuff has a layer of sticky film covered with dust. I've been trying to clean the items with a magic eraser sponge and typical house hold cleaners but it's not working as well as I would like. Anyone have any deep cleaning ideas/hacks to help me clean up electronics and/or tools? Can I run tools like screwdrivers, wrenches and hammers through a dishwasher? Obviously I know I can't submerge electronics, but are there other options of cleaning these items without soaking them? There is also furniture with the same issue- just sticky with dirt and grim. Halp!
posted by momochan to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Most keyboards (obviously not laptop keyboards) can be cleaned in the dishwasher. I would guess that it would be fine for tools as well, as long as they're dried promptly.

Other than that, lots of rubbing alcohol, I'm guessing.
posted by supercres at 3:23 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meta tools - go outside and spray down with
posted by Rafaelloello at 3:29 PM on August 7, 2012

Brakecleen, that is
posted by Rafaelloello at 3:30 PM on August 7, 2012

I love rubbing alcohol for this sort of thing. It doesn't damage screens and it is great for getting goop and sticky dirt off of things. I regularly give electronics a rub down with it. If you get the 90+% isopropyl alcohol, it has less water in it and evaporates quickly.

For non-electronics, I like orange oil solvents.
posted by quince at 3:32 PM on August 7, 2012

I own this ultrasonic cleaner. I love it, but I use it for fiddly little jobs where the end state needs to be impeccable -- I've never used it for volume work, or for anything seriously grimy.

I would also vote for cleaning products that contain TSP (bad for the environment but very effective), or maybe Oxy-Clean, which contains sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide. I've used TSP and Oxy-Clean successfully for all kinds of heavy-duty cleaning jobs. And quince is right about orange oil -- it's great.
posted by Susan PG at 3:34 PM on August 7, 2012

TSP is very effective for grease. It's nasty stuff, though. Wear gloves.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:35 PM on August 7, 2012

For the older computer plastics that have yellowed due to oxidation, Retr0brite is an excellent open source recipe.
posted by samsara at 3:41 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, in certain areas, products labeled with the letters "TSP" may not contain much or ANY Trisodium Phosphate, due to environmental regulations...
posted by WaylandSmith at 4:10 PM on August 7, 2012

Mineral spirits gets things clean pretty quickly. It's very volatile so you'd want some ventilation if you use it, but that volatility also means that when you wipe your stuff clean it evaporates away and leaves a nice dry surface.
posted by amcm at 7:45 PM on August 7, 2012

> Most keyboards (obviously not laptop keyboards) can be cleaned in the dishwasher.

Not sure about "most" ... Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboards cannot survive a dishwasher.
posted by anadem at 8:12 PM on August 7, 2012

> Most keyboards (obviously not laptop keyboards) can be cleaned in the dishwasher.

Not sure about "most" ... Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboards cannot survive a dishwasher.
posted by anadem at 8:12 PM on August 7 [+] [!]

I have yet to have any keyboard not make it. You do need to make sure your keyboard is dry before powering it up and you want to make sure you don't use the dry cycle or any scrub settings and NO soap. It is amazing how much the dishwasher can clean. Car parts, gun stocks soaked in cosmoline (a really nasty chemical use to preserve military hardware that is kinda like extra tarry asphalt), light fixtures or just about anything that will fit. I have even taken out the top rack to fit bigger stuff in.

If you do wash anything nasty in there you should let it cycle empty with lots of soap before you use for anything you will eat off of.

The biggest secret to getting stuff really clean is mild chemicals/solvents and lots of time to let them work, and repititon. The truly nasty gunk needs a chemical reaction to remove and those can take time.

BTW if anyone reading this knows how to get polymerized oil off of heavy cookie sheets let me know. I think that stuff is forever.
posted by bartonlong at 9:09 PM on August 7, 2012

Restoring discoloured plastics by hobbyists/enthusiasts. iirc, there's a great page showing how an old oscilloscope's melamine (?) age-discoloured dials/switches were brought back to life. There might be another good page restoring an original C64, but I can't find it.

It might be worth opening up enclosed electronics, if you're confident about it, just to blow the dustybunnies out at least. Last I've had occasion to do this, I pulled all the unsoldered boards and dusted then q-tipped/kimwipe detailed everything with 100% isopropanol. Put it all back together and it kept on running.

Cheap stuff from the late '90s had metal shells and chromed(sometimes) plastic frontspieces. Trying to pry out the plastic piece usually resulted in aesthetically damaged units. Screws in the underside and pulling off the "legs/feet" and cutting though a few lengths with a dremel wheel bit allowed the metal case to come off to expose the innards to cleaning/fixing. Apparently in a lot of cheaper consumer electronics, the plastic front piece was only supposed onto the unit. Once. And never to be taken off. Basically, if something broke, it was trash time and buy another one.

I hate the 80/90's.

"Obsolescence" is different than this.
posted by porpoise at 9:10 PM on August 7, 2012

how to get polymerized oil off of heavy cookie sheets let me know

High molarity sodium hydroxide. Lye. Oven cleaner. Those are all pretty much the same thing, with differences in what else is included with it.

Since your highly crosslinked lipids are highly dehhydrated, you'll want to let the reaction go on for at least 24 or more and maybe spray-spritze the treated area with a little water like you'd spray on a tropical houseplant leaf, depending on how concentrated the product you use is (low conventration [weak], no water. Super high concentration [too strong], add a little water).

If you think the enamel will stand up to it, give it a once over with a wire brush after rinsing off the first round of alkaline treatment. This will physically remove some of the gunk. Give it another alkaline treatment.

Depending on what exactly it is, soaking in common household bleach (unfortunately, I'm starting to see bleach being sold in much diluted forms and still being labled "bleach.") overnight sometimes helps.
posted by porpoise at 9:19 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

With a Q-Tip, soaked in a solvent or cleaner. Escalating in strength, I use
Rubbing Alcohol -> Bestine -> TSP solution -> Oven Cleaner
posted by Rash at 1:34 PM on August 8, 2012

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