How to exorcise cigarette smells and tar from an iMac?
April 28, 2008 10:32 AM   Subscribe

How can I clean away cigarette odor and tar buildup from a G3 iMac?

I loaned an old iMac to a friend who needed a computer after his house was burgled. The “week or two” loan turned into many months, and I finally got the computer back last night.

When I saw the condition of my previously minty Mac, I was very sad. The keyboard, mouse, and computer are all showing signs of living with chain smokers. There is some tar discoloration in the clear plastic bits, and there is also a very distinct smell. It's strong enough that I can't bring the computer into my house.

I'm planning on taking apart the components and cleaning them up, but wanted to know if anyone had any additional tips or suggestions before I get started. Any idea on cleaning agents that I can use that won't craze the plastic?

Thanks in advance.
posted by mattybonez to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not sure what effect it might have on the plastic, but my husband and I cleaned away years of tar and cigarette gunk when we moved into our house using Trisodium Phosphate.
posted by LolaGeek at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2008

Is the G3 iMac an LCD or a CRT model? If the latter, I think it's going to be hard to clean because of the big vent holes and high voltage inside.

What I would do if there weren't a CRT involved:

- remove case
- wash keyboard, mouse with water and air dry
- wash case with water/TSP and air dry (test in an inconspicuous area first to check for discoloration)
- wash motherboard with water and air dry
- blow compressed air through power supply
- clean heat sinks with compressed air
posted by zippy at 10:59 AM on April 28, 2008

I've found that cleaners based on isopropyl alcohol work well at cutting through most gunk. I have a pump bottle of monitor/screen cleaner which does a decent job on just about anything, including monitors turned completely yellow by smokers.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:46 AM on April 28, 2008

Sometimes isopropyl alcohol is not enough, especially when it comes to fatty gunk in the "pores" of the plastic. (not really pores, but that micro structure that most computer plastics have). I had great results with ammonia. (dilute, dilute. dilute)
posted by mmkhd at 12:19 PM on April 28, 2008

The G3 iMac does have a CRT. Please don't open it unless you can discharge it safely.
posted by hollisimo at 1:00 PM on April 28, 2008

People, not to play down the potential of getting a nasty shock from a CRT, but the actual likelyhood is extremely low. I've played with TVs and monitors for 20+ years, and I've gotten a shock from the CRT itself exactly once - and that was deliberate.

Sure, it was possible in the old days (and by "old days", I mean the days of valves), but if you use a bit of common sense it's almost impossible to shock yourself these days. Really, just make sure it's off and unplugged for a half-hour or so, keep away from the ultor cap (the cap on the side of the CRT with the big thick wire running to it), and don't get between it and the connections on the neck of the CRT - but aside from that, don't worry. On a working CRT there's bleed resistors (or the HT supply impedance is low enough) to drain away the electrostatic charge in a short period of time, so if you leave it unplugged for a bit you'll be right.

(Non-working devices are a different story - there's several failure modes where the bleed circuitry may be non-functional. Definitely take a bit more care with non-working CRTs.)

You're more likely to get a shock from the power supply than the CRT, but even so the risk there is minimal if you follow the same precautions. If you're not scared to open your PC's power supply to clean it, then don't be afraid to open a modern TV or monitor. (Conversely, if you are scared, then don't open it - I'm not telling you to forgo caution for bravado...)

To answer the question: the best thing I've fund for cleaning the plastic bits of Macs is Sunlight dishwashing liquid in warm water. I fill up the bath with warm water and a few squirts of Sunlight, leave the plastic bits to soak for 15 mins or so, then just wipe them clean. This works for me for cigarette tar and muck, skin oils, dirt, etc.
posted by Pinback at 4:52 PM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's really difficult to get into a G3 iMac to clean it - I mean, really difficult. I wouldn't bother.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:13 PM on April 28, 2008

I have done this, with a G3 iMac (Tangerine) that was in a friends' house for a few years - and all of the people who used it were heavy smokers.

The steps:

Remove all electronics from the plastic shell. This is simple, but takes a while. Apple didn't do anything like heat-molding things into the shell.

Take all of the plastic pieces and put them in your dishwasher. Seriously. Keep the heat drying cycle off.

You can do this with the keyboard too, if you care to take all of the keycaps off and put them in a mesh bag.

Things which can't be put in the dishwasher can be cleaned in a few ways:

The CRT and electronics boards: I used an electronics vacuum with an anti-static brush fitting to suck up all of the gunky dust.

The flat metal surfaces and external wires (mouse, keyboard, etc): I used paper towels dampened with 90% isopropyl alcohol.

Wait until all of the components are dry before re-assembling.
posted by tomierna at 8:05 AM on April 29, 2008

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