Upgrading any PC components can occasionally be a hassle, but what most PC builders still struggle a lot with is anything related to the thermal paste and heatsink. With how easier the rest of PC building is (at least in practice), a crucial step related to a PC’s most central component will inevitably trouble any newer PC builder. Applying paste on the processor and removing it are both steps that could be consequential if gone wrong, which is why research is always encouraged. 

While applying the paste on a processor harbors the risk of the compound reaching beyond the heat spreader, removing it may raise concerns about the material used for it. Processors are very delicate components, and thus cleaning them with anything not known to be used for them typically is inevitably risky.

Isopropyl alcohol is typically used for cleaning CPUs after the thermal paste is taken off, but even this alcohol has a lot of variety, which would understandably raise more questions. 

Yes, 70% isopropyl alcohol can be used for cleaning the CPU. It is even more effective at cleaning than a higher alcohol variety due to water being a better cleaner. The only downside is that the cleaner would take much more time to evaporate than a cleaner with a higher alcohol percentage.

Regardless, if you are willing to wait for more effective cleaning, 70% isopropyl alcohol would do the job for you.  

What is Isopropyl Alcohol? 

Isopropyl alcohol (also known as 2-propanol) is a colorless organic compound from the alcohol compound family. It uses propane, a compound made of natural gases, petroleum, fossil fuels, coal, etc. Propene is one of the results of the breaking down of fossil fuels into component substances during the process of oil refining. 

For making the isopropyl alcohol, the process of hydration is used, which combines propene with water. It is not just a blending of the two substances because the process leads to the components water is made of (hydrogen and oxygen) individually interacting with the components of propene itself, thus creating new chemical bonds, which result in the making of isopropyl alcohol. 

Besides cleaning CPUs and other electronic components, isopropyl alcohol is used for trivial things like rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizers, disinfectants, pharmaceuticals, and other cleaners. 

Isopropyl alcohol for cleaning CPUs is sold in various alcohol percentages, with higher percentages valuing a quicker evaporation of the alcohol and the lower ones prioritizing a slower but more effective cleaning. 

How to Properly Clean CPU with Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is known to clean several electronic components safely, but an excess of anything is terrible, and not implementing enough alcohol could also fail to entirely remove the old paste, which could restrict the cooler from comprehensively improving the CPU’s temperature. 

Therefore, it is essential to be precise with cleaning the processor. Here is how to properly clean your CPU with isopropyl alcohol.

  • Use a paper towel or any lint-free cloth. 
  • Dip the towel/cloth into the isopropyl alcohol (preferably 90% for faster results, but 70% if you can be patient enough). 
  • Remove the paste. Wipe more if the isopropyl alcohol is 90% or higher because it evaporates sooner. 
  • Let the isopropyl alcohol take its time if it is only 70% alcohol.
  • Use the isopropyl alcohol on a cotton swab to clean the remaining thermal paste from the processor’s edges.  
  • Let the alcohol dry on the CPU before applying the new thermal paste. This could take longer with 70% isopropyl alcohol. 

Are There Any Isopropyl Alcohol Alternatives for Cleaning CPU?

Isopropyl alcohol may be the best and the most common cleaning solution for processors. However, in cases where there is no isopropyl alcohol, the processor can still be cleaned with a few alternatives. 

Microfibre cloth alone may clean it to an extent, but that might still leave some of the older paste on the CPU’s heat spreader. Lighter fluid is also known to work, but it is something to be careful with. Many people who do not have isopropyl alcohol also use acetone, which is mainly found in nail polish removers. 

Water alone can be avoided at all costs since it could permanently damage any electrical component. Ethanol is also not very effective and may fail to clean a lot of the paste. Tissue papers must also be avoided because they drop bits and pieces that could get stuck on the CPU’s surface and restrict the cooling solutions from performing at their fullest.

70% Isopropyl Alcohol vs. 90% Isopropyl Alcohol – Which is Better?

Most people and experts agree that a higher alcohol percentage is the better CPU cleaning option. Therefore, 90% isopropyl alcohol is the most preferred variation for cleaning processors. 

The most obvious reason for people preferring the 90% variation, as discussed above, is that it does not take much time to dry and evaporate. A 70% isopropyl alcohol may clean more bits of the processor’s heat spreader, but even the 90% variation tends enough not to hinder the CPU cooler’s performance. 

Not to forget the risks associated with water, a lot more of which consists of the 70% variation of the isopropyl alcohol. Both the variations are generally safe, but the 90% variation is preferred not only due to its quicker cleaning but also due to it being less risky. It erases all the paste it needs to, and cleans the surface well enough for the new paste in very little time. 

We hope the article taught you about not only isopropyl alcohol and its variations but also CPU cleaning solutions in general.

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