By: Ross 'Tweakmonster' Wenger, Jun.2002


Most of us who have used thermal pastes for a while now know that between both time, and numerous applications, it can end up spreading from the CPU core to the surrounding areas of the die like a fungus. This left-over residual paste can be quite a task to get cleaned off, to say the least, and will only get worse over time if not removed periodically.


After experimenting with several ways of trying remove this leftover thermal paste easily, I have settled on a quick and painless method that will leave your CPU clean and shiney as new in about a minute or two.


"Why would this matter", you ask? Well, I have two reasons for you:


1) The more popular thermal pastes on the market these days contain Silver particles which aid in heat transfer because Silver is an excellent thermal conductor. The flip side to this coin is the fact that Silver also conducts electricity just as well, and you can imagine what may happen if any of the bridges or interconnects around the CPU core were to get coated with this conductive paste and create an electrical pathway to another bridge or interconnect. Not good any way you look at it.


2) It plain looks like crap when your kick-ass AMD CPU is covered in old, used thermal paste, and it is messy as hell. Always remember.....pretty is faster!


Let's get started. First, gather what we will need:

The cleaner...

The tools

B-12 Chemtool is a brand of carburetor spray cleaner that is available at just about any automotive supply store here in the USA. It evaporates almost immediately when applied, and leaves no residue behind. Perfect for what we want to accomplish!


Other brands of carburetor cleaner would work just as well, but this is one brand I KNOW does an excellent job. Just be sure the brand you decide to use is not one that contains an added lubricant. Some do, and that could not be good. After all, we are trying to completely clean the CPU, not lubricate it!

The picture on the right shows one of my most commonly used and versatile computer cleaning tools.....the Q-tip (also known as a cotton swab). As far as I'm concerned, no tweaker's toolbox is complete without some of these.


Now that we have all that we need to do this, lets find a CPU to clean!


Lets take a look at our patient's current state (An AMD Athlon XP 1800):


Bad shape...


Looking pretty sorry, to say the least. Let's clean it up real quick, shall we?


First, I highly recommend that this process be done outdoors, as carburetor cleaner has a very strong chemical smell that will hang around for hours if you use it inside.


Take a cotton swab, and lightly spray it with the carb cleaner, and then use it to clean the thermal paste off of the CPU. You may need to do this several times to remove all of the unwanted paste. DO NOT let any areas remain wet for more than 5 seconds just to be safe.


If your L1 bridges are connected using the 'pencil trick', trace tape, or even a conductive pen, be careful not to touch them while cleaning because the carb spray will remove them too! However, it will not harm the factory interconnects or resistors, or the die itself. It will not harm the CPU core either.

Don't use too much spray! Use just enough to get the cotton swab wet and allow it to remove the paste.

And that's it. This is what the CPU will look like one minute later when you are done:


Like new!


Much better! This method also works well for cleaning the bottom of heatsinks, and for removing the 'factory' thermal interface material leftovers that we all scrape off anyway when we get them.


It also does a great job of preparing surfaces that you are getting ready to bond together, such as RAMsinks. Just don't use it on any kind of Plastic, as it will melt it. That's how strong this stuff is. It will take the stink off doo-doo. However, it will not harm metal or most other non-porous materials.

I have also successfully used this method on RAM chips, GPU chips, and Athlon XP processors, even though they appear to have a plastic die (see the picture above...).


Got a little bit of thermal adhesive on some memory pins during RAMsink installation???? This stuff will take it off without damaging your PCB or RAM chips. Just don't let any area remain wet with the carb spray for more than 5 seconds, and you should be good. If you use too much, just blow on it and it will evaporate quicker.


Just finished lapping a heatsink and want to be sure all microscopic particles of dirt and grime are removed from your newly mirrored surface before you mount it? This will do the trick.


The possibilities are just about endless.