Maybe you’ve set aside your stash of pandemic disinfectant wipes, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your tech. Germs, dirt, grime, and dust settle into every nook and cranny. If you don’t do something about it, you’ll shorten your gadget’s useful life.
Before you turn to the outside, your tech could probably use a good internal cleanup.
Now, let’s grab some supplies and start cleaning.
You probably have at least a few smudged screens sitting around. Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, eReader, TV, or monitor, use a microfiber cloth. They’re soft and won’t scratch your screens. Skip scratchy paper towels.
Most dirt and debris will wipe away easily with a dry cloth. For stubborn smudges and fingerprints, lightly dampen the cloth with distilled water. Never pour or spray water directly onto a screen, and stay away from glass cleaner too. Many brands contain ammonia which can ruin the screen’s surface.
You can use a mixture of water in a 1-to-1 ratio with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol for a deeper clean. Alternatively, you can buy a specialty electronics cleaner.
Pro Tip: I use pre-moistened electronics wipes. I buy a big pack from Care Touch. They’re great on smaller screens like phones, tablets, and laptops. For TVs and bigger monitors, these wipes from Weiman work like a charm.
Your keyboard is a mess. It’s shocking how much junk settles in between the keys and on the keys.
To get started, disconnect your keyboard if it’s plugged into the computer. If it’s wireless, switch it off. For laptop keyboards, shut the device down and disconnect the power cord. If the battery is accessible and easy to remove, do that as well.
Grime build-up and loose dust particles go deeper than just the top of the keys. This is when a can of compressed air is handy. Try Blow-Off, which is a compressed air duster for keyboards. If you don’t have any, a piece of tape held tautly or the sticky side of a Post-it note works wonders for grabbing stuck-on dust.
Next, gently wipe the tops of the keys and the palm rest with a microfiber cloth or a disinfectant wipe. Skip wipes with bleach or any other harsh chemicals, as they can ruin the keys. Don’t plug your keyboard back in or power it up until it’s fully dry. A little dampness can cause big problems and permanently ruin electronic devices once power is flowing.
Pro Tip: If you have a standard computer plastic keyboard that’s not wireless, throw it in the dishwasher. Don’t use any soap or any heated setting. You want rinse only. Give it a few days to dry before using it.
You touch your computer’s mouse all day long, and it picks up grease, dirt, and grime from your fingers. You know things are bad if your scroll wheel doesn’t spin easily.
Like with your keyboard, disconnect it from your computer and take out the batteries. If it’s wireless, flip it over, turn it off and take out the batteries.
Turn the mouse upside down and continuously roll the wheel to loosen anything that may be stuck inside, then grab an alcohol wipe or microfiber cloth moistened with electronics cleaner.
Pro Tip: Toothpicks and cotton swabs are your friends. You can use a toothpick to scrape away the gunk and debris stuck to your mouse. Don’t forget about the bottom.
Your computer, TV, and other gear have small ports that collect dust and dirt, too. You can try cotton scabs, but they may leave fuzz and lint. Your best bet is a phone cleaning kit. For less than $10, you get 40 anti-static foam swaps in different sizes, plus brushes, microfiber cloths and dust plugs.
If you have it around, compressed air works great here, too.
Pro Tip: Take extra care with ports. Metal knives or safety pins can leave scratches. Even toothpicks can snap off, so tread lightly. Stick with plastic (like dental floss picks) or foam. Take your time and work carefully, so you don’t inadvertently bend or snap any connections.
Wireless earbuds have a special kind of mess: Dirt, grease, and earwax. Gross, I know. Luckily, we can use some of the same tricks and materials. Wipe down the cord and body of each earbud with a slightly damp microfiber cloth or a wipe. Toothpicks are great for scraping away debris, but you need to steer clear of the speakers.
Pro Tip: Here’s a trick that went viral on TikTok. Remember BluTack? It’s reusable adhesive you probably used to hang up posters back in the day. Grab a little ball of it, and press that into your earbud speakers. Pull it away, and all the junk inside will come off with it.
How to help family members embrace unfamiliar technology — at any age
Do all your Zoom chats with Mom these days start with, “You’re on mute. The button’s lower left”?
If so, you’re part of an ever-growing group trying to help their less tech-savvy loved ones zip into Zoom, hop onto Hulu and master gadgets from a greater distance than usual thanks to the global pandemic.
Chances are, you found it a tiny bit frustrating to spend hours talking through something that you easily could have done in seconds.
I say this from my own experience. Early in the pandemic, I talked my 81-year-old mother through installing and using Zoom so she could join in a weekly familywide chat.
But the real challenge came with helping her set up an Apple TV from 3,000 miles away.
What would’ve taken five minutes in person instead required a week’s worth of phone calls and ultimately, a FaceTime encounter with the back of her TV.
The good news is that getting a Boomer on Zoom can not only be stress-free, but also life-enriching and empowering, if you take the right approach.
Here are some things to keep in mind for an effective remote tech help strategy.
“Younger generations have been taught to fudge around (with technology) and hack,” says Lisa M. Cini, author of “Boom: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology, So That You Can Preserve Your Independent Lifestyle & Thrive.”
“This generation was not taught that at all. When you don’t comprehend it, you get scared you’ll break it,” she says.
Cini says the result is the fear that an errant button push will render the piece of technology totally useless. That’s why it’s important to underscore often that nothing they do to today’s tech gadgets will result in irreversible damage.
That’s echoed by Alex Glazebrook, director of operations for Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), a nonprofit that helps seniors make the most of the technology around them.
“(Telling them) ‘You can’t break it’ is where we start from,” he says.
“We try to really calm people’s nerves and try to make them feel like they’re in control, that they can do this.”
Take it step by step
When it comes to helping the less tech-savvy set explore a new gadget or service, both Glazebrook and Cini liken it to learning a foreign language — both literally and figuratively.
“If you think of it as a language, once (you) start talking through things you’ll realize there are a lot of little things we take for granted as a common language that are not,” Cini says.
“Simple things like ‘swipe left,’ ‘swipe right’ or ‘click on the hamburger (icon)’ that they don’t even have the capacity to understand.”
Glazebrook says approaching new technology like foreign-language learning is helpful because both are about adding to a knowledge base piece by piece over time.
“When you learn a language, it builds,” he says. “You learn nouns, you learn verbs, conjugation and then sentence structure, you build complexity.”
Make a manual
Cini says creating an easy-to-follow guide complete with photos, pointer arrows and clear, detailed instructions (even as basic as “press the enter button”) can go a long way toward flattening the learning curve and empowering people.
“If you can create a good set of step-by-step instructions, with visuals, and print it out and maybe even laminate it for them, they’ll be able to refer to it and not have to worry about remembering all the steps,” she says.
What if you lack the skills to be an IT department from afar?
That’s where organizations like OATS come in. Glazebrook says OATS’ national Senior Planet hotline is staffed with live bodies offering one-on-one technology help, completely free of charge, “whether you need to get on your first Zoom or download your Capital One banking app because you can’t go to the branch anymore and you need to deposit a check,” Glazebrook says.
Glazebrook says that at the beginning of the pandemic, the most requested assistance was with connecting via video.
Cini points out that of all the tech skills to master, Zoom has an additional upside.
“Video chats are really important,” she says. “You can see their facial expressions, you can see if they’ve lost weight.”
“And we know, scientifically, it’s very hard not to smile when someone else is smiling,” she adds. “So we have the ability to increase somebody else’s happiness just by doing a (video chat) instead of a phone call.”