If you’re reading this article, it is probably because you notice your processor heating up and slowing down, and you suspect that the CPU thermal paste has dried out and not transferring heat properly to the heatsink.
Also, if you have a work-from-home laptop that you have been using for several years and you’re looking for a guide on removing the thermal paste, we apologize in advance, as this guide is written for desktop CPUs!
Since you are probably aware of why it is essential to reapply thermal paste onto a processor, we’ll dive straight into how to remove thermal paste off CPU and how to reapply them.
If you still have questions about why it is important to remove old thermal paste and how long new thermal paste will last, we will answer those questions later.
So, get a hot CUP of coffee, and let’s cool down this hot CPU!
How to Remove Thermal Paste Off (And Reapply)?
Here are the steps on how to remove thermal paste off CPU and how to reapply them:
Supplies You Will Need
- A clean and dust-free workspace
- 90% isopropyl alcohol or 90% rubbing alcohol (higher % is better)
- Paper towels, microfiber cloth, or coffee filters
- Cotton swabs
- Latex gloves (Optional)
- Compressed air or brush
- Thermal paste
Step 1: Properly Shutting Down and Unplugging the Computer
Before shutting down your computer, let it run for 15 minutes or more to warm up the old thermal paste so that it will soften and be easier to remove later.
Properly shut down your computer by using the ‘Shut down’ button from the main menu of the home screen. Do not use the Power button to shut down the computer, as that often just puts the computer to sleep.
Unplug the power connector cord from the power supply unit.
If you have sensitive skin, you might want to put on a pair of latex gloves as you might get oils onto your skin.
Step 2: Remove the CPU Cooler (Heatsink)
Open your computer case. While you can technically work on the motherboard directly, it would be a good idea to remove its screws and take the motherboard out of the computer case, so you have more room to work with.
First, remove the fan power connector.
To remove the CPU cooler, start by turning the push-pins 90 degrees in the counterclockwise direction to loosen them.
Pull up the cooler push-pins to remove them from the motherboard.
By now, you should be able to remove the CPU cooler easily. If it is still stuck to the CPU due to the thermal paste, gently twist it back and forth until the heatsink until you can separate it from the CPU. Do not yank it out, as it might damage the CPU pins.
Once it is out, use a brush or compressed air to eliminate the dust on the fans and fins of the cooler. Ensure that the dust does not get onto the motherboard.
Step 2: Remove the CPU
While you can directly clean the thermal paste off with the CPU still attached to the motherboard, it would be better to remove it. This would allow you to clean the CPU more thoroughly and prevents you from accidentally cleaning the thermal paste onto other nearby electronic components.
Firstly, push down the lever next to the CPU and push the lever sideways to unclip it. You would need to apply some force for this.
Lift the loading plate and gently remove the CPU from the socket.
Step 3: Clean Off the Thermal Paste from the CPU
Use a dry paper towel, microfiber cloth, or coffee filter to clean off chunks of the old paste from the CPU. Be careful not to get any thermal paste or dirt onto the underside of the CPU where its pins are.
Next, apply some isopropyl alcohol to a clean side of the paper towel and gently wipe the CPU processor from top to bottom, including the edges, until there is no more visible thermal paste.
Wet a cotton swab with isopropyl alcohol and clean thermal paste off the sides of the CPU, if any.
Use the wet paper towel to clean off any thermal paste on the load plate of the motherboard.
Step 4: Clean Off the Thermal Paste from the CPU cooler
Similarly, with the CPU, use a dry cloth first to wipe chunks of the old thermal paste off the underside of the cooler where the copper core is.
Then apply isopropyl alcohol to a clean side of the paper towel and wipe it until it is clean.
Step 5: Install the CPU
Gently place the CPU back into the motherboard’s socket, and ensure that the CPU is orientated correctly, as it won’t fit if the direction is wrong.
Close the load plate, force the lever down and lock it in the catch.
Leave the CPU and cooler to dry for about an hour.
Step 6: Apply Thermal Paste onto the CPU
Once the CPU and cooler has dried, it is time to apply new thermal paste.
Carefully apply a small pea-sized amount of thermal paste in the center of the CPU. You won’t need to spread the thermal paste around with your finger because you might spread it unevenly and create air pockets that hinder thermal transfer.
Also, applying thermal paste onto the heatsink base is not necessary.
Step 7: Install the CPU cooler
Hold all four ends of the cooler and ensure it is centralized and flat before placing it onto the CPU.
Push all four push-pins down together simultaneously so that the thermal paste is spread evenly.
Turn the push-pins in the clockwise direction to lock them in place and connect the cooler fan pin.
You’re finally done, and all you have to do is reassemble your computer and power it up!
What is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is a thermally conductive compound applied to your CPU to ensure better heat transfer from the integrated heat spreader (IHS) to the cooler by having close-as-possible contact between them. This keeps your CPU cool when the computer is working.
Since microscopic gaps are present between the surfaces of the IHS and the heatsink, the applied thermal paste eliminates these air pockets and ensures efficient thermal transfer between the surfaces.
Without thermal paste, the cooler will not be able to conduct heat away from the CPU fast enough, causing it to overheat very quickly.
Why do I have to Clean Off Old Thermal Paste?
If you own a good gaming computer, I am sure you want to prolong its lifespan by doing some minor maintenance, like removing and applying thermal paste every few years.
This is because, as the thermal paste ages, it starts to dry up and transfer less heat from the CPU to the heatsink. As a result, overheating of the processor will happen a lot faster and slow down its performance.
And if you are curious to know how a processor works, you can check out our article explaining what a CPU is.
How Often do I have to Reapply Thermal Paste?
While some thermal paste manufacturers claim that their thermal paste can last up to 8 years after application, the general rule of thumb is to change the thermal paste after 5 years.
Can I just Use Water to Wipe Off the Thermal Paste?
You should not use water to wipe off thermal paste because it is not a solvent and cannot properly dissolve the thermal paste. Hence it is recommended to use 90%-99% isopropyl alcohol to properly clean off thermal paste that is old.
Other than Isopropyl Alcohol, What Other Household Agents can I use to Remove Thermal Paste?
If you do not have 90% or 99% isopropyl alcohol (which are the best solvents to use), you can consider using the following household agents to remove thermal paste: 70% isopropyl alcohol, Goo Gone, 40% vodka, hand sanitizer or nail polish remover.
What will Happen if I Apply the Wrong Amount of Thermal Paste?
If you apply too little thermal paste, there won’t be enough to cover the entire integrated heat spreader. This could mean 30-40% of the CPU is not in contact with the heatsink. When this happens, the CPU will overheat much more quickly during operation.
If you apply too much thermal paste, it does not affect performance any better or worse as compared to applying the recommended amount. The only difference is that you will get a ‘hot mess’ around your CPU, which you will have to clean up in the future.
Other than Reapplying Thermal Paste, What Other Ways to Improve CPU Cooling?
The best way to improve CPU cooling is to upgrade your current heatsink to a tower fan cooler or an AIO (All-In-One) closed-loop liquid cooler.
Using the stock fan cooler that comes with your purchased computer is pretty basic. There are many better coolers on the market, some with more fins and even dual fans that blow sideways.