How to Clean a Laptop Before Selling It

by Douglas Hassell

It happens to many of us; you've bought a brand new laptop and your old laptop is no longer needed. Might as well get a few bucks for it, right? Before you let go of that old laptop, making it seem a bit more "like new" might bring in a little more money. Also, maybe there are still old files or data lingering on the hard drive. Would you give that data to a stranger? This guide will not only help you make your laptop more attractive to potential buyers, it will also give you the peace of mind in knowing that you're not giving away your private information along with it. NOTE: This information refers to PC-based laptop/notebook systems and does not include Apple Computer devices, such as MacBook or iBook. For assistance with these types of portable computers, contact Apple Computer customer service.

Physically Cleaning the Laptop - Make It Shine

Spray the surface cleaner directly onto a paper towel until it is damp, but not so wet that the paper towel will drip. Place the dampened paper towel on the opened laptop, covering the entire keyboard. If the laptop has a touch-pad, try to cover that as well; just make sure that the keyboard is completely covered by the damp paper towel.

Let the damp paper towel sit for at least ten minutes. Spray or pour a small amount of surface cleaner into a plastic container. Dip the cotton swabs in the cleaner, moistening the ends thoroughly.

Remove the paper towel from the keyboard. The surface cleaner vapors should have softened any "crust" on the keys. Use the cotton swabs to firmly dig in between the keys to remove the "gunk" before it dries again.

Finish by wiping down the rest of the case and the screen; use the swabs to get into small gaps. Let the laptop dry for at least one hour.

Scrub All Data from the Laptop

Obtain a disk-wipe utility---some suggestions can be found in the Resources section---or use one that you're already comfortable with. It must be a utility that can boot from an external device, NOT the hard drive. Burn a boot-able CD or make a boot device from a USB "key" or "thumb drive." An external floppy drive may be needed in some situations.

Boot the laptop from the CD, USB key or floppy that you made with the disk-wipe utility. (You will have a chance to view the installed drive(s) before anything is erased.)

For most laptops, there is only one hard drive. If the utility detects more than one drive, it may be detecting the USB key or external floppy. Be careful, and make sure you are wiping the correct drive. The hard disk will usually show the name of the manufacturer; such as Western Digital, Hitachi, Seagate, Maxtor, Samsung or IBM.

Start the disk-wipe utility and allow it to finish. (This can take a while; sometimes an hour or more.)

The utility should show a clear message when it is done. Take note of whether the utility encountered an error. It's possible for a hard disk to have errors, even when the system seemed to be running perfectly before. If many errors occurred, you may want to replace the hard drive before trying to sell the laptop.


  • check Work on a dry indoor surface, like a table, and place a bath towel underneath the computer to keep the surface dry. If any cleaning solvents should drip through the laptop, the towel will absorb them. Whenever possible, make complete back-ups of your data before using any utility that can permanently erase data.


  • close ALWAYS unplug electronic equipment and remove all power sources before cleaning and/or disassembling. NEVER spray surface-cleaner directly on equipment; cleaning fluid can seep through very small gaps and may reach exposed circuits, causing them to short.

Items you will need

About the Author

Douglas Hassell has been writing throughout a career that spans more than 20 years, specializing in step-by-step instructions and turning complex concepts into simple language. He holds an Associate of applied science in graphic design and multimedia.