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Keeping your A/V Gear Clean

If you're the type of person who has a nice A/V system and wants to take good care of it, then cleaning it regularly — and correctly — is part of the equation. Fingerprints and smudges from children or pets, and other air-born particles from air fresheners, can leave annoying, sometimes stubborn marks to clean off your home theater system.

But if you don't know how to properly remove the grime, then you may end up damaging the finish, or even worse, the internal circuitry of some of your gear. Not to mention the dust and dirt that can build up inside of your components, impairing the audio/video performance and even shortening their lifespan. That's why we've come up with a few tips to help you keep your home theater system looking and performing like new.

While you read over our suggestions for each component, keep the following four guidelines in mind:

  • Always turn off (and preferably unplug) components before cleaning them.
  • Never spray cleaners directly on your components. When using cleaners, always apply them to a cloth instead.
  • Don't use furniture polish or wax on your gear. Ever.
  • Check your owner's manuals for cleaning instructions — the manufacturer's suggestions are often very helpful (and if they run counter to any of our suggestions, by all means follow the manual).
Taking care of your TV with dry cloths, soft brushes, or approved cleaning solutions, like the ones in this Sanus ELM101 kit, makes a big difference in picture quality.

Cleaning your television

Let's start with your TV. You have to be especially careful when cleaning the screen on an LCD. The thin, plastic coating can be easily damaged by normal household or glass cleaners, and leave smears and discoloring on the screen. To clean an LCD, plasma, or rear-projection TV:

  1. Turn the television off before cleaning it; you may want to unplug it.
  2. Use a soft, dry cloth to wipe the screen. Because LCD screens have a special coating that can suffer from too much wiping, try to keep screen contact to a minimum. Avoid using a damp cloth. (Never use alcohol, benzine, or thinner to clean the screen.)
  3. To clean a non-LCD rear-projection TV's screen, you can follow the directions above using a cloth dampened with water.
  4. The other portions of the television may be cleaned using a soft dry cloth, or, in the case of stubborn soiling, a cotton cloth dampened with water or a mild cleaner. Afterward, wipe the chassis again with a dry cloth.

As you can see, for television cleaning, the bottom line is simplicity. Wipe your TV down gently, and use the simplest possible agents (water or a non-alcohol cleaner) when absolutely necessary.

Cleaning%20componentsA clean, dry paintbrush is a great way to dust small buttons and knobs without changing settings.

Cleaning components: Blu-ray and DVD players, receivers, etc.

Next to TVs, these units may be the dustiest of all. They usually sit in a stack, with dust accumulating around and under them. Even those of us who conscientiously wipe them down usually leave the buttons largely untouched, and the spaces underneath and to the sides of them undusted. And the cables behind them? A breeding-ground for dust bunnies.

Here's the problem: these components usually have a lot of venting to keep them cool. That venting is designed to let air circulate — but it also lets dust circulate, and dust, once it gets inside the guts of your gear, isn't coming out again.

Ideally, of course, your gear is tucked away inside an A/V cabinet, where its exposure to dust, pet hair, or direct sunlight is limited. Realistically, however, a lot of people have their gear on open-sided shelves or even sitting directly on the floor. And even those of us who do have their components closed up know that dust gets into those cabinets and piles up.

The solution? Frequent attention to keeping those components neat and tidy. Careful cleaning, especially in the case of equipment with an optical laser (like a Blu-ray or DVD player), is likely to prolong your gear's life.

Cleaning the chassis:

  1. Use a soft cotton cloth. A light spray of glass cleaner may be applied to the cloth to improve dust adhesion.
  2. Always dust the topmost items first (you'll inevitably knock dust down onto other stuff).
  3. Wipe away from vent holes, to avoid pushing debris into the component's interior.

 

Cleaning the front panel:

  1. A soft, dry paintbrush is a great tool to use in getting buttons and knobs clean; you can dislodge dust without changing settings.
  2. When cleaning the displays, again resort to a soft dry cloth. (A small amount of glass cleaner on the cloth may be used to remove smudges.)
  3. A can of compressed air works well for hard-to-reach places, like the cooling fan behind the vents or the back of the component. Just be sure to watch where you're blowing dust — you don't want to blow it deeper into the chassis.

 

Disc%20cleanerOptical lens cleaners, like this Maxell BRHD-LC lens cleaner, can make dusting inside your components a breeze.

Dust inside a component:
Blu-ray and DVD players often get pet hair or dust inside them, by way of that front tray. There are optical lens cleaner discs that can solve these basic dust and debris problems. These discs use small brushes or tiny holes in the disc that create wind to clean your player's lens and, in some cases, reduce the electrostatic charges that helped the lens gather dust in the first place. (Checking borrowed or rental discs for dirt before you put them in your player is another good habit to maintain.)

Dust inside a component's guts is harder to solve on your own. By taking off the cover, you're very likely to void the warranty. Besides, taking off the cover exposes a component to even more debris. If you have reason to believe that dust inside the component's chassis is a real problem, a repair service is probably your best bet.

Cleaning the cables:
Cleaning cables can be tricky. You don't want to dislodge, or even potentially damage, your connectors. Here are our suggestions:

  1. If there's ample room, use a narrow wand extension on your vacuum cleaner to remove some of the accumulated debris from among your cables.
  2. Again, a small paintbrush can be used to brush dust off of jacks and cables.
  3. Clean gently: you don't want to have nice clean cables that don't work anymore, because you've bent the pins while wiping them off.
  4. In general, you should unplug and replug your cables every year or so to make sure the connection stays clean, and to check for corrosion on poorer quality cables. If you do see any buildup, use a good contact cleaner, like DeoxIT®, to safely clean the connection.

 

Cleaning speakers

Cleaning speakers can be puzzling, because there are so many different parts to clean. On a typical bookshelf speaker, you can have a wood veneer cabinet, a cloth grille, and drivers of any number of different materials inside. Let's start with the cabinet.

Cleaning speakers On the left, you can see a speaker that's gone undusted for a while — look at the dust and pet hair that got caught under the grille. On the right, you can see the improvement after a mere five seconds of light dusting.

Cabinets
Whether your cabinet boasts a real wood veneer, a highly realistic wood-look vinyl, a shiny black laminate finish, or some kind of plastic or metal construction, it's still going to get dusty. Your owner's manual may or may not have instructions on keeping this cabinet clean, but be aware that even with a wood cabinet, you should keep typical furniture polishes or sprays away. Pledge and other wood cleaners that contain silicon can leave residue in the wood grain, and damage the finish. Most manufacturers simply recommend cleaning the cabinet with a soft cloth, perhaps lightly dampened by water.

We also recommend wiping dust away from the grille, toward the back of the speaker. Grilles really pick up dust, and if you bump your dusting cloth against the edge of one, you're likely to see a pale, dusty smudge appear.

Grilles
Most grilles get pretty dusty. Part of their job is to protect your speaker's drivers, and if they're not capturing and holding dust, they're not doing their job. In the case of fabric grilles, you may be able to carefully vacuum them to remove dust. If they are soiled or stained, you may be able to remove them and rinse them gently with warm water, then lay them somewhere safe to dry.

In the case of plastic or metal grilles, removing them from the speaker, then wiping them with a dry or lightly dampened cloth, is probably your best bet. You can also use a can of compressed air, or the upholstery brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner. Some satellite speakers may have non-removable grilles. Try dusting them with a dry cloth. If you're unable to remove dust or soiling that way, use a damp cloth very sparingly — you don't want any moisture to get through to the drivers inside.

Drivers
Dust certainly can build up on drivers, but you should avoid touching your drivers as much as possible. Relying on a clean, dry paintbrush with very soft bristles, or gently using a can of compressed air, is probably a good solution if your drivers have become seriously dusty. If you're not using your grilles, you may want to — this could extend the life of your speakers.

Cleaning gear Compressed-air cans and made-for-electronics sprays can be a quick, easy way to remove dust and dirt from your gear.

Specialty cleaners

Many companies have provided unique cleaning solutions for gear, including chemical cloths designed to wipe down TVs or components, special sprays suitable for use on components, compressed-air anti-dust sprays, and more. Some suggestions:

  • In the case of the chemically treated cloths, most A/V component manufacturers recommend following the instructions on the cloth packaging very closely.
  • If you're trying out a cleaning spray designed for use with A/V components, follow the directions on the bottle closely. Try it on a side panel of a chassis or on the corner of your TV's screen (depending on which component the spray is for) and make sure you're happy with the results before continuing.
  • Compressed-air sprays are very handy for clearing away dust in a hurry. Just remember that dust doesn't magically vanish. If you use such a product to get dust off of front-panel buttons and displays, do be sure to clear dust from under and beside your components periodically as well. And make sure you're not just blowing dust into the vents on your gear.
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