Wipe Right


Q: This may sound sort of trivial, but what’s the best way to clean my laptop screen? I was all set to Windex it like a TV, but then I started thinking, “Gee, that screen looks awfully flimsy.”

Huzzah for your worrywart instincts, as liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) are easy to ruin. An errant finger or too harsh cleanser will spell doom for your notebook’s screen, and cost you an earl’s ransom—replacement LCDs can run over $2,000, depending on the opulence of your machine. There are tons of specialized products that’ll keep you safely grime-free, as well as some cheapo home remedies if you’re the budget-conscious sort. Those going the latter route, though, better tread lightly.

Anyone who’s suffered through the heartache of a broken Casio watch knows LCDs don’t respond well to excessive pressure. That’s especially true of laptop screens, which typically lack protective glass covers. So the first axiom of LCD care is never, ever touch one. Not only will your dermal oils leave smudges—even chronic hand washers emit goo—but you risk shorting out the thin film transistors that control the pixels. To paraphrase a line from Ghostbusters, that would be bad. (Budding gearheads who’d like to learn more about LCD construction should check the write-up at

Also dangerous are cleaning solutions full of ammonia or acetone. Everything under your kitchen sink is out, then, as are cleaners intended for cathode-ray-tube monitors, the desktop standard. With laptops, even a light schmear of Windex on the LCD may cause its plastic coating to turn brittle and crack.

Cleansers with alcohol should also be avoided, with the exception of isopropyl alcohol. If you really want a homemade solution, mix three parts distilled (not tap) water with one part pure isopropyl alcohol. Gently apply to the LCD with a soft, non-abrasive cloth, like an eyeglass wipe. (No, a mangled Vision Street Wear T-shirt does not qualify as “non-abrasive,” no matter how recently it was washed.) Reliable sources claim cutting the water with distilled vinegar works just as well, but Mr. Roboto is wary of using cooking ingredients outside the kitchen—a long-ago dalliance with olive-oil shampoo didn’t turn out so swell.

The safest move is to invest in an LCD-only cleaning solution. Mr. Roboto’s usual pick is Kensington’s Screen Guardian ( A four-ounce spray bottle goes for $3.50; big spenders may wish to tack on a 12-pack of lint-free wiping cloths ($3), which can be reused about a dozen times.

Really want to dazzle your pals with your cat-like cleanliness? Learn from the pros and get Klear Screen’s Power Klean Kit ($30 from Designed for chip-making “clean rooms,” the kit is stocked with pre-soaked “singles,” a polishing cloth, and aerosol spray. The real treats here are the all-in-one wipes, which can be ordered separately for $10 per dozen. Klear Screen claims frequent applications will guard your LCD against scratches, a source of concern for travelers; a rogue paper clip bouncing around a laptop bag can cause ugly, ugly things to happen.

Mr. Roboto’s not saying Klear Screen’s chemicals are LCD versions of Scotchgard. No matter how much cleaner you use, a few too many hours in oppressive heat or bitter cold could slash your screen’s longevity. And excessive exposure to ultraviolet light is an LCD death sentence. Treat your LCD like a delicate flower whenever possible, and it’ll reward you with up to 20 years of faithful service. By which time, of course, the robots will have triumphed, and a failing laptop screen will be the least of your concerns.

Need a dose of geek levity to lighten the wartime mood? Then enjoy a snicker at the expense of Department of Justice bigwig John G. Malcolm. On March 13, the deputy assistant attorney general suggested to a House subcommittee that peer-to-peer networks fund organized crime, which in turn funds terrorists. When pressed for examples, however, Malcolm couldn’t cite any specifics, adding only that “it would surprise me greatly if the number were not large.” Perhaps Mr. Roboto’s grown a bit jaded over the past 18 months, but is “LimpBizkitFan69” on KaZaA really an Al Qaeda sleeper?