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How to remove and apply thermal paste on a CPU

Boost your CPU's performance! Learn to clean off and reapply thermal paste for optimal heat management.

Published onJune 5, 2023

In the realm of computer hardware, thermal paste plays a pivotal role in maintaining the proper temperature of the Central Processing Unit (CPU). Its primary function is to optimize heat transfer from the CPU to the cooler by filling in microscopic air gaps. However, this paste can degrade over time, resulting in less effective cooling. Thus knowing how to properly clean, remove and reapply thermal paste is a skill essential to the longevity and performance of your CPU. We’ll walk you through these two crucial processes step-by-step.


To clean the thermal paste off a CPU, unmount the cooler and gently wipe off the old paste using a soft cloth or a coffee filter soaked in high-percentage isopropyl alcohol. To apply the new paste, put a pea-sized amount on the center of the CPU's surface, then reattach the cooler, which will spread the paste evenly.


How to clean thermal paste off a CPU

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to safely remove the thermal paste from a CPU:

  1. Safety First: Before starting, ensure your workstation is static-free to avoid damaging sensitive components. Disconnect the PC from the power source and ground yourself by touching a metal part of the case or using an anti-static wrist strap.
  2. Removing the Cooler: Start by unmounting the cooler from the CPU. This is usually done by unscrewing the cooler from the motherboard. Once done, gently lift it off. If it sticks, slightly twist it to break the thermal paste seal.
  3. Wiping off the Old Paste: Using a lint-free cloth or a coffee filter, gently wipe off the visible thermal paste from the CPU and the cooler’s base. Be cautious not to apply too much pressure or scrape the surfaces.
  4. Final Cleaning: Moisten a new cloth or coffee filter with high-percentage isopropyl alcohol (90% or higher) and carefully clean off the remaining paste from the CPU and cooler. This will remove any residual paste and ensure a clean surface for the new application.
  5. Dry the Components: Allow the CPU and cooler to air dry completely. The alcohol should evaporate quickly, leaving the components clean and ready for the new thermal paste.

How to apply new thermal paste on a CPU

Here are the steps to properly apply new thermal paste to a CPU:

  1. Applying the Paste: After ensuring the CPU and cooler are clean and dry, apply a pea-sized dot of thermal paste to the center of the CPU.
  2. Spreading the Paste (Optional): Some prefer to manually spread the paste with a clean, flat tool (like a credit card). However, this step is optional as the pressure from reattaching the cooler will spread the paste evenly over the CPU.
  3. Reattaching the Cooler: Carefully reposition the cooler over the CPU, aligning the screws with their corresponding holes. Apply gentle and even pressure when screwing it back in. This will ensure the paste is spread evenly.
  4. Final Check: Once installed, ensure the cooler is securely mounted and doesn’t move. Reconnect any cables disconnected during the process.

Remember, the goal of applying thermal paste is to facilitate better heat conduction, and using the right amount is key. Too little, and you won’t cover the entire CPU; too much, and it can overflow and potentially cause damage.


Yes, over time, the thermal paste can degrade, reducing its effectiveness. Therefore, it’s advisable to clean off the old paste and apply new every few years or whenever you’re replacing your CPU cooler.

Yes, you can use 70% isopropyl alcohol to clean thermal paste off a CPU, but it’s not ideal. Higher concentrations (90% or more) evaporate faster and do a better job removing thermal paste.

Hardened thermal paste can be carefully scraped off with a plastic tool such as a credit card. Then, use a soft cloth or coffee filter moistened with high-percentage isopropyl alcohol to remove any remaining residue.

Yes, 90% isopropyl alcohol is ideal for removing thermal paste. It breaks down the paste and evaporates quickly, leaving no residue.

Yes, high-percentage isopropyl alcohol is safe and effective for removing thermal paste. It evaporates quickly and doesn’t leave a residue. However, it’s essential to let the CPU dry completely before applying new paste or turning on your computer.

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