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How Often Should Thermal Paste Be Changed? [ANSWERED]

    ✅ Fact Checked
    Updated on October 6, 2022
    John Chad, Bachelor Computer Science Degree & Computer Engineering.
    Written by
    John Chad, Bachelor Degree in Computer Science & Computer Engineering.
    Russel Collins
    Fact Checked by
    Russel Collins
    John is a certified IT & Computer Engineer with a Bachelors Degree. He has worked for a International Insurance Company in the IT department before deciding to become a full time blogger to help his readers. Holds a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science from Stanford University.

    Thermal paste is often overlooked and it can be a lifesaver for most desktop builds to avoid running into overheating issues, however, knowing when & how to change your thermal paste is a whole different issue, we will do our best to explain to you everything regarding this subject and hopefully, by the end of this article you won’t have any questions or doubts!

    One part that doesn’t get nearly as much love as others (and which can actually cause more harm over time), however, is the thermal paste. This substance is responsible for transferring heat away from processor cores and into heatsinks, where they eventually dissipate via fans.

    Without proper ventilation, these tiny tubes become clogged and begin leaking. Once they fill up with dirt, dust, bits of hair, lint, thermal compound residue, and any number of other crap, they stop doing their job properly. They also become less efficient at conducting heat because now they have stuff jammed inside them. Eventually, temperatures build up so high that either some component will fail outright or meltdown completely.

    That said, thermal compounds aren’t perfect. They degrade over time, requiring new ones every few years.

    But why wait around for a problem to occur when you could probably prevent it from happening altogether? Keep reading to find out.

    How Often Should Thermal Paste Be Changed?

    We mentioned earlier that thermal compounds break down over time. As such, your best bet for maintaining optimal performance is by switching out the old tube before it becomes too dirty to handle safely. And since it tends to form on both sides of the core-heatsink interface, cleaning it off is no easy feat.

    There are several ways to remove the dried paste, including using canned air instead of compressed air, rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs, toothbrushes, paper towels, Q-tips, needle files, sponges, even paintbrushes, and various kinds of abrasive powders.

    For maximum effectiveness, use multiple approaches and tools. Just make sure whatever method you choose won’t damage the rest of your hardware.
    For example, dry thermal compounds can sometimes be removed easier by soaking the entire assembly overnight in denatured alcohol followed by scrubbing with a soft brush the next day. Of course, you may want to take extra care here since getting alcohol everywhere might ruin your electronics and create a mess. Alternatively, you could try making your own homemade cleaner with white vinegar, water, dish soap, salt, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and distilled water. Or you could simply clean it with a damp microfiber cloth, gentle nail polish remover, or even plain tap water.

    The point is, when it comes to thermal compound removal, prevention really does work better than cure. To avoid having to deal with messy spills, stains, and general cleanup later, it’s usually good practice to swap out the thermal paste yourself whenever possible.

    The Best Ways to Replace Old Thermal Paste

    Do you know how people say that size matters? Well, when it comes to choosing a replacement thermal compound, size definitely makes a difference. After all, it takes a fair amount of material to cover the surface area between a core and a heatsink.

    A little bit of thermal compound costs far less than lots of it. Plus, even though newer generations of processors tend to feature smaller heatsinks and cores, older chips require larger amounts of paste due to their greater overall surface areas.

    So what happens when you buy too much of it? Does it end up wasted? Not necessarily. Most manufacturers package large quantities together along with sample packs, trial kits, and coupons. Then they sell the excess product back to consumers who didn’t need it after testing purposes. Some retailers offer free shipping on refills, and many companies like SuperBiiz and Arctic Silver sell pre-packaged tubes of thermal paste online for cheap.

    These days, finding quality thermal paste for decent prices isn’t difficult.

    But assuming you don’t fall into one of those categories, how do you select the right kind of thermal compound? Here are two popular options worth looking at.

    First up, Arctic silver 577RX. This particular formulation contains silica gel, zinc oxide, boron nitride, and aluminum acetyls. On top of being very affordable, it offers great value because it provides excellent conductivity, holds up well under extreme conditions, and helps protect against moisture and oxidation. Also, unlike many competing products, Arctic silver 577RX stays flexible within temperature ranges ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius). Finally, Arctic silver 577RX sticks easily to surfaces, making it ideal for small jobs and tight spaces.

    Arctic silver 616RT features a similar composition except with additional zirconia powder to improve stability. Like arctic silver 577RX, it also performs well within operating temperatures, lasting roughly twice as long as competitors. Unlike its competitor, Arctic silver 616RT lasts longer across a wider range of temperatures. Still, neither option beats generic types which typically cost less money and contain fewer ingredients.

    What Happens If You Use Too Much Thermal Paste

    Let’s face it; thermal paste is pretty handy to have around. Whether used correctly or incorrectly, it can help prolong the longevity of your system. Unfortunately, if you decide to use way too much of it, bad things happen, that’s why we recommend you to read our guide on how many grams of thermal compound you should put in your CPU.

    Overloading thermal paste onto a heatsink causes it to flow freely and spread uncontrollably. Instead of flowing evenly throughout the gap, it pools in certain spots and acts as insulation, reducing transmission efficiency. Worst of all, this leads to uneven distribution of heat which results in higher internal temperatures. Before long, overheating destroys CPUs, graphics cards, RAM modules, storage devices, and basically anything else connected to the motherboard. Even worse, a melted thermal paste can block airflow and interfere with cooling mechanisms. In case of severe cases, it can also lead to fire hazards or electrical shorts.

    To avoid potential disaster, only apply a light coating of thermal compound and leave room for expansion. Don’t worry about leaving big gaps between the core and heatsink. Any leftover space allows for increased airflow and prevents the buildup of static electricity. Also, remember that liquid thermal paste dries slower compared to solid varieties. Be patient, allow ample curing time, and wipe off any stray particles with a towel. Lastly, ensure that you place the fresh paste in the correct orientation. The active side must face toward the heatsink. Otherwise, you’ll risk smearing the old paste further down the channel.

    In conclusion, thermal paste remains one of the most critical pieces of equipment in a computer’s lifespan. Keeping it clean and functioning optimally requires regular maintenance. Never hesitate to replace it when necessary.

    With a little luck, we’ve helped make your decision process a lot simpler.