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There'a a belief that domestic chemicals (like washing powder many people use for washing the floor) and tobacco smoke can cause harm to computer equipment. Hard disks are believed to be especially vulnerable.

How real is the threat? Are there any researches/statistics that could help to assess the influence of domestic chemicals and tobacco smoke on computer equipment lifetime?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Any particulate matter is a low-level threat to computers and other electrical devices, but hard disks are among the least susceptible components because they are sealed units.

The most common and most obvious risk is that fans get gunked up and heat-sinks get coated, both of which means cooling components is harder... and warmer components have a shortened life on average.

In extreme or unusual cases, you might find that certain materials could produce shorts (say, between pins in RAM or PCI(e) card slots).

And certain chemicals, especially when combined with moisture in the air can have a corrosive effect on certain components.

For industrial environments, there are ruggedised PCs available or kiosks to house standard PCs. In the home, amke sure your PC intakes have filters and clean them regularly, and use compressed air sprays to keep fans and heat-sinks and other components dust-free. And vacuum outside regularly too!

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Hard disks are sealed components - wrong. They need air flow to work. Yes, they have air filters that should stop the large smoke particles, but they are not completely isolated from the environment. – Ivan Petrushev Apr 19 '10 at 16:41
Hard disks are regarded as sealed because the breather holes have a micron filter which stops any impurities. If you are operating in an environment that will perish the filter, you have more pressing problems than the hard disk. My point still stands. – CJM Apr 19 '10 at 20:13

From a purely anecdotal perspective, most of my equipment has had to deal with excessive amounts of tobacco smoke, as I'm a cigar smoker. The worst I've seen happen is some old-school CRTs getting nicotine stains behind the glass -- that was when I was a kid, and my father would literally blow cigarette smoke right at the monitor. My MacBook, iPod, iPhone and the external monitor I use all seem OK so far, and they get truly excessive amounts in very close proximity. (I rarely have a stogie without simultaneously using the laptop.)

Of course, the particulates are (as CJM notes) a low-level threat to anything electronic, but you're far more likely to damage a DSLR camera with it than a modern computer.

For most PCs, open the case and dust it out every now and again with a can of compressed air. Try not to blow smoke directly at the screen. Take care of your kit and it will take care of you. Done and done.

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protected by Daniel Beck Nov 16 '12 at 14:35

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