22

I've got a fan in a laptop that occasionally makes some loud airplane-like noises. It mostly happens about 10 seconds after booting up and lasts for 10-20 seconds.

It also occasionally happens when the computer is running, but very rarely. Interestingly, it does not seem to happen when the processor is being used heavily.

The laptop does not have a discrete graphics card.

The fan is clean.

I'm not sure if the laptop is under warranty, but I trust my own skills much more than I trust the manufacturer (or the shipper).

Before I search for a matching fan and replace it, I thought I would see if it is safe to try any lubricants.

Are there any lubricants that are safe to use inside a laptop?

I don't want a fire or anything that will splatter and cause conductivity issues within the circuitry.

  • 3
    They suggest or a specific one or a sewing machine oil. Few ;-) you do not want to have oil everywhere. Give it a look here too... or on other of the tons link you can find... [ or here...] – Hastur Dec 2 '15 at 7:49
  • 5
    I've tried them all. The fan fails again in a short period of time. The bearings are worn and lubricants can only hide the problem for a short time. – David Schwartz Dec 2 '15 at 10:58
  • 1
    Which type of fan does your laptop have? – K. Rmth Dec 2 '15 at 11:42
  • 1
    Is there anything wrong with the fan at all or is it just spinning up to full speed when it gets hot (and at startup before the fan control kicks in)? May be that all you need is to clean out any dust. – JamesRyan Dec 2 '15 at 13:48
  • 3
    I don't think this is the type of hardware or product recommendation that would "become outdated quickly" (little fans & lubricants have been around for decades & will be for many more) or be mainly opinion-based (someone somewhere must have tested different lubricants for fans) - why not keep the Q open? – Xen2050 Dec 18 '15 at 22:08
25

If you are hearing noises, it's already way too late. The bearings are worn and allowing the fan to shift its axis slightly, causing rubbing that wears the bearings more. Adding lubricants can make the problem better for a short period of time by filling the space around the worn parts of the bearings, reducing the fan's ability to shift temporarily. But very soon the lubricant will get squeezed out and the fan axis will shift again. Replace the fan.

  • It's fairly safe to add a drop or two of the thickest lubricant you have as far in the fan as you can get it. It will buy you a few weeks, enough time to get a replacement fan. I don't know of any harm a drop or two of lubricant could do, even if it makes its way out of the fan. – David Schwartz Dec 2 '15 at 11:45
  • 4
    Having just gone thru this exercise -- there was a particular batch of Lenovos with fans that wore out relatively early -- I'll vouch for lubrication not being a lasting fix. (I used tri-flo, but any nonconfuctive dry microsphere lube theoretically would be the right thing if the bearings weren't already shot.) I'd also point out that exact-replacement fans aren't slways that exact; first one I got almost worked but the machine would overheat, second from another supplier worked perfectly.Total cost for both, including individual shipping from China, was about $40; not bad. – keshlam Dec 2 '15 at 16:57
  • 3
    The frustrating thing is that I first assumed the noise was coming from the disk... oh well, it was a useful upgrade (to SSD), just an expensive one. – keshlam Dec 2 '15 at 17:00
  • @keshlam +1 on upgrading to an SSD being useful. By far my favorite upgrade to my computer in the last 10 years. Sorry about the fan though. I actually have the same problem but already have an SSD, so I know it's not the drive :) – Matthew Crumley Dec 2 '15 at 18:46
  • I have to disagree with this. I have repaired a handful of laptop fans with lubricant. See my answer below. – Keltari Dec 18 '15 at 23:18
13

One tried and true lubricant is sewing machine oil. Sewing machine oil is designed to work well with parts that move at high speeds, which is exactly what your computer fans are.

What David Schwartz said is mostly correct. By the time a fan is tilted/wearing on bearings, the fan's days are numbered. But if you can catch it quickly, you can prolong the life of the fan for quite a while.

Here's a little tutorial on how to go about it.

It's a bit too long to copy/paste it all over into an SE answer, but here's the gist:

  1. The center of your fan has a sticker. Remove the sticker. When removing the sticker, be sure to be extra careful. You want to place the sticker back on the fan later, so it needs to remain intact.
  2. Underneath the sticker is a little rubber 'plug'. Under the plug is a little metal cylinder (most of which you can't see). This metal cylinder is made of a porous metal.
  3. Drop one and only one drop of oil on the visible part of the cylinder.
  4. Put the plug back in place.
  5. Put the sticker back in place.
  6. After you turn the computer back on and the fan whirrs into life, it might take a little bit of time for the oil to distribute.

Desktop fans are replaced easily enough (they're all pretty cheap), but since you mentioned this is a laptop - which often have unique/hard-to-find components - a replacement might not be feasible. So sewing machine oil might be your best bet.

  • This is the answer: sewing machine oil. Being very low on funds as a young man has taught me how one may prolong the life of many things. Now I would simply replace the fan, but my money and my time are mine to spend how I wish. – Aaron Hall Dec 2 '15 at 16:58
  • 1
    It should be noted that there is nothing in a sewing machine that spins as fast as a laptop fan. This technique may make the fan quieter, but if the oil is even marginally more viscous then it could also slow it down. – user1751825 Dec 3 '15 at 0:28
9

My recommendation would be NOT to add ANY lubricant. The computer fans are designed to be serviceless. ANd you definitely don't want anything dripping anything onto anything inside a computer... There are several possibilities as to what is the cause:

  1. Fan (or fan/heatsink assembly) is not properly screwed in place and what you hear is harmonic resonance.
  2. Computer has been opened and you have a cable that hangs over (or sticks out under) the fan and causes the rattle.
  3. Fan is dying and this is it's swan song.

My bet would be on last one, though. If it happens on start and stop only it means that probably it got overheated or damaged at some point and it has deformed from temperature. Had this issue in laptop once - later fan started to cut out after some time and finally failed completely. Warranty job, though.

EDIT ON LUBRICATION: Any lubricant that would do anything good needs to be sticky (which means viscosity must be high enough), so that it sticks to the fan (duh.), but not too high so it can penetrate to the spot where it's needed. Since fans are somewhat hi-speed, most of the lubricant will get squeezed back out anyway. That means the dust particles and grit have something to stick also. Normally this is happening mostly due to static charge, so it means you can remove any dirt quite easily with airspray. With lubricant you get caking, which can be, after a while, basically only dissolved to get rid of. So WD-40 time (again). ANd after that lubricate again, since WD-40 is not lubricant, but a solvent. Since you end up with most of the lubricant on the outside, and with that speed it will be very fine mist, it will end up inside the heatsink. And thus more caking and more WD-40. That's why I mention viscosity - adequate oils will have low viscosity, which means above process will take hours; with high viscosity oils fan motor will be more strained spinning the fan, causing said motor to overheat... Higher temperature will lower viscosity of the oil, which will cause it to drain faster. And we're in a 'while-then' loop really... There is a reason why in case of high-rpm systems lubrication is applied to sealed components and it's usually grease.

I'm not saying lubrication is a dumb idea (just touching on mildly stupid), but I would see it as an emergency solution only, not normal usage, and with understanding there will be part replacement soon.

The fact that you can doesn't mean you should. Laptop fans are small, high-speed devices. They are designed without any lubrication whatsoever. SO that should give you pause right there. But just to drive the point home - since they're designed that way, there's really not enough space for the lubricant to matter in any reasonable timeframe.

  • 2b. A sticky pad holding a cable in place has ceased to be sticky and the cable droops into the fan. I've seen this on 1 laptop but severakl desktops. It's easy to test for by running the machine upside down. I'mn pretty certain you could pour oil/WD40 all over a motherboard and it would still run fine. It might smell a bit when it warms up but the nothing should get above the operating temperature of typical oils. – Chris H Dec 2 '15 at 13:32
  • I agree that possibility 3. is the most likely, except I would remove the word "slowly". It could stop spinning at any time. – Todd Wilcox Dec 2 '15 at 13:48
  • @ChrisH - WD-40 is not a lubricant. It's a solvent. So this would be a double no-no in laptops. And, as a triple no-no: it is hygroscopic. – AcePL Dec 2 '15 at 17:29
  • @AcePL it may contain a solvent but it's a penetrating lubricant designed mainly for short term use e.g. on stuck parts. Not much actually dissolves in it. Citation needed on "hygroscopic" as well, that wouldn't be a useful property in something designed to drive out water. – Chris H Dec 2 '15 at 17:34
  • 1
    @AcePL getting offtopic here... the WD in the name "WD-40" stands for the phrase "Water Displacement". It means that WD-40 is hydrophobic, not hydroscopic. – uxp Dec 2 '15 at 20:30
6

I had a laptop fan that was noisy. I opened it up and cleaned the axle with some alcohol. I then used a needle dipped with alcohol to clean the slot/shaft/hole/? where the axle goes. There was some dirt in there that caused the axis of the axle to be slightly off. This caused the blades of the fan to graze the case, causing the noise. Then I used some mineral oil on the shaft and used the needle to get some in the hole. It has been running perfectly for 2 years now. FYI, mineral oil is non conductive. Ive fixed several laptop fans with this method.

  • +1 for cleaning before oiling if you can disassemble. It's the same issue with changing the oil in your car--you don't want to just add clean oil to the gunk that is there. – fixer1234 Dec 2 '15 at 21:03
  • Follow up: After lubricating the fan, it has been running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 day a year for 5 years without an issue. All the other answers saying you cannot do it are false. – Keltari Dec 12 '17 at 17:47
  • December 2015 it was 2 years, December 2017 it's 5 years. But anyway, this gives hopes, after I have just watched a video where the guy stressed 3 times that it's only for 1 month. – ZygD Sep 15 '18 at 21:38
  • 1
    @ZygD Im replying to your comment from the very same machine I fixed. Fan is running fine and is still silent. – Keltari Sep 15 '18 at 21:46
2

I can only tell you my experience with an HP Pavilion laptop. Its fan started making noise like its bearing was bad, I looked online for lubrication tips, but read that nothing would likely work, so ordered a replacement fan, which I installed.

Two months later, the replacement fan started making the same noise. I had kept the OEM fan, and figured I had nothing to lose by trying to fix it. I found a youtube video that showed how to take apart the fan to clean its bearing. Because mine was so dirty, I cleaned it by rinsing it in camp stove fuel, after which it spun freely (had not before and was thick with dusty gunk which the fuel removed). I let it dry, then put it together and it seemed to work, but soon was making the same loud bad bearing noise.

So, I took it apart and put a tiny bit of silicone grease on the pin that is the axle the fan spins on. There are different viscosities of silicone grease. This one was thinner than the plumber's grease type. I got it from a diving supplies shop, and I believe it is intended for lubricating SCUBA gear O ring seals.

After I put on the silicone grease, I reassembled the fan and installed it. When I booted the laptop a warning displayed that there was a problem with the fan (looked like a BIOS warning).

I took it all apart again and looked at the fan's axle pin. I saw I had put a little too much grease on it, and some of the silicone grease had worked its way out of the axle bearing and to the space between the fan and the housing, where it apparently caused enough drag that it triggered the fan warning.

I cleaned off that bit of grease, and wiped a bit of the grease off the axle, leaving some, and put everything back together.

That was well over a month ago and the fan has worked silently since without more warnings. How long it will last I do not know, but it appears to me that cleaning with solvent and lubricating the axle pin with a tiny amount of relatively low viscosity silicone grease is worth trying to fix a failing / noisy laptop fan.

Update. Here we are two months after making my original post and it is still working flawlessly.

0

If the fan is noisy, it will be due to poor balance, or faulty/worn bearings, and these things cannot be fixed by adding lubricant.

If you trust your technical skills more than the manufacturer, then buy a replacement fan and install it yourself.

To answer your question directly. There is no type of lubricant that could be safely added to a laptop fan. Any attempt to lubricate the fan would likely spread lubricant everything throughout your laptop.

0

I have an old Thinkpad t410. Two month ago its fan stopped working. The problem was contamination. I opened it and detached the rotor from the stator. But after cleaning and putting them together, another problem showed up: Noise! After some searching I found that lubricating it may help. But lubrication was not the answer. After many tries and errors, I found the answer! I put the rotor in the stator when the fan was under voltage! and it's working like the day one with no lubrication or anything else. Maybe it's not the case for every one but it's something that should be considered. I think that when we put things together, the router is not aligned in its natural axis and by imposing voltage to the fan during the assembling process, it will find its natural axis.

-1

Don't, it's shot. Order a new one.

Computer fans typically use sealed fluid dynamic bearings, so it's not possible to lubricate them anyway. You'd just be oiling the windings and magnet, creating a big mess and a dust trap.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.