What should I use for removing thermal paste: acetone or isopropyl alcohol? Some say acetone is the best thing for the task, others say it's a no-no. Who should I believe?

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    As a general rule of thumb, don't use acetone for anything unless you're sure you know what you're doing. It is strong stuff. – Pops Apr 6 '11 at 17:22
  • Does it melt the mobo? – Aki Apr 6 '11 at 17:32
  • It will dissolve most plastics it comes in contact with. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Apr 6 '11 at 17:36
  • I use acetone, but you do need to be careful. It's generally the best tool for the job but I don't recommend it to a novice. (Note that, having said that, I've never seen small amounts damage a PCB.) – Shinrai Apr 6 '11 at 17:54
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    @paradroid - Hence my not actually suggesting it for the uninitiated. Isopropyl alcohol won't take off most pastes as well though, in my experience. – Shinrai Apr 6 '11 at 18:55

From many years of removing thermal paste I've found my favorite to be WD-40, and then isopropyl for cleaning up the oils left on the mating surfaces by the WD-40.

Just use paper towel(s) and/or cotton swabs to apply/wipe.

As Lord Torgamus says in his comment, acetone is dangerous, where as WD-40 is pretty safe stuff and it worked WAY better than I expected when I first tried it. :)

For any electronic cleaning try to use 90%+ isopropyl, and not the cheap 'rubbing alcohol' stuff you get at the drug store. :)

If you're dealing with thermal epoxy, then you will probably have to go with acetone. If you're wondering if you're dealing with paste or epoxy, then it's probably paste becasue epoxy gets hard like a rock and usually prevents seperation without destruction. :)

Hope that helps...

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  • The problem with WD40 is A: The smell and B: Don't get it on your hands or you'll make a mess! It does work great though. – Shinrai Apr 6 '11 at 17:53
  • @Shinrai - I have a father who's a mechanic so I've got deep-rooted, happy memories triggered by the smell of WD-40. ;) And although it can be a little messy, it doesn't eat your skin. But, eventhough it smells/irritates WAY less than acetone, it should still (like most spray chemicals) be used with reasonable ventilation. :) – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Apr 6 '11 at 18:01
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    I'd argue that it smells WORSE, but then my mother owned a nail salon when I was a child...ahaha – Shinrai Apr 6 '11 at 18:55
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    @Shinrai - Oh the intricacies of nasal-induced perceptions and memories! Human brain, will you ever be understood? :) – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Apr 6 '11 at 18:58
  • Can confirm WD-40 works well. I accidentally got some thermal paste on my case and isopropyl just spread it but WD-40 cleaned it right off. – Jesse Jan 10 '18 at 2:09

Both will work, however, as Lord Torgamus commented, acetone is quite strong. Try isopropyl alcohol first, if there's still remnants that you really can't remove, upgrade to acetone.

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"NEVER use any petroleum based cleaners (WD-40, and many automotive degreasers) on the surface of a metal cap or heatsink. The oil, which is engineered to not evaporate, will fill the microscopic valleys in the metal and significantly reduce the effectiveness of any subsequently applied thermal compound. " -this is from Arctic Silver support - http://www.arcticsilver.com/pdf/appmeth/int/vl/intel_app_method_vertical_line_v1.1.pdf

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    However, it does recommend WD-40 for cleaning the CPU ceramic package later in the same document. – YLearn Dec 7 '13 at 19:58
  • Heh, I've come across this way too many times. Don't use this product, it will cause the world to come to an end -- but use it do do the very thing previously warned against. – Fiasco Labs Dec 7 '13 at 20:16

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