Don't use a vacuum cleaner

To be filled by o.e.m. / To be filled by o.e.m.
July 7, 2011 at 19:31:11
Specs: Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, 2.362 GHz / 2047 MB
I almost feel guilty for getting a tad technical in the lounge, but....

I've often seen responses saying never use a vacuum cleaner for cleaning the inside of a computer, usually referring to the possibility of static charge damage. However, I've often pondered about this. If you use a long hose then the motor would be far enough away for its field to be negligible. Similarly I wouldn't have thought that the dust running down the tube would create any appreciable static. It makes me wonder therefore if this is just another urban myth, like so many others repeated on websites with regular monotony.

I do accept that compressed air must be the "no risk" situation but us humans do take risks in about every other walk of life.

The question is, how many folk on here have "personally" zapped a computer by doing this?

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See More: Dont use a vacuum cleaner

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#1
July 8, 2011 at 01:39:43
The danger from vacuum cleaners is not the magnetic field from the motor but the electrostatic discharge from the moving air.

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#2
July 8, 2011 at 01:49:39
For many years I worked on the front desk for a TV repair technician and he used a vacuum cleaner to clean the dust off the TV circuit boards and they are sometimes millimeters thick in dust... never ever did any damage and there is no difference between a mother board and a TV circuit board.

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#3
July 8, 2011 at 04:36:17
Ewen

First of all, just because no damage resulted from the described practice doesn't mean it is safe to use.

To compare older TV circuits with modern motherboards and GPUs is comparing apples and oranges.

I do believe there are vacuums that are safe to use in that manner. As wizard has pointed out above, normal vacuums will build up a static charge in the hose.

ESD is a well documented issue that includes putting ones hand into the case without benefit of a ESD wrist band. We all do it anyway. Usually without harm. Do we dispute the fact that a charge can build up on our body and discharge into the computer?

Personally, I always leave the power cord connected if there is an on/off PSU switch and then touch the case before proceeding further. I also would never think of using a vacuum on a computer.

Besides all the above, a vacuum doesn't do the job nearly as good as compressed air. Especially when it comes to the PSU.


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#4
July 8, 2011 at 08:25:36
I think another issue with the vacuum cleaner is the possibility of scratching the motherboard and thus rendering it nonoperative. This is more likely with metal than plastic but still a risk with plastic as well. I'd also worry about ESD and therefore wouldn't consider using a vacuum cleaner any more than I would an air compressor.

I had a friend who used and air compressor he had in his garage to blow out his computer. When he plugged it in and hit the power button it fried. What he didn't know is that an air compressor also shoots out water with the air. Enough got on his mobo to fry it when he powered it up.

I wouldn't use a vacuum inside a computer so I've never fried one doing so. I also don't know anybody who's done so.

You're welcome to if you want, but I would say this much to you........

"Before doing so, make sure you can afford to replace the mobo if it does get fried or damaged beyond usability."

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

***William Henley***


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#5
July 8, 2011 at 08:39:23
Curt R:

So if you won't a device that sucks are in and you won't use a device that blows air out, what do you use to get the dust out of a CPU case?

OtH:

re: "Personally, I always leave the power cord connected if there is an on/off PSU switch and then touch the case before proceeding further."

I read about and now employ this technique before inserting modules (memory, cards, etc):

Power the unit down. Unplug the power cord, Press the power button.

More often than not the lights will flash and the fan might spin up for a second as any residual power in the PS gets dissipated.

Then I use an ESD wristband to ground myself to the chassis.

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#6
July 8, 2011 at 09:58:54
Just to clarify, I would never advise anyone on these forums to use a vac. Similarly, perhaps, I don't generally advise registry cleaners (although I use the later myself with care and regular registry backups). The main reason for this "do as I say, not what I do" attitude is because I consider it wrong to take risks on other folks computers. What I care to do on my own computers is a different matter because I am the guy that has to sort out the mess (if any).

It's early days but so far the count seems to be zero. Maybe someone will come along and say they've actually proved the point by having a hardware failure immediately after using a vac. That's what I'm particularly interested in hearing but I certainly don't dispute ESD etc.


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#7
July 8, 2011 at 10:04:15
You are supposed to have a drier inline on an air compressor to remove the condensation. There are also drains on all compressors. The water wouldn't be good for running air tools either. I have an 80 gallon stationary compressor and I keep the air dry. If you worry about the moisture in a compressor then buy canned compressed air, which will be dry.

I always recommend to blow out the case with a compressor or canned air.

Some common sense is good too.

Derby, you are absolutely right about discharging the capacitors in the PSU. I was merely pointing out that most people don't take any precautions. I take some, you take more. I don't even own a wrist strap. Not bragging, just stating a fact.



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#8
July 8, 2011 at 12:11:45
OtheHill

I have no wrist straps either. During winter months when the moisture content of the air is low and the indoor RH is also low, I can certainly get sparks when touching anything around the computer. Since footware plays a large part in this, before peering inside a computer I first remove my shoes, then also earth myself by touching a radiator and the computer case (if metal). I then remove the computer mains plug. I've never seen a spark within the computer despite doing this for years. Of-course, there could always be a first time but so far being careful in a general way seems to have worked.


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#9
July 8, 2011 at 13:11:31
Derek.

No argument regarding your precautions, but not seeing a spark doesn't necessarily mean that there wasn't some static discharge.

You may also be aware that ESD can weaken a component without destroying it on the spot.

You could have a memory or CPU failure weeks, months or even years later caused by an ESD event that occurred some time in the past.


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#10
July 8, 2011 at 13:39:27
DerbyDad03

Sure, all agreed.

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#11
July 8, 2011 at 19:09:03
"For many years I worked on the front desk for a TV repair technician and he used a vacuum cleaner to clean the dust off the TV circuit board......there is no difference between a mother board and a TV circuit board."

Ewen, I beg to differ. Most older TV circuit boards had few CMOS IC's or other ESD-sensitive components. About the most dangerous thing there was getting the crap knocked out of you by a flyback transformer or a large capacitor that hadn't discharged. Of course that has now changed with TV's being little more than a "specialized-computer". The danger (as wizard-fred mentions) is from the rapid movement of air (ions) across very static-sensitive components, with no discharge path other than the board or components. Many of them can be destroyed with as little as 30 volts of static charge, and a static discharge isn't felt until about 1500-2000 volts. Also, ESD damage doesn't necessarily show up right away. A circuit can be weakened and not fail until long after the damage is done (as DerbyDad03 mentions). And Derek, FWIW, I have personally seen component-damage (under a microscope) immediately after using a vacuum (in an ESD-training class while working for Siemens).

"Channeling the spirit of jboy..."


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#12
July 9, 2011 at 07:29:06
The responses have been illuminating and interesting, putting various angles on the topic raised and giving food for thought. Thank you and keep 'em coming....

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#13
July 9, 2011 at 09:03:12
DerbyDad

So if you won't a device that sucks are in and you won't use a device that blows air out, what do you use to get the dust out of a CPU case?

I use cans of compressed air and I'm always very careful not to tip them and allow any of the liquid inside the cans to escape onto the computer I'm cleaning out.

Derek

I have no wrist straps either. During winter months when the moisture content of the air is low and the indoor RH is also low, I can certainly get sparks when touching anything around the computer.

You must live somewhat close to me (Western Canada). It gets so dry here in the winter you can't get out of the car, or out of an easychair/couch without generating an ESD. My wife delights in getting out of her chair and walking up to me and touching my bald head or neck and shocking me. Sometimes she'll slowly touch me to see how far she can make the arc jump (best I remember is about an inch and a half) Every now and then I forget to discharge myself on her arm before kissing her...........let me tell you, that hurts!

One of the biggest issues we have at work is burnt out USB ports and fried motherboards from people plugging in USB memory keys without discharging the static beforehand. I watched a lady do it one day and saw the arc jump from key to port. In her case, just the USB port fried..........luckily..........but we've had to replace many mobo's.

I've got a couple of those cute wrist straps around but I've been just grounding myself off on the case for so long I never bother with them. If you're going to ground yourself to the case it's important to remember a couple things:
1) Always touch bare skin to the metal of the case itself, not the painted panels
and
2) Keep constant contact with the case with your forearm while touching anything inside (mobo, RAM etc)


OtheHill

You are supposed to have a drier inline on an air compressor to remove the condensation. There are also drains on all compressors. The water wouldn't be good for running air tools either. I have an 80 gallon stationary compressor and I keep the air dry. If you worry about the moisture in a compressor then buy canned compressed air, which will be dry.

I suspect your compressor is a pretty big one. I don't know much about air compressors having never owned one. I do know the fellow I know had a little guy that you could wheel around and from the sounds of it, he didn't have a drier on it.

I know if I were to have gone to buy a compressor before this conversation I wouldn't have known you could put a drier on them and wouldn't have asked about that. So if it didn't come standard with the unit, I wouldn't have had it.

Anyhow, as I said above, I use cans of compressed air. In fact, I'm going in to Costco to pick up a 6 pack on Sunday.........I'm out! LOL

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

***William Henley***


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#14
July 9, 2011 at 10:11:07
simply put, using a vacuum cleaner can cause some kind of damage to a MOB.
All I ever use is compressed air...works great and NO repercussions.

Some HELP in posting on Computing.net plus free progs and instructions Cheers


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#15
July 9, 2011 at 12:44:05
DerbyDad
"You must live somewhat close to me (Western Canada)".
All things are relative but I live in the UK. Long story short, if it's cold outside and a room is heated, static indoors can happen more or less anywhere. Footware and carpets come into the equation too.

XpUser4Real
"vacuum cleaner can cause some kind of damage"
Sure thing, but I guess I've always had an enquiring mind ;)


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#16
July 9, 2011 at 13:18:35
... tried using 4 mobile phones to defrost my chicken!!

... its still a solid block
.
Demonstrative exspelling
... there is logic to this madness!
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the element of surprise Grrrrrrrr


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#17
July 9, 2011 at 13:24:35
mavis007

LOL. I had to try hard not to set your post as Best Answer.


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#18
October 14, 2011 at 07:18:34
Right on brian929 excellent post!

We not only love it when someone dredges up an old thread like this one. But we like it even better when they simply copy and paste someone elses response. I see you did put some effort into it though, you swapped a couple sentences around in a (very lame) attempt to make it look like you weren't just copy/pasting

Quoted from response #4 (mine)

I think another issue with the vacuum cleaner is the possibility of scratching the motherboard and thus rendering it nonoperative. This is more likely with metal than plastic but still a risk with plastic as well. I'd also worry about ESD and therefore wouldn't consider using a vacuum cleaner any more than I would an air compressor

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

***William Henley***


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#19
October 14, 2011 at 09:36:58
response #18 is spamming robotic vacuums....go figure. Too funny, the site he linked is pay per click LMAO

Some HELP in posting on Computing.net plus free progs and instructions 7 Medals


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#20
October 14, 2011 at 10:00:36
LOL

I never even noticed the link when I responded. And here I thought it was just some brainless idiot...................oh wait!

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

***William Henley***


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#21
October 14, 2011 at 17:17:15
I always use a vacume on my and others computers I work on. Having said that I should also mention that I use custom hand made, by me, brushes and hoses to do so. I would never recomend that someone else use a vacume because I can see the possibility of damage if proper care is not taken. I also do not recomend using cans of compressed air for two reasons. First when using a can you eventually reach a point where you just can't hit the spot with the can upright. The average person doesn't think "Stop and turn the computer over" he just flips the can. Now you have moisture everywhere. Second just after I bought my first computer I stopped into a place that sold accessories and did repair work to buy a cable and decided to buy a few cans as this seemed like a great idea. One of the repair guys suggested I not use it because he said "Once dust particles land on components they become charged by that component, either positively or negatively. If you start moving that dust around you could in effectively cause a short". After years of thinking about this I am guessing this would only happen if the computer was powered up. I could be wrong though.

As for the air compressor idea I am thinking only a fool does this. I don't pretend to know anything about computers but have worked with compressors for more than thirty years. I have seen industrial compressors with three inline driers produce a great deal of moisture. Sorry but if you do this and fry your system I will laugh at you.

The best I can say about all of this. Use a little common sence. I know it's hard but try.

One tip I may be able to pass on that I have never seen mentioned. Cleaning a heat sink can be a pain in the backside. On only my own I do this. I'll pull the heat sink and if it is really bad I'll wash it. Really soap and water. It's just a chunk of copper. Make sure it is good and dry then spray the fins with pam. Again let it dry good. The next time I come at this thing with a vacume every bit of dust flies right off. Been doing this for about ten years now with no issues at all.


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#22
October 19, 2011 at 18:21:15
what's reason?

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#23
October 19, 2011 at 19:29:08
shelby

Canned compresses air is dry. Spraying Pam on a heatsink is just asking for the dust to be attracted. Also, I would guess that Pam will act as an insulator.

"As for the air compressor idea I am thinking only a fool does this".

I don't appreciate being called a fool. You have a right to your wrong opinions but using a vacuum cleaner is just playing Russian roulette with your hardware.

I have been using a compressor to blow out all the computers I work on since I started working on them. The only way you will get liquid water out of your compressor is if it is overheated by running it continuously.

I might add that the dirtiest component is usually the power supply. I hope you don't disassemble those to vacuum them. Good way to get the sh*t knocked out of you.

Read #11 above, if you haven't already.


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#24
October 20, 2011 at 05:44:58
Err...I'm still watching with interest.
Seems, so far, that nobody has zapped a computer with any method (unless I missed something).

Always pop back and let us know the outcome - thanks


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#25
October 20, 2011 at 07:45:40
Derek

How do you know how many of the posters here have damaged their hardware in that manner. If you Google for this topic you will find that companies manufacturer special vacuums just for use on electronics. They are expensive. If they were not necessary there would be no market for them.

When you have millions of transistors in one chip how can you readily tell if some are damaged or not? I have no doubt that using a vacuum is dangerous to computers.

I do not use a grounding strap either but I do discharge myself prior to touching anything inside the case.

Why do you think new components come in anti-static bags? ESD is real.

Going back to your original post that started this debate you missed the real cause of the ESD. It is due to the friction of the air moving through to hose causing a static charge to build up on the hose.

This can happen with compressed air passing through a vinyl or rubber hose too. The difference is when using a compressor you can hold the nozzle inches away from the components. The vacuum brush is in direct contact.


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#26
October 20, 2011 at 08:31:39
I'm not disputing ESD or any technicalities, just making the obvservation that (so far) nobody on here has "personally" zapped a computer, which is the question I asked. That doesn't mean that if I get a no return it is OK to use a vac - just interesting that's all.

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#27
October 20, 2011 at 10:51:51
Derek

Even if vacuums were safe, they are not very effective. I pointed out the problem of cleaning the PSU with a vacuum.


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#28
October 20, 2011 at 11:38:10
Sure thing, technicalities, ideas and opinions are what these forums are all about. Whatever my personal thoughts at the outset then the responses to this question will most certainly sway them (if not change them completely). I trust it has proved useful to others too.

As for the dangers within a PSU after the power has been removed, then it is a matter of technical knowledge. I have dismantled them for cleaning and other reasons but always bridge the main smoothing capacitors with a 1k resistor for a minute or two, followed by a short circuit. This makes them safe to work on.


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#29
October 21, 2011 at 19:58:49
Actually I do use my vacume on my psu. I almost always have. Again I use homade attachments to do this. Granted I am no electronics tech but as of yet I have not heard of electricity taveling along a rubber conduit but hey ya learn new things every day. I think there must be a bit of a misunderstanding about how this vacume is used. I am not just grabbing the hose off the vac throwing on the upholstery attachment and going at it here. I've done this on somewhere around 20 computers now maybe more. All are still running fine except for one and I am thinking my neighbor dropping it down the stairs didn't help that. The one I am using at the moment gets this treatment atleast once every other month and has for over five years.

"I have been using a compressor to blow out all the computers I work on since I started working on them. The only way you will get liquid water out of your compressor is if it is overheated by running it continuously."

OtheHill

Just guessing here. Is this a purpose bought compressor? Is it kept indoors as in in your home not your shed? Are you using high pressure or something under 25 psi?
I ask these questions because I have noticed the amount of moisture that builds in a compressor tank can very depending on the coditions around it. Also do you empty your tank when not in use? I have seen a great deal of moisture build up in a tank overnight becuse someone didn't crack the drain open before leaving work the day before.

My point here is if you know what you're doing and you're taking proper percautions then I guess all is well. I am guessing the average user that does not work on computers at all until his/hers quits on them doesn't think about these things. When they start looking around in a rush to try and fix it they only half read the comments in these threads. "Oh hey this guy says use an air compressor" so off to the workshop they go. Without any planning they pump 125psi through their box from the compressor they used yesterday to spray paint their lawn furniture.
I am trying to look at this from the point of view of someone that doesn't know. It's not that hard because I don't know much.

Yes I still think a compressor is a foolish idea. This is based on many hours spent pulling apart a plasma cutting machine that was full of moisture because some rust or other trash got caught in the dryers preventing them from completely doing their job. If this works for you great. Again I am thinking this is probably a compressor that is not used for much else but hey I am wrong a lot.

As for canned air I have heard that it is dry and I have turned the can over and sprayed moisture out of them. No not a stream of water but moisture none the less. Maybe a little is acceptable I don't know.

Derek

No I have not fried a system with a vac yet. I still will not recomend anyone else use one but it's your system. I hope is you do you take precautions.


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#30
October 22, 2011 at 07:19:11
Yes, I don't think there is any dispute about the theory here. However, as with many other things in life if you know the rules then you can take extra precautions and adapt them to suit your needs.

As an example many folk say they do not use a wrist strap yet the rules clearly (and rightly) state that you should. However for PC's if you remove your footware, earth yourself carefully to the case before removing the mains then take care you should be alright.

I tend to stick to the rules when giving advice but bend them somewhat for my own use - bend but not totally break. However, I respect all the opinions given which make interesting reading.


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#31
October 22, 2011 at 14:17:55
Geez Shelby, you need to brush up on your basic science.

Have you ever rubbed a regular balloon on your hair and then stuck it to the wall. That is due to ESD. There is a charge built up on the surface of the balloon. How about dragging your feet in the carpet and then touching something grounded, like plumbing or a light switch. The shock you feel on your finger tip is ESD. You don't need conductors to create ESD. On the contrary, you need insulators. The friction of the air passing through a vacuum cleaner hose builds up the same type of Electro-Static Discharge. That charge can be discharged into your sensitive electronics.

Why do you think companies manufacture ESD safe vacuums? Look at the link below for some that are for sale.

Now on to the canned compressed air. If you had chemistry and Physics in high school you may remember Boyles law. (see link below).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boyle%...

http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/...

http://www.nextag.com/esd-safe-vacu...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electr...

Note the photo on the right edge of the link above of a static discharge device on the trailing edge of an aircraft wing. Why would you suppose they need to use that? Air passing over the wing surface is the reason.

I have been a builder working with compressed air for over 40 years. I know how to maintain my many air compressors. The unit I use to blow out computers is a 5HP/ 80Gal. stationary unit in my heated workshop.



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#32
October 22, 2011 at 14:31:34
Stumbled across this response here (extract below):
http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum...

"Static electricity is generated by particles (air, dust, dirt, etc.) being rubbed across the insides of the vacuum and what ever is really close to the nozzle. As far as I know, there is no way to ground the vacuum cleaner.

While most recommend against using a vacuum to clean parts, I have been doing it for years with no issues. Personally, I believe the risk of static shock to be quite overstated.

Much more of a concern is the risk that you will suck up jumpers, cables or other small parts. Just be sure to take care when cleaning your system and you should have no issues"

MY EDIT:
Just someones opinion of-course.

I also found some "computer vacuum cleaners" (presumably purpose designed):
http://www.nextag.com/computer-vacu...


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#33
October 22, 2011 at 15:16:23
Derek, did you read my last post? I linked to a similar site. I also mentioned these vacuums in previous responses above.

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#34
October 22, 2011 at 15:32:11
Ooops - Re #33 touch of word blindness crept in.

Just for info, while I'm here, all I use is a small paint brush and watchmakers hand operated bellows (I once did watch repairs). As it's such a small air quantity it takes a little time but is probably safe.

One other point, whilst I accept that the rules of physics are uninversal I don't think that in practice the aircraft comparisson is valid. The production of static is inversely proportional to "relative humidity". At an altitude of 20000 feet this is only about 8% compared to more like 20% minimum in a heated home in winter. With aircraft there is the added hazard of charged thunder clouds. Further, I doubt the air in a vacuum hose is travelling at anything like 4 to 500 mph.


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#35
October 22, 2011 at 15:34:48
While I spent the major part of science class getting stoned or attempting to attrack females (was a jock not a geek in high school) I do have a basic understanding of ESD. Thank you very much for the unneeded lesson anyway.

For future reference I will remember not to rub my hose all over my head before I vacume out my computer. Maybe I'll take a few pictures and post so that you can see what I am using. I think when you see you may understand why I feel it is not a problem. For the most part all that actually touches anything is a four inch horse hair brush not the hose. In some areas I am forced to use q-tips to reach everything.

I have no doubt you know how to maintain your compressor nevermind the capacity. Has it been your experience that the average user is maintaining his or is the person that read the recomendation more apt to just grab the first hose he or she comes to and stuff it in a vent not even thinking of the care of the compressor? My thought is that many don't think of any of these things. They just want to know why it doesn't work afterwords. I am willing to bet that there may be a way one could use a dishwasher to clean all the internal components if thought and care were taken before doing so. That doesn't mean that I think a blanket recomendation to throw your parts in the dishwasher is a good idea.

As for the laws of physics and how they apply to canned air (never took physics). Are we to believe that ever can of air purchased by every person is stored and used at the same temperature? I have a big can with a trigger grip that I use for shewing cats away. It is stored at the moment in my air conditioned bedroom. When I take it to the front porch and turn it over there is no moisture going to come out? I tried it and got what looked like a very large wet spot on a newspaper I held in front of it. What was that if not moisture?

I am sorry I didn't take any of these fancy classes to learn these things. I was to busy at work.


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#36
October 22, 2011 at 16:38:34
The apparent moisture from spraying with the can inverted is a combination of propellant and condensed water from the ambient air.

Static electricity from vacuums has caused explosions and fires when when sucking fine particulates like flour and saw dust. Industrial vacuums are lined with conductive material to drain the static charge.


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