After any particularly wild party—a closely contested Super Bowl, for example—there’s likely to be a splatter or two on your TV screen. Even without nacho cheese-flinging, beer-spilling, pizza-tossing excitement, your television picks up grime on the daily, and regular cleanings can keep the picture looking crystal-clear.
Of course, like any screen, you can’t just splash it with some water and get scrubbin’. You need to take special care with your TV to avoid damaging it in a disastrous fashion.
Before you start
The first thing you should do is turn your TV off, or even unplug it. For one, it’s easier to see dust and smudges on a dark surface, so you’ll be able to target those grubby fingerprints with surgical precision. Second, it’s always safest to disconnect any link to electricity when you’re working on something that could draw power. A TV isn’t going to spin up and slice off your fingers like, say, a table saw might, but it could give you a little zap (or worse, if there’s some sort of defect you don’t know about).
You should also try to dig up your TV’s user manual. Manufacturers usually include cleaning tips and methods in that little paper booklet, and giving it a quick skim could help you avoid trashing the warranty. But hey, sometimes you don’t have time to read or dig through a bunch of old papers for something you can just learn on the internet. That’s why we wrote this.
How to clean an OLED, QLED, LCD, or LED TV screen
The vast majority of you are likely to have an OLED (organic light-emitting diode), QLED (quantum dot LED TV), LCD (liquid crystal display), or LED TV. That’s no surprise, as these currently dominate the television market. And while there are differences in construction and picture quality, you clean them all the same way: gently, with a soft, dry cloth (and maybe a little moisture if you need it).
Most of the time, you’re probably fine with a dry cloth. But because even paper towels can scratch the surface, you’ve got to make sure whatever fabric you choose is soft, too. A microfiber cloth is your best bet, especially because you may already have one, or something similar, for cleaning your eyeglasses or other screens. Your TV may have even come with its own cleaning cloth.
For tougher messes like caked-on cheese, you may want to get things a little wet, but using the wrong liquid can damage your screen. Just as abrasive surfaces can ruin your TV, so can abrasive chemicals like acetone, ammonia, and alcohol—they can eat away the plastic. Water is fine.
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Tap water is probably fine too. Lots of people recommend distilled water, mostly because your tap water might have minerals in it that could scratch a screen. If you have hard water, take note, we’re talking about you. But not everyone has the pure stuff on hand. If you’re working without distilled water and your tap water is fairly mineral-free, it likely won’t be an issue. If you’re worried, you can try using it to clean a screen you care less about, or attempt to distill your own.
Whatever water you use, don’t spray or splash it directly onto your TV, and don’t get your cloth sopping wet. Spraying results in higher-velocity, uncontrolled water droplets that could somehow get inside your TV or on other electronics, and sloshing a drippy cloth around brings the same risks. Dampen your cloth away from the TV and squeeze out any extra moisture.
For the worst stains, goopy globs of God-knows-what, you can add a tiny bit of dish soap. And when we say “tiny,” we mean it—Panasonic recommends less than 1 percent of your DIY screen cleaning solution be detergent. That means if you’ve got 2 cups of water (96 teaspoons), you’ll need less than 1 teaspoon of soap. It’s easier if you use metric: 1 milliliter of soap per 100 milliliters of water.
With your cloth in hand, it’s time to clean. A gentle touch is important here, as pushing too hard can break the screen. (If you’ve ever pressed on a laptop screen and seen a multi-colored ooze spread out beneath your finger, it’s the same idea, and it’s bad.) With a light touch, wipe in circular motions until you’ve cleaned all the gunk off your screen. Unless you’ve anchored your TV in some way—you should, especially if you have kids—you’ll have to clean one-handed, using the other one to hold your TV steady.
How to clean a plasma screen TV
If you still have a plasma screen TV, congratulations on being the coolest kid in your college dorm in 2011. We don’t have any special cleaning tips for you: the screen is glass but probably has a sensitive coating so you should treat it like the more modern TVs. Sorry if you scanned directly to this step, but you’ve got to read the one above it.
How to clean a cathode ray tube TV
For all the faults of those big, boxy, static-shocky-y cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs, they sure were easy to clean. Once you turn it off and let that fuzzy film of energy dissipate, you can just spray the glass screen with window cleaner and wipe it like you would, well, a window.
Now that you’ve cleaned your TV, you should take a moment to dust everything around it, including any vents that help it get rid of heat. Dust can clog things up and slow ‘em down, and the more you can keep it at bay, the better off your devices will be.
You should also consider cleaning your TV remote. We touch those a lot and they’re especially likely to get stuffed into the grimy space between the couch cushions or fall into a bowl of nacho cheese. (Hey, don’t judge us for mentioning cheese so much—we didn’t host the cheese party.)
To do that, take out the batteries so you don’t mess up any TV or remote settings by turning it on accidentally. Tap it gently against your hand to dislodge any crumbs, and wipe the whole remote clean with a soft cloth dampened with alcohol diluted by water. And you can dig out any deeper debris with an old toothbrush.
When you’re done, go heat up some of last night’s leftover pizza. You deserve it.