How to Apply and Remove Thermal Paste

If you’re assembling a computer, it’s essential to use thermal paste, also known as heat paste, to prevent your processor from overheating. This viscous, silver substance is applied between the processor and the cooler to fill in tiny gaps on their surfaces. This process enables the efficient transfer of heat from the processor to the cooler, allowing your PC to run more effectively. High-quality thermal pastes even contribute to quieter operation by enabling your processor to run at lower temperatures. Additionally, it’s recommended to replace the thermal interface material every few years to maintain optimal performance. So, if you haven’t opened up your PC in a while, it might be time for a spring cleaning.

How to Apply Thermal Paste

Assuming your CPU and cooler are clean and ready to go, let’s dive into how to apply new thermal paste. In case they are not clean and have old thermal paste residue, scroll down to the section on how to clean your CPU first.

The key to applying thermal paste correctly is to avoid overdoing it. A small, pea-sized amount of paste is all you need—anything more would be excessive. However, if you’re using a non-conductive thermal paste, applying too much won’t cause any damage, but it can get messy and, in extreme cases, reduce the effectiveness of your cooler.

Step 1: Install your CPU on the motherboard, if you haven’t done so already. Then, use the plunger on the thermal paste tube to apply a pea-sized amount in the center of the processor.

Step 2: Next, install the CPU cooler while applying top-down pressure. There’s no need to spread the paste before installing the cooler as the pressure from the cooler will evenly distribute it.

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Step 3: After installing the cooler, check the edges of the CPU to see if any excess thermal paste has spilled over. If necessary, use a microfiber cloth or paper towel to wipe it away.

How to Remove Thermal Paste

If you already have a functioning machine that requires reapplication of thermal paste, you’ll first need to remove the old paste. Before starting, make sure to remove the CPU cooler and visually confirm the presence of the thermal paste, typically white or gray in color.

Step 1: Start by wiping the top of your CPU with a microfiber cloth to remove as much thermal paste as possible without causing any issues.

Step 2: Place the microfiber cloth over the opening of the isopropyl alcohol bottle and turn it upside down to saturate the cloth. Then, use the cloth to wipe the CPU until all the old thermal paste is removed. If necessary, you can use cotton swabs soaked in isopropyl alcohol to clean hard-to-reach areas.

Step 3: Repeat the above process to remove any old thermal paste stuck to the underside of your CPU cooler.

Step 4: Now you’re ready to apply new thermal paste, as discussed in the previous section.

How Often Should You Apply Thermal Paste?

The frequency of thermal paste application is primarily up to you. Some people leave their thermal paste for years without any issues, while others prefer to replace it annually. Intel recommends reapplication “every few years” or whenever you remove your cooler for any reason. Generally, thermal paste lasts a long time, but keep an eye on your temperatures. If you notice rising temperatures, it could be a sign that your thermal paste is drying out and needs to be replaced.

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Do You Have to Use Thermal Paste?

Yes and no. To fill the gaps between the cooler and the processor, you need a material, and thermal paste is the most common and effective solution. However, if you prefer not to reapply thermal paste every couple of years, you can opt for a thermal pad instead.

Thermal pads serve the same purpose as thermal paste but are made of a malleable material with excellent thermal conductivity. This enables efficient heat transfer from the CPU to the cooler without the risk of drying out or degrading over time. While thermal pads may not offer the same level of performance as the best thermal pastes, they provide peace of mind and ease of use.

For more information about thermal paste or if you’re considering upgrading your CPU cooler while reapplying thermal paste, visit OnSpec Electronic, Inc..


Thermal paste application on CPU.
Image: Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Isopropyl Alcohol Amazon
Image: Amazon

Thermal Grizzly heat pad.
Image: Thermal Grizzly

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