Thermal paste serves a few different purposes – it helps with cooling, increases surface area and acts as a semi adhesive to aid the cooler’s mounting system. Unfortunately, it also attracts dust particles and can dry out over time. At which point it’s best to replace it with some fresh stuff.
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to do. The main thing is to take proper ESD precautions – an anti-static wristband and a clean workspace are essential. Also make sure the CPU is unplugged and has cooled down completely (you might want to re-start it afterward to make sure everything works as expected).
To begin, have a cotton swab ready dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Then carefully wipe the processor’s lip and sides to remove any remaining bits of old paste. It’s a good idea to lift the load plate as well to get underneath it and clean any residual paste from there.
If you don’t have a cotton swab on hand, a piece of paper towel or even better, a microfiber cloth, will do. The main thing is that it needs to be lint-free as lint can inhibit heat transfer.
A microfiber cloth can be expensive, but it has many other uses and is generally worth the investment. If you don’t want to invest in one, coffee filters can be used instead. It’s important to use a lint-free cleaning substance as any residue from the old thermal paste will contaminate your newly applied bead of liquid metal or whatever replacement you’re using. Thermal paste removal