There might be several reasons why you need to remove the thermal paste from your CPU. Perhaps you're looking to upgrade it to move to a newer model or are simply wanting to change your CPU cooler for better performance.
If your gaming PC is running a bit hot then changing the cooler or just replacing the thermal paste can be enough to bring the temps down a touch and improve things.
Luckily it's easy enough to do without much hassle.
What is thermal paste?
If you aren't aware already, thermal paste is a conductive material that sits between the CPU and the cooler/heatsink on your motherboard. There are tiny microscopic pores on these metals that sit together and those gaps can lead to poor heat transfer that can cause your CPU to run hot.
Thermal paste fills those gaps and ensures better contact between the two surfaces allowing for enhanced heat dissipation and improved cooling.
When you remove the cooler from your CPU you'll likely see some grey material on the surface of your CPU and on the heatsink of the cooler. Over time this thermal paste can become crusty and less efficient. If it wasn't applied properly in the first place then there may also be areas of the CPU that aren't effectively covered.
Ideally, the entire surface of the CPU needs to have a thin coating of thermal paste to ensure good contact and conductivity. So it pays to remove and reapply.
How to remove thermal paste and clean your CPU
When the CPU cooler is removed you can then go about cleaning the paste off. Hopefully, this goes without saying but don't try any of this with the machine plugged in or turned on.
We also recommend using either an anti-static wrist strap or ESD grounding mat to ensure you're properly grounded and not likely to accidentally fry any components while trying to complete this process.
In order to clean your CPU and remove the thermal paste from it you'll need either a microfiber cloth and rubbing alcohol or dedicated wipes.
We find these wipes easiest to use as they're simply ready to go with the right amount of alcohol and can be used to quickly and easily remove the thermal paste from both your CPU and cooler.
You'll also need some new thermal paste to replace what you've removed - whether you're re-using the same cooler or using a new one. Though some coolers come with thermal paste pre-applied, in which case you'll be fine.
Follow these steps to get started:
- Attach the anti-static strap to yourself and to an earthing point
- Unscrew the CPU cooler/heatsink and detach any cables that might get in the way.
- Set the screws aside and carefully pull the cooler off.
- Use the thermal paste wipes to remove all the paste you can
- Repeat this process with the cooler/heatsink
Apply new thermal paste
If you're just cleaning the thermal paste off your CPU in order to replace it with fresh paste then now is the time to do that.
Applying thermal paste is a fine art that people on the internet love to argue about.
It's recommended that you apply a pea-sized amount in the middle, but it also needs to be enough paste that when you apply the heatsink the entire surface is covered.
On the other hand, too much thermal paste will negatively impact cooling performance. So it's a careful balance. Pop some on, then seat the cooler down in place. It pays to take it off again and look at the coverage. If you're happy with it you can then re-seat it and attach it with the thumb screws.