How to Clean Your Portable Fan

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I am in my seventh summer without air conditioning, so I consider myself an expert on household fans. To be clear, I’m doing this by choice: I don’t like frigid air conditioning enough to actually need it. My little fans are sufficient for me and I am happy. That is, as long as they’re clean. Dusty, dirty fans are gross and less effective. To use a fan to its full potential, you have to clean that bad boy and as the hottest months bear down on us, you need to do it right away.

How to clean a box or table fan

First, unplug your fan. Now, look it over. Is the front plate removable and can you see screws? Use a screwdriver to detach the front and back plates. Use a vacuum with a hose attachment to suck the dust off them, then wash them off using soapy water. Any kind of dish soap will work. If there is a lot of grating or an assortment of tiny holes that would be annoying to try to stick a sponge into, fall back on the handy old trick of simply tossing them into your bathtub with some soapy water. Bonus points if you want to do your oven racks at the same time.

If you can get the blades detached, toss them into the suds, too. If you can’t find your owner’s manual or aren’t sure how to remove them (or if you even can), just use a soapy sponge. My rule of thumb is I only detach things I am absolutely positive I’ll be able to reattach. This is supposed to make your life better, not stress you out or send you scrambling to buy a new fan.

Use the soapy water to scrub around the interior of the fan’s housing, as well as the exterior and cord, but never touching any electrical components. Air dry all the parts you detached by laying them on a towel and use another dry towel to thoroughly dry the machine itself. Don’t reattach anything until it’s all totally dry.

In the event you can’t (or don’t want to) disassemble the beast, still use a vacuum hose to suck the dirt out of any grates, especially on the back, where it gets clogged up. The kind of hose attachment with a brush is great for this. Give it a rubdown with the soapy sponge and dry it thoroughly with a towel, then let it air dry about a day before plugging it back in.

How to clean a tower fan

A tower fan is not as easy to take apart and it’s more likely you won’t even be able to, so we’re not going to discuss that. Instead, here’s what you can do: After unplugging it, use that vacuum attachment with the brush to suck out any dirt you see in the back.

You can also try blowing it out. First, you could use some compressed air, the kind you use to clean your computer keyboard. If you don’t have a can available, you could also try using a blow dryer, like you might when cleaning a radiator. In my experience, tower fans get super dusty back there, so you might want to lay down an old sheet or some grocery bags to catch the clumps that fly out.

Next, use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the vents. You’ll want this to be dry; if you use a wet one, the water can get in there and you won’t be able to properly dry it out. Sorry to say, but a tower fan just won’t get as squeaky clean as the box fan you can disassemble.

Then again, if your owner’s manual says it’s fine (and you’re sure you’re not voiding a warranty) or you do see any obvious screws, feel free to try taking the casing apart. After unscrewing, you should be able to pry the outside casing apart, giving you access to the outer panels themselves so you can toss them in the tub or at least really get after them with the compressed air from behind. Wipe down the inside of the machine with a cloth.

Again, don’t reassemble until everything has fully air dried. To be on the safe side, leave the parts you detached on a towel for a full day, lest you damage the machine. In the event you do damage it or decide you would rather spend a little money instead of doing all this, here’s my list of the best fans you get right now.

Oh, and if you found yourself here because you wanted some tips on how to clean your ceiling fan, that’s a whole different story. It’s this story, actually. You’ll need your vacuum and soapy sponge ready, just like with a smaller fan, but you’ll also need a duster. Good luck!

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