Tech Q&A: how do I stop my laptop from overheating?

Russell wrote into us because lately his laptop has been overheating.

Laptop on fire because it has been overheating

Q. I have had a Dell laptop for over 3 years. It has been running fine, but over the last month or two it has been getting very hot. It also sometimes runs slowly or even turns off by itself, I suspect, because of the heat.

Is there a way to fix this or will I have to buy a new laptop?


A. Hi Russell, you are most likely correct in suspecting that this is the cause of your laptop performing poorly and shutting down. Luckily, laptop overheating is, in most cases, relatively easy to fix.  

Laptops typically overheat because there is not enough air is able to pass into them. This is usually because the air vents have become blocked by dust or something else is covering them.

A common design flaw in laptops is that the air vents are sometimes located on the bottom. So when the laptop is placed on your lap, your clothing may block the vents. For this reason you should never put a pillow between your lap and your laptop while you use it.

A quick and easy fix for this is to purchase a laptop stand or laptop cooler. These devices allow air to pass between your laptop and your lap or desk. For a quick fix, try placing your laptop on top of the bumpy side of an egg carton or two.

If you don’t use your laptop on your lap, the problem is likely being caused by accumulated dust in the vents. To fix this, you will need a small screwdriver and a can of compressed air (available at office supplies or computer stores). Before you proceed, you should make sure that opening your laptop case will not void your warranty. If your laptop is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer for assistance.

Now unplug your laptop, turn it off, close it and then remove the battery. Next, gently place it upside down and locate the screws so you can access the air vents. Some laptops allow you to remove the air vent covers, while others will require you to remove the entire bottom panel. If your device looks like it may be difficult to clean, or you’re not entirely confident, you may wish to ask a friend or family member for help, or perhaps take it to a computer store.

Once you have located the screws, unscrew them and remove the back panel. Hold the fans in place so that they cannot spin and try to blow the dust off in short bursts. Occasionally the dust may be so heavily accumulated that the compressed air will not be strong enough to dislodge it. In this case, you may attempt to dislodge it with a cotton bud. Don’t touch anything inside the laptop other than the fans. Make sure that you don’t blow the dust further into your laptop, as this will just cause further problems.

Now replace the back cover and screw it back on, then reinsert the battery. Turn your laptop on and ensure that the fans are working by listening for a gentle hum and feeling over the vents for airflow.

If your laptop is still overheating, you may have to take it to a computer repairs shop, or purchase a replacement.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Ted Wards
    21st Apr 2016
    The easy fix I use is I place it on top of my small laptop speakers and and it never overheats
    21st Apr 2016
    I bought a cake cooler and sit my laptop on that. Great ventilation and airflow, sturdy....and cheap. It works a treat.
    21st Apr 2016
    Do you stick it with a skewer to see if you are ready to shut down?
    21st Apr 2016
    Dodgy. The right thing is like a stand with a perforated base and fan and motor underneath. Really cheap. Like $40. Why use something which is only ever going to be half as good (or less) when you have bought a new laptop which cost you $500 to $1500. Does not make sense.
    22nd Apr 2016
    If it works, it works. $40 is a lot of money on a tight budget.
    21st Apr 2016
    Ryan is on the money. I had a HP laptop which had an overheating problem for a couple of years. I tried everything and eventually took it to a technician. The fan helped but after a couple of trips back to the laptop hospital the technician pulled off the back cover and had to almost pull the whole laptop apart to get the fluff and dust out. A month later the thing died. Wish I had taken her advice and bought a new one the first time I went in.
    I was talked into buying a SOLID STATE HARD DRIVE for the new machine. Expensive but this machine does not heat up. Apparently the old style drives were the problem of overheating.
    Lesson learnt!

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