How to Clean Your Flat-Screen TV
Don't overthink it—a soft cloth may be all you really need
Over the past couple of years, many of us have been spending much more time at home, and focusing more on cleaning everything from refrigerators to ceiling fans.
As with other electronic items, televisions can attract dust and get marred by blemishes, such as children’s fingerprints. Fortunately, cleaning your flat-screen TV is a straightforward process that doesn’t require any pricey chemicals.
While you’re at it, also pay attention to the remote controls for your TVs, cable boxes, and streaming players. These get handled much more than TVs and harbor pathogens along with plain old grime. We have advice for cleaning both TVs and remotes below.
When it comes to TVs, the current market is dominated by superbright, big-screen LCD (LED) and OLED TVs. However, many of us still have older sets, including plasma TVs, which companies stopped manufacturing in 2014, and even CRTVs—also called tube TVs—which started disappearing around 2008.
If you’re cleaning an older tube TV, you have a bit more flexibility because its screen is made of glass and can be cleaned like other glass items in your household. In this—and only this—instance, it’s okay to use a window cleaner, such as Windex.
Start With a Dry, Soft Cloth
Screens can scratch easily, and even paper towels or tissues contain fibers that can do damage. “Your best bet is to use a soft, anti-static microfiber cloth—the kind used to clean eyeglasses and camera lenses—and wipe in a circular motion,” says John Walsh, who cleans more than 250 TVs a year in his role as a CR photographer. (Some TV manufacturers will include a cloth for this purpose.) “Gently wipe the screen with a dry cloth to remove dust and other debris, but don’t press too hard,” he says.
You may also want to wipe down the TV’s cabinet, and make sure dust isn’t clogging the vents that help dissipate heat. If the TV is on a stand and not tethered to the wall, Walsh suggests cleaning with one hand while supporting the TV with the other to prevent the set from tipping over. However, CR strongly recommends anchoring all stand-mounted TVs using anti-tipping straps designed for this purpose.
If there are hard-to-remove stains, you can dampen the cloth slightly with distilled water, and gently clean the screen. Don’t spray water directly onto the screen, which could cause a shock or component failure if it seeps into the inner workings of the set.
For the most stubborn stains, you can try using a solution of very mild dish soap highly diluted with water, once again applied to the cloth and not to the TV itself. (As a guideline, Panasonic used to recommend a 100:1 ratio of water to soap.) LCD screens, in particular, are very sensitive to pressure and can scratch easily, so don’t press hard.
Walsh suggests that if you do use a dampened cloth, go over the screen one more time with a dry one to remove any swirls or streaks.
Avoid Harmful Chemicals
Alcohol and ammonia, found in window cleaners such as Windex, can wreak havoc on your expensive flat-screen TV, so don’t use cleaners that have them. If you decide to use a packaged “screen cleaner”—which you don’t really need (see below)—choose one that doesn’t contain alcohol, ammonia, or acetone. Also, don’t use any cleaners that contain an abrasive that can scratch the screen.
Skip the Cleaning Kit
Some of these kits cost $15 to $20 for just a microfiber cloth and a small bottle of cleaning solution, which is probably mostly water. Instead, buy the cloth at an office supply store or online and use distilled water, or a solution of your own making per our advice above. If you opt for a kit, make sure it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.
Don't Forget the Remote Control
Remote controls can not only get dusty but also harbor a fair number of germs. (Think of how many fingers have pressed the buttons on that remote recently and whether all of them have been squeaky clean. Then there’s the issue of coughs and sneezes.)
Here’s some basic advice about cleaning your remote controls. We also have more details on how to sanitize your remote control during the coronavirus pandemic.
Remove the batteries before you start cleaning. Then start by turning the remote upside down so that the buttons are facing downward, and tap the remote against your palm to dislodge any debris that might have fallen between the keys or buttons. Wipe down the entire remote with a soft cloth that has been sprayed with a tiny bit of alcohol diluted with water. The cloth should be damp, not wet.
To clean in and around the buttons, you can use a cotton swab dampened with the alcohol/water mix. More stubborn debris lodged deeper into the keys can be dislodged with a dry toothbrush or wooden toothpick.
Last, wipe down the whole remote once again with a dry, soft cloth and reinstall the batteries. That’s it!
3 Great Big-Screen TV Bargains
While we’re on the subject of TVs, if you’re thinking of shopping for a new set, you can check CR’s TV ratings, which are available to members. We buy every set we rate at retail, just like a consumer would, then evaluate it using a rigorous testing protocol. Here are three 65-inch sets that combine big screens and strong performance, and all at a price of about $1,000. Prices at this time of year are volatile, so they may fluctuate by as much as a few hundred dollars over the next several months.