No Dirty Dozen: 13 Spring-Cleaning Tips for Your Home Theater

Why does the Vernal equinox always trigger a sudden urge to clean? Who knows? You'd have to read Psychology Today or Discover to find that out. We're not here to lay some heavy scientific anthropological stuff on you. We're here to save your audio/video gear.

See, the odds are that someone else in your household is the one with the irresistible cleaning jones. You're reading, so you probably place a higher premium on intense entertainment experiences over spotless surroundings. If you're not careful, though, someone who doesn't share your priorities - your significant other, maybe, or your maid service - will clean your equipment rack, your video display, and your speakers for you. They'll surely mess up the settings, and they might even damage your gear.

Your best bet is to get that gear cleaned up right now, before someone else gets the idea. To find out how best to do that, check out our "baker's dozen" of expert maintenance tips (lest you want to end up with a smeared, smudgy, seriously screwed-up system).

6 Pointers for TVs

Flat-panel TVs may look a lot cooler than the old tube sets, but they're a lot tougher to keep clean. According to Mike Wood, TV Test Manager at Samsung, the most dangerous scenario involves cleaning solutions that may appear benign but can actually be lethal to a flat-panel TV - especially LCD sets, because they have a clear plastic face. "You don't want to use any solvent-based cleaners like Windex on an LCD screen," he warns. "They can attack the plastic and leave it looking smeared or discolored."

Wood suggests using plain water, applied sparingly to a microfiber cloth - like the "fantastic" cleaning cloth he says comes with all Samsung TVs and is designed not to scratch smooth surfaces. "It's like a larger version of what you get with a pair of eyeglasses," he explains.

For those foolish enough to buy some brand other than Samsung, he suggests using an eyeglass cleaning cloth. If the chassis of the set is especially dusty, he recommends using any clean, slightly damp cloth to get the dust off, and the small eyeglass cloth to finish the job.

"You don't have to clean your TV screen on a regular basis," he cautions. "I clean mine only when it looks dirty and impairs my ability to appreciate the image." And he adds, "It might be a good idea to take one of those blower cans [the kind used to clean electronic components] on the vents in the back to blow out some of the dust every couple of years, but I can't say I've ever done that."

As any longtime observer of the consumer electronics industry might expect, Monster Cable has found a way to cash in on the confusion about cleaning flat-panel TV screens. Its Monster Screen Clean Kit is now the company's best-selling product worldwide. Not surprisingly, Monster Cable Product Category Manager Tim Pryde strongly suggests using his company's product, comprised of a 12x12-inch microfiber cloth and a bottle of alcohol-free cleaning solution that Pryde says won't harm LCD screens. The advantage of this solution over plain water, he says, is that it does a better job of loosening fingerprints and other tough-to-eradicate grime. He, too, strongly cautions against alcohol-based cleaners. To Wood's admonition, he adds, "A lot of electronics are made with a film that protects their finish - or in the case of TVs, that may act as an optical filter to improve the video performance."

One more advantage he cites for the Screen Clean Kit is that it tends to be used only for the purpose of cleaning screens, and not also for, say, cleaning grease vats or ashtrays. "If you have a bunch of cleaning cloths under the sink, or a housecleaning service comes in, the cloths you clean with can have a lot of different chemicals mixed on them. You may end up smearing something on the TV that shouldn't be there."