Should you worry about dust buildup in your home theater equipment?

Let’s face it, home electronics have it tough. If it isn’t dust, it’s humidity, and if it’s not humidity, it’s heat… and we expect these complex devices to behave 100% of the time even though we never bother to maintain them. Even dedicated home theater enthusiasts will let a piece of equipment sit for years if it’s doing its job properly.

Dust never sleeps

So the question is, should you worry about dust buildup? After all, if you’ve had that receiver for three years or so in the same location, it’s bound to have some dust inside it. Dust coats the chips and makes it harder for heat to dissipate. Dust buildup will cause your equipment to fail more quickly, because heat is the biggest contributor to electronics failures.

There are three scenarios when it comes to your home theater equipment. Either it’s sealed, it’s not sealed, or you can’t/shouldn’t open it.

Sealed equipment

A lot of streaming equipment is now almost completely sealed. There’s either no venting or very limited venting. This is due to the very good thermal management in these boxes and the fact than many of them use very little power. The above Apple TV actually runs very hot but uses advanced thermal management so it doesn’t need vent holes.

In the case of sealed equipment, you’re generally better off leaving it sealed. There’s not going to be a lot of dust the gets in there.

Equipment you can’t or shouldn’t open

DIRECTV and DISH equipment can’t be opened or you’ll void the warranty. The same is true of most consumer electronics equipment, but with most of it you can open it up once the warranty period is past. Satellite and other pay-TV equipment is leased, so you do not have the right to open it and clean it.

If you suspect dust is an issue inside a pay-TV receiver, we recommend a little bit of canned air, with the straw pointed at the ventilation slots on the top or side of your receiver. We can’t tell you to put the straw inside the receiver because that would be a breach of warranty. We also recommend unplugging the receiver and letting it sit for 20-30 minutes to drain any residual electricity because… you never know.

DIRECTV receivers and DVRs are tested to stand up to extra-harsh conditions and require no maintenance, but there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of dusting now and again.

Equipment that you own and can open

If you are able to open up that home theater equipment, you’re free to clean it with canned air. This will definitely help the thermal management. As with all electronic devices, unplug it and leave it unplugged for a healthy amount of time to let any residual electricity drain.

In humid areas, dust can get caked on. In this case you can use cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol.  Just make sure that you’re not making things worse. Make sure there is a lot of time for things to dry.

Outside of the equipment

By the way… if you want to clean the outside of the equipment we recommend unplugging it first. Then, use a little bit of  alcohol on a lint-free wipe or makeup sponge. Don’t pour any liquid straight on the receiver.

I don’t think you should replace something because it gets dusty, but if you do have a desire to replace your home theater equipment or accessories, shop at Solid Signal for the best selection!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.