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Thermal paste, particularly conductive thermal paste, may damage CPU pins. Metal-based thermal paste causes electrons to flow backwards, short-circuiting the CPU. This article will teach you how to remove thermal paste that has been accidently dropped on your CPU socket.

AdobeStock_61443980 multiple cpu with pins showing on motherboard background

How To Remove Thermal Paste From CPU Pins Without Damaging Them

First, CPU pins are extremely delicate and should not be touched unless you have to. Secondly, if non-conductive thermal paste dripped on your CPU socket, you can boot up your computer to see if it works normally. Non-conductive thermal paste does not allow electricity to flow in the wrong direction.

As such, it should not be a major reason you’re meddling with your CPU pins. If your computer runs fine with non-conductive thermal paste applied in the wrong place, leaving your CPU pins untouched would be appropriate. This minimizes the risks of accidentally damaging your CPU.

Electrically conductive thermal paste, on the other hand, should be removed before booting up the computer. This way, you can minimize the risks of short-circuiting your CPU.

Before starting, you’ll want to check if thermal paste also ended up in other components. Several nearby parts could short-circuit with electrically conductive thermal paste, such as capacitors and resistors.

You’ll also want to know if your CPU socket is PGA or LGA. PGA sockets have an array of pins, while LGA sockets have an array of holes. You can think of them as “male” and “female” connectors.

Here are the materials you’ll need:

  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpick
  • Paper towels
  • Magnifying glass

If you have everything ready, proceed with the following steps:

  1. Assess the amount of paste that dripped on your CPU socket and nearby components. Tiny amounts of thermal paste should not be a major cause of concern. The CPU can still force its way through the paste and make solid contact with the socket. If you accidentally smeared a significant amount of thermal paste on nearby components, you’ll need to clean that off.
  2. Use isopropyl alcohol and paper towels to wipe off the excess paste. Dip your paper towels in the isopropyl alcohol and wipe the excess thermal paste from your CPU socket. Remember, the higher the concentration (higher than 71%), the better. Lower concentration means that the mixture has more water and other substances, which takes longer to dry.
  3. Clean the CPU pins with a toothbrush soaked in isopropyl alcohol. This process should be approached very delicately to avoid damaging or breaking the pins. First, soak the toothbrush in the solvent and pour a few drops of the isopropyl alcohol on the pins covered by thermal paste. Using a magnifying glass, look for the tilted angle of the CPU pins. Next, stroke the brush in the tilted direction.
  4. Clean the CPU socket. Cleaning thermal paste smeared on the CPU socket should focus on the holes the thermal paste has blocked. For this, you’ll need to push the tip of a fine toothpick to the bottom of the affected hole. The excess thermal paste will be pushed up and out. From here, you can use your paper towel soaked in isopropyl alcohol to clean the remains.
  5. Lastly, let everything dry for two to five minutes. This provides ample time for the isopropyl alcohol to evaporate completely. When done, insert the CPU into its socket and turn on your computer to test if it works as it should. If not, you may need to have the computer professionally checked.

Beware not to apply too much force when cleaning – CPU pins are designed to sit flush with corresponding holes on the CPU socket. Also, do not dip the CPU in isopropyl alcohol.

If you need visuals, here’s a helpful that has similar steps to above:

What Happens When You Spill Thermal Paste on Your CPU Pins?

Thermal paste is usually applied on the CPU’s Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS). The integrated heat spreader acts as a heat exchanger where heat from the CPU is transferred to the heat sink. The IHS on a CPU is made of highly-conductive copper or aluminum plates.

But no matter how thermally conductive the IHS material is, it still needs thermal paste to dissipate heat more efficiently. A pea-sized amount of thermal paste should be applied between the heat sink and the integrated heat spreader—not inside your CPU socket.

However, when replacing your CPU, you may accidentally apply thermal paste in your CPU socket.

If you spill thermal paste on your CPU pins, the paste will hinder the connection of the socket with the pins. In more severe cases, the electrically conductive thermal paste will damage your motherboard.

To understand the potential impact of thermal paste on your CPU pins, we need to look closely at the types of thermal paste:

  • Metal-based thermal paste. This is one of the best thermal pastes for high thermal conductivity due to its aluminum and silver content. These metals make it a conductor of electricity too, which may result in short-circuiting when applied in direct contact with the electronics.
  • Ceramic-based thermal paste. Contains no metal particles in its structure and is generally considered a safe option for electronics. Although ceramic-based thermal paste provides great thermal conductivity, it will not outperform liquid metal-based thermal paste.
  • Liquid Metal-based thermal paste. Made of metal in liquid form at room temperature. Common materials used in its manufacture include gallium and a mixture of other metals such as tritium and indium. These substances have a low melting point and high thermal conductivity.

Metallic thermal pastes could destroy your CPU, so we recommend cleaning the mess before restarting your computer.


Despite the fact that your CPU creates a lot of heat, placing thermal paste directly between the CPU and its socket is not a smart idea. Thermal paste aids in the dissipation of energy into the environment.

Nevertheless, spreading too much will harm your CPU pins, so wipe up any thermal paste on your CPU pins right once.