What is Canned Air Used for?

R. Kayne

Canned air, also referred to as condensed air, is not air at all, but compressed gas. So-called canned air is usually difluoroethane, tetrafluoroethane or trifluoroethane in pressurized, liquid form. When the compressed liquid is exposed to air it releases energy as it transforms into gas. The can is fitted with a long, needle-like straw on the nozzle to deliver a highly directed blast of gas.

When used correctly, canned air can clean dirty computer components.
When used correctly, canned air can clean dirty computer components.

Canned air is handy for blowing debris out of sensitive equipment and hard-to-reach places. It is especially common to use for cleaning electronic equipment such as computers and keyboards, cameras, recording equipment, entertainment centers and has many other uses.

Canned air is often used to clean laptop keyboards, which are more difficult to clean due to the keys being closer together.
Canned air is often used to clean laptop keyboards, which are more difficult to clean due to the keys being closer together.

Keyboard design allows the accumulation of dirt, dust, crumbs, hair and other waste to settle between keys. In addition to interfering with the functioning of the keys, debris can potentially accelerate wear on the delicate pads and rockers that sit beneath the keys. By holding the keyboard with the keys facing the floor, a few blasts of canned air across the face can keep a keyboard debris-free.

Computers also accumulate particulate matter. Fans intended to cool the computer case normally collect a layer of dust on each blade. Vents become clogged and the motherboard itself becomes dusty. Dust holds in heat, reduces airflow, and contributes to the system running hotter than necessary. Processors, hard disks and memory chips all operate best within certain temperature ranges. Generally speaking, higher temperatures reduce the life of these devices. Canned air is a great way to quickly rid your computer of smothering dust.

Canned air is also great for photographic equipment, lenses and film. Canned air contains no moisture and can be used to clean the most delicate surfaces without risk of contamination or scratching.

Some less common uses for canned air include cleaning the interior of your car. Be sure the car windows are open for plenty of ventilation, then blast air vents, radios, seat rails, gear consoles, and other areas that collect dust. In the house canned air can effectively clean cloth lampshades, silk flower arrangements and speaker grill covers. Collectibles, figurines, baskets, smoke detectors and crowded bookshelves can also be candidates for cleaning by canned air.

When using canned air, be sure to hold the can upright. If the can is held at a steep angle or upside down, the pressurized liquid will not mix readily with air and rather than a blast of gas, you will get a blast of freezing liquid. The liquid is cold enough to cause burns to the skin and should not be stored within the reach children.

Canned air is available at most computer outlets. It is a handy item to have around the house, workshop or office. Once you have it you’ll likely find many uses for it.

As a cautionary note, canned air is known to be abused as a recreational inhalant. Dusting, taken from the brand name of a popular brand of gas duster, refers to huffing or inhaling the compressed gas. This has resulted in serious, permanent injuries and even death in some cases. Teens mistakenly believe the can is filled with air and cannot be harmful. Huffing canned air can be fatal.

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Discussion Comments


I order office supplies for my department, and canned air is always in great demand. I usually place an order twice a month, and even though there are only about 20 people in my department, I could probably order a case every time, and still wouldn't have enough.

I have a feeling people are taking the stuff home with them to get free supplies, but of course, I can't prove it.

Fortunately, since we order a lot of supplies at one time, they cut us a deal on the prices, but canned air isn't cheap and I'll bet our supply budget would be cut in half if the company decreed everyone had to buy their own!


The canned air is like gold in our office. If anyone knows of someone who has some, that person is popular. Our building is old and dusty, and our keyboards accumulate a lot of dust on a regular basis.

I hate to think what our air ducts must look like if they deposit that much dust on the keyboards. It's rare when I've been at work for about 20 minutes that I don't start sneezing, or my nose starts running, or both. There's something in that building that I'm allergic to, for sure.

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