I don’t know what your habits are, but I can’t stand a dirty laptop. I’m not even someone you could call pathologically neat—some days, my working desk looks like a pigsty in a war zone—but something about unkempt laptops gets my goat.

You know what I mean (don’t tell me: you probably have one): it’s the laptop you never wiped since three days after you bought it, so that the wristrest has begun to darken where the wrists never rest; beneath the keys on the keyboard is a chipmunk’s winter trove of peanuts, Chippy, kornik, and Chocnut, aside from enough hairballs to upholster a small sofa. The E, S, T, and M keys are shiny—touching the rest could give you some viral infection. The screen’s buried behind a coat of infernal grime.

OK, OK, so some days my own PowerBook might look like that, too. That’s when I take a break and assemble my clean-up gear: an old sando (or that ratty T-shirt from college you couldn’t bear to part with until your sister used it to wipe dog poo from the floor); a little water (plain tap water, nothing ammoniac); some masking tape; and a Q-Tip or two.

The sando and water (very slightly damp) are for the screen and the exterior (a regular, circular wiping motion does it); the masking tape is for that granary under and between the keys; and the Q-Tips are for the keys, the corners of the trackpad, and other hard-to-get-at places that could use a little scrubbing.

By the way, I don’t use silicone skins or screen protectors or any such prophylactics. I like the sensual feel of the bare keys at my fingertips (and you arguably can’t find a better one than the aluminum PowerBook’s keyboard—one more reason I haven’t “upgraded” to a MacBook).

When I’m done detailing my G4, it’s almost like I’m looking at a new Mac altogether; it’s almost like I just bought a new machine—for the price of a Q-Tip. So if you ever get that urge to buy something smart and shiny, try cleaning up your old gear, and save the money for a new sando and a sack of peanuts.