How to Apply Thermal Paste [2023 Guide]

How to Apply Thermal Paste

Want to learn how to spread the thermal paste on the CPU before attaching the heat sink? In this article, we’ve covered the steps to help you get it done professionally. Keep reading for the details….

Thermal Paste, also called heat paste or thermal interface material (TIM), is a heat dissipation paste made of silicone oil and some filling thermally conductive filler materials. Its stability temperature range is between -50 and 200 degrees celsius.

It’s normally applied as an interface between the CPU and heat sinks to maximize heat dissipation. It works by eliminating air gaps or spaces on the surface of the heat emitting semiconductor such as CPU, thus enhancing heat dissipation.

The need to apply thermal paste cannot be emphasized enough.

Why do you need to use thermal paste?

Why you need to use the thermal paste

CPUs normally generate immense amounts of heat when your PC is running. Without a proper cooling system, the processor will certainly blow up. To keep it working optimally, a set of cooling mechanisms are put in place. Among these is the fan, which works by facilitating the removal of hot air from the CPU and the heat sinks.

Then there’s the heat sink that is attached to the CPU. While the link between the two can be thought of as being tight, the fact is that between the two metallic surfaces, there are micro-gaps filled with air which insulates the CPU against efficient heat conduction and dissipation via the heat sink.

To fix this problem, you need a heat-conducting substance to fill the microscopic gaps. That is where the thermal paste or thermal grease comes in.

How to apply thermal paste correctly

Before you begin, it’s essential to check and confirm that the CPU surface is clean. Be sure to remove any old thermal paste on the CPU surface. Use isopropyl alcohol and a piece of microfiber cloth to clean it.

remove any old thermal paste

That being said, follow the steps below to apply thermal paste on the CPU correctly.

Step 1: Start by checking the instructions with thermal paste and CPU cooler. That will save you some time by making the process both smooth and quick.

thermal paste and CPU cooler

cpu cooler

Step 2: Apply a pea-sized amount of the thermal paste at the center of the CPU’s Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS).

Apply thermal paste on center of the CPU

  • Tip!

1. Insufficient amount of thermal paste on the CPU may not cover the entire targeted surface area of the CPU.

2. Too much thermal paste on the CPU might compromise heat conduction between the two metal surfaces.

Step 3: Install the CPU cooler. To do this, attach the baseplate or water block of your cooler onto the CPU by applying light pressure.

Install the CPU cooler

Keep the cooler help in place while attaching the screws to secure it onto the motherboard in a diagonal pattern.

Step 4: Check and confirm that the CPU cooler is firmly attached and that there’s no paste spilling over the edges of the CPU.

CPU cooler is firmly attached

What is the thermal paste application method best for heat dissipation?

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There are different methods for applying the thermal paste. Some of the common techniques used include the rice or pea-sized dot, three lines, spiral pattern, x-shape, circular, among other methods.  While all these methods can be used to apply thermal paste, not all guarantee peak heat dissipation from the CPU.

From expert advice and personal experience, the rice or pea-sized dot method provides heat conduction and dissipation capacity. It offers the best CPU cooling effect.

How much thermal paste should I apply to the CPU?

amount of thermal paste apply to the CPU

It is recommended to apply just a small amount of the paste onto the CPU surface. Too much is not okay because the thickness of the thermal paste layer might insulate the processor, thereby impairing heat loss.

Moreover, if you apply the excess paste on the surface, it might spill onto the edges during the installation of the heat sink, thus making a mess of the whole process.

On the other hand, too little paste may not be sufficient to cover the entire CPU surface.

How to clean off thermal paste

Once in a while, you will need to clean off the old thermal paste to apply a new one. For instance, your CPU needs a thermal paste retouch. In such a case, you’ll need to arm yourself with a microfibre cloth, 99% Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), and cotton swabs.

Follow the steps below to clean off thermal paste…

Step 1: Use the microfiber cloth to rub the surface of the CPU. This should remove the loose paste from the surface.

wiping the surface of the CPU with a cotton swab

Step 2: Next, loosen hardened paste by wiping the surface of the CPU with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

microfiber cloth to rub the surface of the CPU

Step 3: Use the microfiber cloth to remove any loosened old thermal paste after the alcohol has evaporated.

How to clean thermal paste

Step 4: Check the under-surface of the baseplate if there’s any old thermal grease stuck in there. If there is, repeat the steps above to clean it off.

How to view the real-time temperature of the CPU

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You can check the real-time temperature of your CPU using the Core Temp program. To do that, all you need to do is download and install the software on your Windows PC.

After successfully installing the software, the next step is to launch the Core Temp program.

On its simple user interface, you will be able to see different readings, but more importantly, you will see the temperature values for each CPU core.

That being said, it’s also noteworthy that Core Temp’s readings are very accurate because it draws its data from Digital Thermal Sensors (DTS) located in each CPU processing core.


1. What should I do if the thermal grease is applied to other parts?

You can clean it off using a paper towel or a microfiber cloth. To remove stubborn thermal grease that may have spilled or smeared onto other surfaces, consider wiping the surface with a paper towel or microfiber cloth dipped in alcohol.

2. How often should I replace the thermal grease?

There’s no exact set frequency that one ought to stick to for applying the thermal grease. Normally, you’d replace it once every few years.

However, whenever you detach the cooler from the CPU for any reason, you’ll need to reapply the past immediately before reattaching the heat sinks.

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