Dust and fingerprints can detract from a flat-panel TV’s picture quality — and improper cleaning can cause permanent damage. Traditional “tube” televisions are easy to clean— just spray a little glass cleaner on the screen, then wipe it off with a paper towel. Don’t try this with a panel-screen TV (plasma, LCD or projection). The chemicals in window cleaners can permanently fog or smudge your TV’s screen, or even remove its anti-glare coating. Also, spray-on cleaners can get inside flat panels and cause serious damage — and because many flat panels are plastic, paper towels can scratch the screen’s surface.

Better Cleaning

Buy a cleaner designed specifically for flat-panel televisions or for laptop computer screens — the cleaners are virtually identical. They do not contain alcohol, ammonia or strong solvents that could damage the screen… nor do they contain soaps that could leave a residue. They are sold at electronics and computer stores.

Also, use microfiber cloths, such as those marketed for cleaning laptop screens, eyeglasses or camera lenses. Microfiber cloths are extremely nonabrasive, minimizing the risk of scratches. They do a wonderful job of both picking up dust and removing the oils left by fingerprints.

Cotton rags, bath towels, paper towels, tissues and toilet paper feel soft on our skin, but they actually are somewhat abrasive and can leave tiny scratches on a flat-panel screen. Paper towels also can carry a static charge that could, in theory, damage your television’s electronics.

To clean your flat-panel TV…

Turn off your TV. Dust and smudges will be easier to see against a black background.

Apply a small amount of cleaner to your microfiber cloth. Never spray cleaner directly onto the screen — excess fluid could run down the screen and pool in the gap between the screen and the lower portion of its frame. This fluid could short out the TV’s circuits or distort the lower portion of the picture.

Gently wipe the screen. Resist the urge to scrub harder if certain smudges prove difficult to remove. Pressing hard can permanently damage an LCD screen… or crack a plasma screen. Instead, continue to gently and patiently wipe the smudged area.

Protecting Your TV

Three more ways to avoid damage to your flat-panel TV…

Use a surge protector that includes a “video filter.” This not only protects your television from surges in your power line, it also protects it from surges in the cable line caused by lightning strikes.

Double-check that you have connected your TV properly before turning it on for the first time. Crossed connections can cause significant damage. Example: You could overload your TV’s circuits if you accidentally plug an audio cable into your flat-screen TV’s video input.

Read the section of your plasma television’s manual covering burn-in. “Burn-in” — a permanent ghost image of something previously displayed on the screen — is much less likely with today’s plasma TVs than it was with early models. It still is possible, however, particularly during the first few hundred hours that a plasma TV is in use. Your plasma TV’s manual explains how to enable the set’s burn-in safeguards… and how to avoid major burn-in risks.