Tech View

Toothpaste vs Thermal Paste

You may think that it’s a very bad idea to use toothpaste as a thermal paste. Actually, you may think it’s the worst idea and it may sound like a meme for you.

But think about an emergency. Think that you’re out of thermal paste and you don’t have the time to wait to buy thermal paste. So what can you use as an alternative to thermal paste?

thermal paste

What can you use instead? To answer it helps to understand exactly how thermal paste works. When you apply thermal paste to the top of your CPU and then put your heat sink on top of it, the paste fills in microscopic cracks in both the CPU heat spreader and the bottom of the heat sink, as you apply pressure. Filling in these cracks eliminates small air gaps that can prevent heat from effectively flowing out of your processor and into your cooler. The materials that make up the thermal base need to be thermally conductive or heat will have a hard time flowing through it regardless of how well it eliminates air pockets.

thermal paste

Thermal paste often contains metal oxide compounds, that are good at conducting heat but not electricity. This way they’ll cool off your CPU without posing a risk of shorting out your components if you have a spill. There are liquid metal thermal solutions that conduct heat more effectively than metal oxide thermal paste. But unfortunately, they’re also electrically conductive, so most enthusiasts sacrifice a few degrees and just use the thermal paste since it’s safer and easier to apply.

But are there easy to obtain materials that have the same properties as thermal paste? To answer our original question you actually can use toothpaste in a pinch although you probably want to mix it in with petroleum jelly like Vaseline to prevent it from drying out too quickly. But here’s the thing, it’s kind of a crap shoot how well any given toothpaste will perform with your particular setup? Some of the ingredients in toothpaste can actually be decent conductors of heat, but it’s not going to be as effective as an actual thermal paste.

Toothpaste contains fluoride which has a corrosive effect great for cleaning teeth. But plaque buildup and gingivitis are less of a problem for heat spreaders. Another popular option is diaper rash cream, containing zinc oxide since zinc oxide is a common thermal conductor found in an actual thermal paste. It’s not the worst option if you happen to have it on hand and it won’t dry out as quickly as many other thermal paste alternatives. But even so, it won’t stay the right consistency for more than a few months and that sounds like a long time but thermal paste is designed to last in your system for years before it might dry out.

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Just think about all the pre-built computers sold to folks who don’t even know what thermal paste is! They’re probably never even going to crack open their machines let alone experiment with slopping hygiene products in there and also the general public tends to hold onto their PCs for longer than enthusiasts and gamers since they aren’t as interested in upgrading to the latest tech to play the latest AAA game. There’s a reason that putting unusual substances on CPUs has primarily stayed in meme territory.

So bottom line any thick pasty material that doesn’t conduct electricity could work all right if you’re having some kind of overheating emergency and need to use your PC briefly. But get yourself some spare thermal paste. One good quality tube will have enough pace for several applications and cost less than 10 bucks and in Bangladesh, it will cost 200-1000 Tk.

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