How long does Thermal Paste last? Applied and Stored

How long does Thermal Paste last? Applied and Stored

The CPU or central processing unit is an essential PC component since it supervises every ins and outs that happen in a computer. But sometimes, it may produce way more heat than what is ideal, which may reduce its operations and affect its performance. This is where thermal paste and CPU cooler come into play. As per definition, thermal paste is a particular compound that is used with different PC components to enhance the overall heat dissipation. This way, you can manage the heat inside your system and maintain the temperature at its adequate level. 

Most coolers and other components already have thermal compounds on them, so you don’t need to reapply. But how long does thermal paste last? What happens if you need to reapply it? Well, the life span of the thermal paste depends upon several factors that must be considered to identify the life of a particular paste. This query looked simple but isn’t when researched and summed up an answer for you. Several other external factors may affect the answer, and this post will help you know everything related to thermal pastes and their life spans. Let’s explore!

First thing first: What is Thermal Paste?

There are numerous alternative names for thermal paste, including compound paste, conductive paste, conductive grease, and thermal grease. Whatever name you give, it accomplishes the same goal. Thermal paste is a substance applied to the space between the heat sink and the appliance to cool to effectively dissipate the heat. Most of the time, we apply it between the CPU and heat sink to improve the conductivity and boost thermal management. The surplus energy that the processor produces is released in the form of heat and is dissipated by heat sinks.

Further, the paste displaces it from the unit and cooperates with the cooler or fan to maintain a constant temperature across the entire system. As you are undoubtedly aware, performance depends on a constant temperature. Additionally, it will extend the lifespan of the motherboard, the CPU, and all other computer components. But the thing to consider is that every type of thermal paste and every method of application has a different effect on how it performs. Now that we know what thermal paste is, let’s check out the average life of a thermal compound!

How long does Thermal Paste last?

thermal paste
thermal paste

There are two cases when we talk about the long-lastingness of the thermal paste. First, when the thermal paste is applied on a particular area, like between the CPU and cooler. Second, when it’s there in the retail shop being kept on a shelf. In both cases, the life span of the thermal would be different. Well, in this article section, we will look at the life of thermal pasts in both scenarios. Let’s check it out!

Case 1: When the thermal paste is applied.

Some factors impact the life of the thermal paste. The most important one is the manufacturing quality of the paste. Suppose it’s a basic thermal compound. In such a case, it can last 1–1.5 years. On the flip side, mid-tier thermal pastes can last for 1.5–2 years, and top-tier ones can be used for 2–3 years. Typically, your usage also affects the life of the thermal paste. If you extremely overclock your PC, play top-tier games, or do content creation, it will expire earlier, and you will need to reapply the thermal paste, and vice versa.

Minimum durationMaximum duration
Basic thermal pastes1 year1.5 years
Mid-tier thermal pastes1.5 years2 years
High-end thermal pastes2 years3 years

Case 2: When the thermal paste was on the shelf.

Most of the time, the manufacturer has mentioned the manufacturing and expiry date of the thermal paste on the packing. Typically, most of the thermal paste could live for 3–4 years on the shelf if the packing or container isn’t opened. On the flip side, things get complicated if you do not know when your bottle was made. Your thermal paste has likely undergone some sort of degradation if stored on a shelf for a while. But again, it also depends upon some external factors as well. Some of the caring tips to extend the life of thermal paste on the shelf are as follows:

  • Tip 1: Keep the paste in a zip-top plastic bag.
  • Tip 2: Ensure the cap is tightly secured; the paste must be removed from the rim to open it.
  • Tip 3: Store far from high or low temperatures (too hot or too cold).

What does thermal paste do other than heat dissipation?

To ensure that they all function with the greatest efficiency possible, thermal paste helps to fill in the cracks and smooth out some of the dents. As a result, the heat sinks can transmit as much heat as feasible. These minor flaws are now rarely even and predictable. The thermal paste needs to expand just a little bit, but not enough to do more harm to fill such defects. Since the thermal paste absorbs most of the heat, it begins to dry out. The thermal paste will develop air-tight fissures or even dents over time. For this reason, you must periodically reapply the paste.

What types of thermal paste are there?

The thermal paste comes in a few different varieties. Because of brand loyalty and the current market’s busyness, consumers often choose one brand and stick with it. They will vouch for the superior longevity of their particular brand or kind of thermal paste. There may be some anecdotal evidence to support this. However, studies have shown that they all begin to deteriorate around the one-year mark. It will, of course, depend on the temperatures the paste has been subjected to, how it is applied, and even how old the paste was when you first used it.

Some of the same materials are used in each type of thermal paste; however, the proportions vary. Zinc oxide, silicone oil, ceramic, aluminum, silver, copper, graphite, carbon nanoparticles, and other antioxidants are some of the most used components in the thermal paste. Conscientious thermal paste consumers will examine the initial ingredient. Depending on their tastes, they will select a thermal paste made of metal, silicon, carbon, or ceramic. So Let’s discuss these in detail to better understand their reliability and efficiency. 

Metal thermal pastes

They are not advised for those who frequently overclock, though, as they won’t conduct as much heat and will deteriorate more quickly in scorching environments. The best thermal pastes for heat conduction are made of metal since they are also electrically conductive. You must be very careful when applying this thermal paste to your motherboard. Metal thermal pastes typically have a longer shelf life on your machine but degrade much more quickly in the tube than in other types. You must consider these factors before buying it. 

When you receive thermal pads, silicon thermal paste is often added to them. These pads are simple to use, but they don’t conduct heat as well, and they dry up a little faster than some of the other thermal pastes. Most people don’t base their thermal paste selections on which ones last the longest. Instead, they will make their selections based on how well they perform and conduct heat. You should purchase the best thermal paste you can afford because replacing this paste can be tricky and requires utmost caution.

Ceramic thermal pastes

A particular brand of thermal paste may be suggested by some manufacturers because they feel it will last longer. However, because the metal-based thermal paste will better conduct heat, gamers and those who often overclock computers will probably prefer it. Ceramic thermal pastes are not conducive because they contain no metal. They are some of the least expensive, risk-free, and simple-to-use thermal pastes. Moreover, you can buy ceramic thermal pastes in various sizes and packaging, so these also save you bucks in this way too. 

Conclusion

All in all, how much does thermal paste last? It depends on the paste’s quality and how heated your CPU becomes. Most thermal pastes can last 1–3 years depending upon some factors like their quality and usage. Additionally, it will dry out more quickly on a hot CPU. Thermal paste of high quality, such as Arctic Silver, may last up to four years. Replace the paste once a year or more if you’re running a costly CPU or aggressively overclocking it. If not, excessive heat production may damage your processor or other components.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should you replace thermal paste?

There are mostly two situations when you should replace the thermal paste. First, when it has been 2-3 years using the same thermal paste, and you haven’t reapplied fresh thermal paste. Second, when you have to remove the CPU cooler from the system due to any reason. In both cases, it’s a wide decision to change the thermal paste to get effective heat dissipation.

How do I clean thermal paste off my CPU?

Cleaning the older thermal paste from the CPU is very easy. Follow the step given below:

Step 1: Take any lint-free cloth and wipe off the thermal paste from the CPU‘s surface. 

Step 2: Next, take a clean and fresh piece of lint-free cloth, damp it in alcohol, and repeat the first step. 

This way, you will be able to remove any remaining thermal payees as well.

Is it possible to use my old thermal paste?

Yes, it’s possible, but it must not be expired. To check this out, you must locate the manufacturing and expiry date on the packing. If there is still a year left from reaching the expiry date, it must be in good condition—you can use it. Moreover, you can also check the physical condition of the compound as well. It must be in good chemistry if it still has the same viscosity and color.

Arslan Ashraf
Arslan Ashraf is a tech enthusiast and an experienced technical writer at GamingDairy. He has been writing all types of guides, tutorials, and tips for gamers, developers, and other people who use computers. His way of writing is quite unique: he starts with testing every single piece of Hardware and does a long list of experiments before writing the actual masterpiece. Well, if you have any queries, ensure to connect with him!