Help! My Mac won't shut down. How do I turn off an Apple Mac, and what happens if my Mac won't shut down properly.

It should be easy to turn off and shut down your Mac.

At least that's the theory. In truth switching off a Mac can sometimes be a real pain. In this feature we look at how to switch off a Mac, and what to do if your Mac doesn't shut down properly.

See also: 10 steps to take when your Mac won't start up and 5 steps (and 8 checks) to help fix a frozen Mac

How to turn off a Mac

It's easy to turn off a Mac. Here's what you need to do.

  1. Click on the Apple logo in the top left of your screen. Select Shut Down...
  2. You will see an alert warning that your Mac will shut down, with a clock counting down from 1 minute.
  3. You can skip the countdown if you hold down the Command key while choosing Shut Down.
  4. You may see warnigns that suggest you should save things you have been working on in your various apps.
  5. Once all the apps are closed, your Mac should shut down.

How to Shut Down a Mac

However, as we said, sometimes this doesn't work so smoothly. We'll look at some of the reasons for this below.

Give your Mac a little more time

If your Mac isn't shutting down the first thing to do is give it a bit of time. Sometimes shutting down can be a long process as MacOS sorts through its open files and attempts to close all of the programs. This is especially true if you have a lot of programs and documents open.

All of this shouldn't really take longer than a minute, but time goes slowly when you're staring at a screen waiting for something to happen.

Select Apple > Shut Down and leave the Mac alone for five minutes. Go make a cup of tea while MacOS does its thing.

Close all apps before shutting down

App failed to quit when shutting down

The Mac operating system needs to close all apps before it can shut down. Problems in the Shut Down process are sometimes caused by apps that fail to close. This is often because the app has an unsaved document in it. But it could be because the application has crashed or frozen. 

To find out if there is a problem with one of your apps we suggest you do the following:

  1. Check the Dock for bouncing app alerts. This will indicate that somethign in that app needs your attention.
  2. If you need to save a file, choose Save from the Alert Window for each document. Note that if you choose Cancel it will stop the Shut Down process.
  3. If there is another reason why an app won't shut down you might have success if you Force Quit it - this could result in lost data (when this happens to us we often screen shot what's on the screen so that we have something to help us recreate what we were working on). You can read about how to Force Quit an app here. (One way is to right click on the icon in the Dock and choose Force Quit).

Once all your apps are closed you should be able to shut down your Mac without any issues. However, if you are still having problems with it, read on...

Also read: How to fix a MacBook that won't charge.

What to do if your Mac is frozen

Sometimes your Mac won't shutdown because it has frozen. If you think that might have happened, try to move the cursor around and if it doesn’t move your Mac may have frozen.

Obviously this is going to make choosing Apple > Shut Down from the menu problematic.

There are a couple of ways you can shut down your Mac if this is the case:

  • Press and hold the Power button for 1.5 seconds, you should then see the dialog box asking if you want to sleep, restart or shut down.
  • To Shut down instantly, and not see the dialog box press Control at the same time as the Power button (or Eject + Power button if you have an Eject key). This will force your Mac to restart.

If your Mac still doesn't shut down you may have to force it to switch off.

  1. Press and hold the Power button on your Mac until the screen goes black and the power light goes off. You may hear a wiring soung and a click.
  2. Leave the a Mac for around 30 seconds before pressing the Power button again to switch it back on.

It's best not to get into the habit of shutting your Mac down this way because MacOS will work better if it gets to shut down properly (allowing it to clean up and store code properly). If your Mac is routinely refusing to shut down, and you're not leaving apps and documents unsaved, then you should look at what is causing the problem rather than relying on pressing and holding the power button.

Read next: Should I Shut Down my Mac? Power saving/security pros and cons

How to fix an Apple Mac that won't shut down

There's no simple answer to fix a Mac that has problems shutting down. It could be caused by a variety of different problems. Here are some troubleshoooting steps that we advise you to try. Go through each one at a time and see if it solves the problem:

  1. Try to determine if one particular app is causing the problem. If one app always freezes when you shut down, and cancels the shut down process then update it (or re-install it).
  2. Perform a software update (open App Store and click Updates > Update All).
  3. Update any software that you installed outside of the App Store. Typically open the App and choose Help > Update or App > Update Software.
  4. Check that you have FileVault turned off (System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault > Turn Off FileVault).
  5. Open Disk Utility. Choose the main hard drive and click Verify Disk. If there are any problems click Repair Disk. Read about using Disk Utility here.
  6. Choose the main volume in Disk Utility (underneath your main drive) and choose Verify Disk Permissions > Repair Disk Permissions.
  7. Reset the SMC. Follow this Apple Support article.
  8. Back up your Mac and reinstall MacOS.

Let us know in the comments if you have encountered any shut down problems and the steps you took to resolve it.