If you are selling your Mac and want to make sure it’s spick and span on the outside, or if you’d like to do a bit of spring cleaning on the inside to make your Mac run smoother and quieter, here are our tips to clean up your Mac.

We cover everything from cleaning your screen, keyboard and mouse, and getting rid of dust inside your Mac in this article. If you have spilt liquid on your Mac and are looking for ways to avoid damage, read this: What to do if you spill liquids on your Mac.

Before you do anything, we recommend backing up your Mac, just in case you do something that causes data to be lost! Here’s how to back up your Mac.

If you are preparing your Mac for sale, then you will want to give it a bit of a clean before you show it off to a potential customer.

But that's not the only reason to clean your Mac. If it’s a work Mac that’s being handed to someone else because you have a new one coming (lucky you), or if you hot desk and other people will use the same work machine as you, you will want to give it a clean to avoid sharing your germs with the other users (and so you don’t catch their cold!)

If you are interested in ridding your Mac of software that is slowing it down, including malware, viruses and other troublesome apps; cleaning Safari’s cache; and deleting data and performing a clean install of the MacOS, you might want to read one of the following:

If your Mac isn't running as well as it used to, read about how to speed up a slow Mac here.

Before you pass on, or sell your Mac, sanitise the keyboard and mouse, and give the screen a bit of a wipe. Here’s how:

How to clean your Mac keyboard

You probably don’t need us to remind you that a keyboard might look clean but it’s likely that there are all sorts of germs and bacteria hidden there. You might even have heard that your keyboard is dirtier than a toilet. That fact is based on research by the University of Arizona that found the average office desktop harboured 400 times more bacteria than the average office toilet seat. Nice!

Before you start, unplug your keyboard (or you might end up causing all sorts of havoc on your Mac). If it’s a Mac laptop then we recommend turning it off and unplugging it if you have it plugged into the mains. If your keyboard has batteries its a good idea to remove these too.

Assuming you have a separate keyboard and mouse (i.e. it’s not attached to your laptop) you can start by turning it upside down and shaking the dust and food crumbs out of your keyboards.

If you have a laptop we don’t recommend shaking it! In that case, and also if you don’t feel that shaking your separate keyboard has done the job sufficiently, you could use a compressed air spray can like this one, and puff air around the keys.

Now that you have de-crumbed, get a microfibre cloth such as this one, make it slightly damp and wipe the keyboard.

If your keyboard is separate to your Mac you should safely be able to give it a good scrub but avoid getting things too wet - if the circuitry underneath the keys gets wet you might have a broken keyboard on your hands. If it’s looking particularly grubby mix a drop of washing up liquid with the water to help shift the worst of the dirt.

If you are cleaning a Mac laptop keyboard you only want the cloth to be very slightly damp, in fact, we’d be inclined to suggest that you don’t use any water at all for this step, relying on elbow grease alone.

If your keyboard is still filthy you could remove keys to get at the hidden dirt and grime. We have an article that explains how to remove keys here. Once you have got the keys off you can use your can of compressed air to blow away the dirt and dust that was lurking underneath. To remove particularly stubborn dirt you could use a damp cotton bud, but make sure the keyboard is dry before putting the keys back.

Finally, disinfect the keyboard with alcohol wipes or anti bacterial surface wipes like these. Avoid cleaners containing hydrogen peroxide and solvents because they could damage the finish.

To keep your keyboard clean avoid eating your lunch at your desk, and, obviously, wash your hands after going to the toilet.

If your keyboard is broken read: How to fix a broken Mac keyboard.

How to clean your Mac screen

The next part of your Mac that could probably do with a clean is the screen.

Before you start, turn off your Mac and unplug it.

Grab a microfiber cloth (like the one we mention above) to give the screen a bit of a polish. Do not use kitchen towels or tissue, and definitely don’t use an abrasive cloth. You want something soft that won’t leave anything behind, so look for ‘lint free’ if you are buying a cloth for the purpose.

It’s best to make small circles with the cloth and it will probably take a few minutes to remove all the fingerprints and smudges. Make sure you support the screen while you are polishing so you don’t damage the screen or its hinge if you are using a laptop.

If your attempts to remove finger prints and smudges haven’t paid off you could switch to using a moist cloth. Slightly dampen your cloth, you want to avoid using a soaked cloth that could cause water to leak into your machine. To minimise the risk you could use distilled water as that won’t have as many of the damage causing minerals present in tap water.

Do not spray water or any kind of cleaner on your laptop or desktop display. It might seem like a good idea to get out the Windolene, but if you get water or other chemicals inside the machine it might short or the components could be damaged, not to mention the screen itself could be damaged.

You can get cleaning products developed specifically for LCD displays (such as this). Despite these often coming in the form of a spray, we still don’t recommend spraying them directly on the screen. Instead spray a bit onto your cloth and polish away. You can also get wipes (such as these) designed for cleaning LCD displays. The wipes you choose should not contain alcohol because alcohol could damage the screen.

How to clean a Mac mouse

Luckily the days of mice with tracking balls are gone, but even the rubber feet on the base of the mouse can collect dirt and sometimes the sensor lens can get dirty, stopping the mouse from tracking properly.

If you have a click button or a wheel on the top these are likely to harbour lots of germs too. So before you pass on your mouse to another person you should sanitise it.

Before cleaning your mouse, unplug it from your computer.

To clean the wheel on top of the mouse, and any other grooves caused by buttons you could use a toothpick, but be careful not to snap it. Wipe the mouse with a microfibre cloth, but as before avoid any harsh chemicals that might damage the finish or find their way onto the components.

Turn the mouse upside down and use a cotton wool bud to clean the rubber feet on the base. A toothpick might be helpful for pealing of the really grubby bits.

If your Mac isn’t tracking properly there may be some dust or other dirt on the sensor lens. You could use compressed air to clean the sensor window or gently use a cotton bud, but be careful not to scratch the sensor or push too hard.

Finally you could wipe the mouse with a disinfecting wipe like the ones used for the keyboard above.

How to clean out dust from inside your Mac

If you think you have dust caught in the fan and battery area of your Mac it is possible to clear it, but before you open up your Mac beware that doing so may void your warrantee.

Also note that modern Macs are less likely to suffer from this problem compared to older Macs, such as the aluminium Mac Pro which was discontinued in 2012.

Signs that there is dust inside your Mac include overheating due to the air not circulating, unexpected shutdowns when your Mac overheats, and slower performance as your Mac tries not to overheat.

You are also likely to hear more fan noise more frequently as your Mac attempts to cool itself.

To clean the dust from inside you Mac you might need to open up the machine. As we said above, we don’t recommend this because it could void your warranty and because you might break something. Warning: If your Mac was produced by Apple in the last decade do not expect it to be easy to get inside.

Do not assume that you can use a vacuum cleaner to suck dust out of the vents without opening your Mac. Not only could you loosen components, the vacuum might generate static electricity and cause your components to short.

If you are happy to risk that then you can use a can of compressed air to puff away the dust from inside your Mac, once you are inside your Mac. We recommend iFixIt’s guides if you need guidance on opening up your Mac. https://www.ifixit.com

To avoid dust getting into your Mac again follow these tips:

  • Don’t use your Mac on your lap, or on a material surface. The fans are more likely to pull in dust than if it was on a hard table.
  • Speaking of which, dust your desk once in a while and vacuum the carpets often.
  • You can also wipe the vents of your Mac one in a while.

Desktop cleaning and filing tips

Your Mac might be sparkling, but is your Mac Desktop a cluttered mess of folders, files and screen shots?

If it is, here are some tips to keep things in order.

It used to be advised that you shouldn't keep files on your Desktop because it could slow down your Mac. Now that you can share your Desktop across multiple Macs, this no longer applies, in fact we'd advice that you do keep files there. However, that doesn't mean it has to be a mess.

You could shove everything in a folder on your Desktop each night. Out of sight is out of mind - but more importantly, it keeps things a bit more private.

To make things easier to find you can use Tags when you save them. When you save something related to a particular work project, or something to do with the kid's school, add a Tag that will make it easy to find again. You can even create smart folders based on these Tags so that you can easily find everything related to that project no matter where you originally saved it.

Another thing to do from time to time is check your Downloads folder. This tends to end up a dumping ground of disk images and unrequired images.

  1. Go to the Downloads folder in the Finder, type 'disk image' into the search box.
  2. Select Disk Image under the Kinds header.
  3. Delete all of those downloaded DMG files.