Macs can build up a lot of grime, dust, and clutter throughout their lives, so it's a good idea to regularly clean them on the outside as well as on the inside (both physically and digitally). Here's our guide to doing exactly that.
We cover cleaning your screen, keyboard, mouse, and getting rid of dust inside your Mac. If you've spilt water or coffee on your machine and are looking for ways to avoid damage, read What to do if you spill liquids on your Mac.
If you're preparing your Mac for sale, it's a good idea to give it a clean before you show it off to potential customers. But that's not the only reason to give it some care and attention. 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 hotdesk and other people will share the same work machine, you should give it a clean to avoid passing germs on to other users or receiving them yourself!
You may also be 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. If so, we recommend reading one of the helpful guides listed below:
- How to delete Mac apps
- How to remove Mac viruses and malware
- How to clear Safari's cache, history and cookies
- How to speed up a slow Mac
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. Laptops can be particularly affected as not only do they spend their lives travelling between locations, often with food being eaten nearby, but the heat generated by the devices themselves in such close proximity to the keys can aid in the growth of germs. So break out the wet wipes from time to time!
Before you start, turn off your Mac to avoid any confusion that might occur from manhandling the keyboard, and we recommend unplugging it from the mains too. Keyboards with batteries should have them removed just to be safe.
Assuming you have a separate keyboard and mouse (it's not attached to your laptop, in other words) you can start by turning it upside down and shaking the dust and food crumbs out. If you have a laptop we don't recommend shaking it too thoroughly; instead just tip it over and give it a gentle rock.
If you don't feel that this has done the job sufficiently, you could use a compressed air spray-can and puff air around the keys. These are cheap to buy, and a quick search on Amazon brought up the 5 Star Air Duster on Amazon UK for £6.09 and the Falcon Dust Off on Amazon US for $16.
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're cleaning a Mac laptop keyboard you only want the cloth to be very slightly damp; in fact, we'd be inclined to suggest 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 Mac keys but this should not be attempted on the slimline 'butterfly' mechanism keyboards that have been around since 2015 on the MacBook, 2016 on MacBook Pros, 2018 on MacBook Airs, or any of the Magic Keyboard models released for iMacs and Mac Minis since 2015, as removing the keys will break them and give you a horrendously expensive repair bill. For those style of device, see the dedicated section below.
Once you've 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 such as the Clinell Universal wipes (£6.67 on Amazon UK) or Awesome Wipes ($7.97 on Amazon US). Avoid cleaners containing hydrogen peroxide and solvents because they could damage the finish.
To keep your keyboard clean in future avoid eating your lunch at your desk, and, obviously, wash your hands after going to the toilet.
If your keyboard is damaged rather just dirty read How to fix a broken Mac keyboard.
Since its introduction in the 2015 MacBook, Apple's new slimline design keyboard with its 'Butterfly' mechanism has become the standard across the Mac range. Due to the low level of travel that the keys have now, there's been an increased number of reported failures with this design, as keys get stuck, stop registering presses or introducing multiple registers at the same time.
One way to prevent this from happening to your Mac is to follow the instruction Apple lays out on how to clean them effectively. First off, tip the MacBook to a 75-degree angle (as in not quite standing straight up). Holding it there, use a can of compressed air (with the straw nozzle attached) to dislodge any crumbs or other debris. Ideally you'll want to hold the nozzle around half an inch away from the keyboard and spray in a left-to-right motion for a few seconds.
Next, stand the MacBook on its side and repeat the process. Flip it over on to the other side and give it another once-over with the compressed air and hopefully any blockages caused by biscuits, dust, or other detritus will now be dislodged.
Should this not be the case, then we suggest contacting Apple Support and taking advantage of the keyboard service scheme which deals specifically with this known issue.
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 microfibre 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're 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're polishing so you don't damage the screen or its hinge if you're 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.
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 on to your cloth and polish away. Just remember to avoid ones containing alcohol, as these 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've got 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 on to 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 peeling off 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 dust from inside your Mac
If you think you've got 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 warranty.
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're 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're happy to risk that then you can use a can of compressed air to puff away the dust once you are inside your Mac. We recommend the iFixIt guides if you need step-by-step instructions on opening up your Mac.
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 once 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.
One way to stop your desktop becoming like a dumping ground is to 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 while also leaving files easy to find.
A more refined solution is to use Tags. When you save something related to a particular work project, or something to do with the kids' 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 obsolete images.
- Go to the Downloads folder in the Finder, type 'disk image' into the search box.
- Select Disk Image under the Kinds header.
- Delete all of those downloaded DMG files.