In this article we’ll look at how to to pair a Bluetooth device with a Mac, and what to do when you encounter Bluetooth connection problems, including what to do if Bluetooth is not working or unavailable, and when pairing fails.
Before we examine the fixes for Bluetooth problems, we’ll quickly cover the basics, such as where to find Bluetooth on a Mac, how to turn Bluetooth on (and off), and how Bluetooth can be used to connect devices to your Mac wirelessly.
You can also use Bluetooth to connecting your Mac to your iPhone in order to share an internet connection. Read our guide to creating a Personal Hotspot on your iPhone here, and how to share the WiFi from your iPhone here.
How to turn on Bluetooth
Can’t find Bluetooth on your Mac? You wouldn’t be the first person. Bluetooth can be found in System Preferences, and once you are there you can check a box to make sure that it is always visible in the menu at the top of your screen, if you like.
Turning on Bluetooth on a Mac is easy, as long as your Mac has Bluetooth (it’s likely it does as all Macs have worked with Bluetooth since 2002). You can check you have Bluetooth by clicking on the Apple logo > About this Mac > System Report > Bluetooth (if you don’t see Bluetooth you don’t have it - as we said, very unlikely).
Here’s how to turn on Bluetooth on your Mac:
- Open System Preferences (click on the Apple logo > System Preferences).
- Click on Bluetooth.
- Click on Turn Bluetooth On (if it isn’t already).
- You will see a list of Devices which are available to connect to. Find the Bluetooth device you want to connect to in this list (as long as the device is turned on).
- Click Connect.
We will examine what to do if the device isn’t listed, or if you can’t connect for another reason below.
Before we do, you might like to add a shortcut to Bluetooth if you use it frequently, you can do so from the Preferences Screen, as we will explain next.
How to add Bluetooth to the menu bar
You can add a Bluetooth icon to your menu bar that will indicate whether Bluetooth is on, and if any devices are connected to it, even if a Bluetooth device is low on battery. Here’s how:
- Open Open System Preferences.
- Click Bluetooth.
- Check the box beside Show Bluetooth in menu bar.
How to connect a Bluetooth device to your Mac
Whether it’s a Bluetooth mouse, keyboard, trackpad, speakers or headphones, pairing a Bluetooth device with your Mac should be easy. (Pairing is the term used to describe the way two Bluetooth devices are connected.)
If a Bluetooth device came with your Mac it should already be paired so all you need to do is switch it on. If its a newer Apple device then it will have a slider on the base or side that should show green if it’s turned on. Older Apple Bluetooth devices may have a LED light that blinks when in Discoverable Mode and once paired remain on.
If you bought an Apple Bluetooth device separately, then all you need is a Lightning cable (which should have shipped in the box), we’ll quickly run though how to do that, before we look at how to connect a non-Apple product via Bluetooth.
If an Apple Bluetooth device isn’t paired with your Mac, here’s how to pair it with your Mac:
- Connect the device to your Mac using a Lightning to USB cable (or Lightning to USB C if you have a newer Mac).
- Turn the device on - check the power switch on the base is showing green.
- Open System Preferences > Bluetooth.
- When the device pairs it will appear in the devices list.
Bluetooth connection problems
Whether you are wondering why Bluetooth isn’t connecting, having problems due to an unsuccessful connection, or finding that Bluetooth is not available on your Mac, we have the answers to your pairing problems below.
Here’s what to do if Bluetooth will not connect, isn’t supported, or can’t find the device, whether its your Mac to your iPhone, your Mac to TV, a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, speaker or headphones.
We’ll cover the main scenarios below.
How to tell if a Bluetooth device is running low on battery
If a Bluetooth device isn’t connected to your Mac it may be because the battery is low. Similarly, some devices will disconnect if they haven’t been used for a while in order to preserve battery.
If a Bluetooth device has a low battery, the Bluetooth icon in the menu (see above for how to add it) will feature a battery symbol.
You can also visit System Preferences > Bluetooth to see your device's charge level.
How to tell if a Bluetooth device is connected
You may from time to time wonder if someone’s Bluetooth keyboard has mysteriously connected to your Mac. It shouldn’t happen, but we’ve been convinced it has in the past when the mouse pointer moves across the screen (we’re hoping that our Mac isn’t haunted anyway).
It’s feasible that this could happen if the mouse or keyboard had previously been paired your Mac - which could be the case in a busy office.
One way to check if something is connected to your Mac’s Bluetooth, is to look at the Bluetooth icon in the menu bar (see how to add it above). If a Bluetooth device is connected it will have three dots through it.
Alternatively, open System Preferences > Bluetooth and check to see what Devices are connected.
Music not playing through Bluetooth headphones/speaker
If you have a pair of Bluetooth headphones or a Bluetooth speaker, but the audio from your Mac isn’t automatically being routed through them, follow these steps:
- Open System Preferences.
- Click on Sound.
- Click on Output.
- Close the device you wish the music to play through.
Bluetooth Mouse/keyboard not working
If your Bluetooth mouse, keyboard, or trackpad isn’t working follow these steps to solve the problem:
- Make sure that the Bluetooth device is turned on following the advice above (check for the green slider switch or press the power button depending on the age of your device).
- If the device is on, turn it off and on again.
- Click the mouse button or press a key on your keyboard, to see if that wakes it up.
- Once on, the device should appear in System Preferences > Bluetooth. If it doesn’t appear there, and you know that the batteries aren’t low follow these steps to pair it with your Mac.
- While in System Preferences > Bluetooth, check that Bluetooth is turned on.
- Plug in your Bluetooth device.
- Open System Preferences > Mouse/Keyboard/Trackpad.
- Click on Set Up Bluetooth Mouse/Keyboard/Trackpad….
- Your Mac will search for the Device.
Troubleshooting connection issues
Once you have checked the battery and made sure that your Mac is set to connect to the Bluetooth device, there are a couple of other things to check, but before you do, make sure you are close enough to your Mac. This is because Bluetooth usually has a range of about 10 meters (30 feet). If you are further away from the device then you may have connection issues.
Now it’s time to move onto some Bluetooth troubleshooting
1. Turn it off and on again
As usual with these things, sometimes just turning it off and on again can fix the problem.
You can turn off Bluetooth by clicking on the Bluetooth icon in the Menu bar at the top of the screen. Click Turn Bluetooth Off, then click Turn Bluetooth On.
If that’s not showing, Open System Preferences > Click Bluetooth > Click Turn Bluetooth Off. Then click Turn Bluetooth On.
If that doesn’t work, restart Mac
2. Remove Bluetooth devices
If turning your Mac of and on again doesn’t work, turn your Bluetooth devices off and on.
There’s another reason to remove devices - if you are connected to too many devices this can cause connection problems. While seven is said to the the maximum number of Bluetooth devices, you may encounter issues once you go over three or four because some devices need more data than others.
Open System Preferences > Bluetooth.
If the device that is causing problems is listed, click on the x beside it to remove it.
Restart the computer.
Wait two minutes.
Reconnect USB devices.
3. Check for interference
Some household devices that operate on the 2.4GHz band can interfere with Bluetooth, such as cordless telephones, baby monitors, microwaves.
Metal objects can also cause problems for your Bluetooth connection, so make sure there are no metal objects between your devices.
4. Remove and regenerate the Bluetooth.plist file
There are two ways to remove the plist files - your Mac will regenerate them after you reboot, which can fix the issues.
- Open Terminal
- Type sudo rm -R /Library/Preferences/com.apple.Bluetooth.plist
- Type in your password.
- Restart your Mac.
- Go to System preferences > Bluetooth.
- Turn Bluetooth On.
- Now try to pair your devices.
- Open Finder.
- Click Go.
- Click Go to Folder.
- Type in: /Library/Preferences
- Click Go.
- Find the com.apple.Bluetooth.plist file.
- Move the plist file to the Trash.
- Click Go > Go to Folder
- Type in: ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost
- Click Go.
- This time find com.apple.Bluetooth.XXX.plist file (this will be made up of some random letters) and move it to the Trash.
- Now restart your Mac - it will automatically generate new Bluetooth plist files the next time you turn Bluetooth off and on again.
5. Re-configure and reset
This is the last port of call. You can easily reset all your Bluetooth devices from the menu bar.
- Press shift + Option/Alt at the same time as you click Bluetooth in menu bar.
- Click on Debug > Remove all devices.
- Open the menu again and click Debug > Reset the Bluetooth module.
- Now try and re-pair your Bluetooth devices.