How-To

How to clean your Mac


Does your Mac look dirtier than when you unboxed it? For most of us, the answer will be a resounding yes!

Laptops and their peripherals can get very grubby, very quickly, especially if you’re in the bad habit of eating at your desk, or you don’t wash your hands quite as often as you should.

Despite evidence to suggest that your computer may be dirtier than a toilet seat, many people put off cleaning their Macs, for fear of damaging them. While this fear is understandable considering the fact that your typical Mac is an expensive item, keeping your computer clean ensures that it looks its best, and that it continues to function correctly. After all, if gunk ever works its way into your Mac’s insides, it’s going to be very bad news for its performance, and may even cause your Mac to stop working completely.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to clean every part of your Mac, including any peripherals you might be using, such as a Bluetooth mouse or external keyboard.

The steps in this article are especially important if you regularly share your Mac with other people, as a dirty keyboard or mouse is a fantastic way to spread germs. Giving your Mac a good clean is also essential if you’re getting ready to sell it, as no-one will want to splash out on a laptop that’s visibly dirty.


Cleaning the keyboard

Your typical keyboard is a magnet for dirt and grime. Even if your keyboard looks clean, there’s countless ridges and edges where bacteria might be hiding.

Before attempting to clean your keyboard, you need to make sure there’s no chance of getting a nasty electric shock! If you’re cleaning an external keyboard, then disconnect it from your Mac, and remove any batteries. If the keyboard is built into your Mac, then switch off your laptop and disconnect it from the power outlet.

Once you’re confident that there’s zero power running through the keyboard, there’s several steps you can take, in order to give your keyboard a deep clean. Depending on the keyboard in question and the cleaning products you have to hand, you may not be able to complete all of these steps, but even completing a few of these steps is going to make your keyboard significantly cleaner than it was before.

  • Carefully turn your keyboard or Mac upside down, to get rid of any loose debris, such as crumbs from your morning biscuit break. If the keyboard is external, then you could give it a gentle shake, although if the keyboard is built into your Mac then we’d never recommend shaking your laptop!
  • If you have a can of compressed air to hand, then carefully puff air around the keys. If you happen to own one of those novelty keyboard vacuum cleaners, then these can also be useful for blasting away any loose debris.

  • If there’s anything lodged inbetween the keys, then you may be able to prise it loose using some blu tack or white tack. Warm the piece of tack in your hands, and then try dabbing at the debris that you want to dislodge.
  • If there’s still grime wedged inbetween the keys, then take a cotton bud and carefully clean around the problem keys. If the keyboard is external, then you could try dampening the cotton bud very slightly, or use a wooden toothpick to gently scratch away at particularly stubborn debris.

  • Grab a microfibre cloth and give the keyboard a wipe. If your keyboard is particularly grubby, then you can try dampening the cloth, although when dealing with electronics it’s always best to err on the side of caution, and add the tiniest amount of water possible. Liquid damage isn’t covered by the Apple product warranty or AppleCare Protection Plans, so if you do damage your laptop with an overly-damp cloth, then you’ll have to make an appointment with an Apple Authorized Service Provider or Apple Retail Store. If you do use a damp cloth, then always finish up by wiping your keyboard with a clean, dry cloth, just to be sure you’re not leaving any moisture behind.

Once your keyboard is spic and span, you can help keep it that way by avoiding eating at your desk, and washing your hands whenever you suspect there might be additional germs or dirt on them, such as after handling food, touching door handles, and definitely after you’ve been to the bathroom!

Cleaning the screen

After your keyboard, the screen is the part of your Mac that tends to get the grubbiest.

Once again, make sure you play it safe by turning off your Mac and unplugging it from the power supply. When cleaning the screen, you need to be careful not to scratch the glass, so the golden rule is to always use a soft, non-abrasive, lint free cloth, and be prepared to spend a few minutes gently wiping the screen.

If you’re dealing with particularly stubborn smudges, then you can dampen your cloth slightly, although remember that there’s a tonne of electronic components just beneath the surface of the screen. If water gets into your Mac, then a few grubby fingerprints are going to be the least of your worries!

You may have an entire cupboard full of household cleaning products, but avoid the temptation to use any of them on your Mac’s screen, especially any products that contain hydrogen peroxide, solvents, or ammonia.

If you do want to use something besides a microfibre cloth and a drop of water, then you can purchase a range of sprays and wipes that are specifically designed for laptop screens. Just check the label to make sure the spray doesn’t contain any alcohol, as this can damage your Mac. You should also never spray anything directly onto any part of your Mac, including the screen! Even if a spray claims to be 100% laptop safe, always spray it onto a cloth first, as this gives you more control over how much product ends up on your laptop.

Cleaning your mouse

If you use an external mouse, then the rubber feet at the base of the mouse and the sensor lens can both collect a surprising amount of dirt and dust, which may prevent your mouse from registering your movements and clicks correctly.

Once again, safety first: disconnect the mouse from your computer, switch it off, and remove any batteries. You’re then ready to clean the different components:

  • The wheel and buttons. Grime can become lodged in hard-to-reach places, such as in the textured grooves of your mouse’s wheel, or the gaps along the edges of its buttons. Try taking a toothpick, wrapping it in a single layer of microfibre cloth and then carefully cleaning the grooves and gaps around your mouse. Again, it’s crucial that you’re gentle and patient, as you don’t want to snap your toothpick and end up with a shard of wood rattling around inside the mouse!
  • The rubber feet. Turn the mouse upside down and use a cotton bud to clean the rubber feet. Depending on how dirty the feet are, you may also need to use a toothpick to prise away some of the more stuck-on grime.
  • The sensor lens. If your Mac seems to be struggling to track your mouse’s movements, then there could be some dust or dirt on the sensor lens. Try wiping the lens with a soft, non-abrasive material, such as a clean microfibre cloth or cotton bud. Just be careful not to scratch the lens, or apply too much pressure, as this could break the glass!
  • The exterior. Take a microfibre cloth and gently clean the body of your mouse. If the mouse is particularly dirty, then you might need to add a drop of water to your cloth. Never spray any water or products directly onto the mouse, as this could damage the mouse’s finish, or even find its way into the mouse’s inner components.

Cleaning your Mighty Mouse

If you own an Apple Mighty mouse, then you can clean the scroll bar using a damp microfibre cloth, and use a cotton bud to remove any particularly stubborn debris. You may also want to take a can of pressurised air, and use it to clean around the scroll wheel.

Cleaning your Magic Mouse

If your Mac is struggling to properly register your Magic Mouse’s movements, then dust or debris might be interfering with the tracking sensor. Turn the mouse over and inspect the sensor window, ideally using a bright light. If you notice any debris, then you can clean the sensor by taking a can of pressurised air and carefully puffing air around the tracking sensor at the bottom of the mouse.

Cleaning your Touch Bar

If you own one of the newer models of MacBook Pro, then you may occasionally need to clean the Touch Bar and Touch ID.

You can clean these components in exactly the same way you clean the display, so shut down your Mac, unplug it from the power outlet, and then clean the Touch Bar or Touch ID with a soft, lint-free cloth. If the Touch Bar or ID is seriously grubby, then try adding a drop of water to your cloth.

Cables

If you really want to make your Mac look as good as new, then you may want to give your cables a quick wipe. Alcohol wipes are pretty effective at cutting through dirt and grease, although a damp microfiber cloth can also work wonders. This technique is particularly effective if you’re getting your Mac ready to sell, as sparkly-white cables can really help convince potential buyers that your laptop has been well cared for, and is worth the asking price.

About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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