How to Clean a Mac Keyboard

Maintain that keyboard and you'll be able to use it for years

A clean keyboard is a happy keyboard, but keeping the keys clean and their action snappy can be a bit of a hassle. Whether you inherited someone else's keyboard or you're doing a stem-to-stern deep clean of your work area, here are the best ways to clean your Mac or MacBook keyboard.

Mac laptop
Eric Vega/Getty Images

This article provides instructions for doing a quick, surfaces-only cleaning as well as a deeper cleaning to get at the big chunks that can interfere with the physical action of the keys. It does not address the topic of spills.

If you're attempting to clean a mess caused by a liquid spill on your Mac keyboard or MacBook, unplug the keyboard or shut down your laptop and take it to an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Center. Powering up your expensive computer before it's been cleaned by a specialist is a surefire way to short out something expensive.

Gather Your Gear

Start by gathering your tools for the cleanup:

  • Canister or shop vac with a soft brush attachment
  • Old pantyhose (optional)
  • Lint-free cloth or paper towels
  • Cotton ear swabs
  • Isopropyl alcohol, 99% (available at most pharmacies)
  • Cloth or paper towels for your work surface
  • Canned air

Read the instructions when using canned air. Tipping the can during use may result in propellant spraying out of the can rather than air, which can harm delicate electronics.

How to Clean Surface Grime From Your Mac or MacBook Keyboard

Getting rid of the dirt and oils that accumulate over time keeps your keyboard or laptop looking new and prevents the grunge from creeping down into your keyboard's switches where it can do real damage.

  1. Unplug your keyboard or shut down your MacBook.

  2. Turn the keyboard or laptop key-side down and give it a good shake. To dislodge any loose debris from between the keys, tap the edges of the keyboard or laptop.

  3. Dampen a small area of a dry, clean lint-free cloth or paper towel and gently wipe away the surface dirt and oils that have accumulated on the keys. Clean in between the keys, the space bar, and the trackpad. Turn the cloth or paper towel frequently so that you're removing dirt rather than pushing it around.

  4. Use an alcohol-dampened cotton swab to get at corners or small spaces or to loosen stubborn grime.

  5. When using isopropyl alcohol, less is more. Alcohol evaporates quickly, so if you keep your swaps and paper towels only damp, you shouldn't need to dry off anything.

Deep Clean the Keyboard of Your Mac, MacBook, or MacBook Pro

When keys are sticking or debris is lodged under a key, a deep cleaning is called for.

MacBook (2015 through 2017 models) and MacBook Pro (2016 to 2017 models) have an ultra-low profile key design that creates challenges for cleaning debris from under the keys. If your MacBook or MacBook Pro keyboard is acting weird—repeating letters or sticking keys— have it serviced under Apple's Keyboard Service Program.

  1. Disconnect your keyboard or shut down your laptop.

  2. Press each key to ensure that the key caps are all properly seated and snapped in place. This is also a good way to ensure that the action on your keys is consistent and that key travel isn't hindered by hidden debris.

  3. Turn your laptop or MacBook key-side down and give it a good shake. To dislodge any loose debris from between the keys, tap on the edges of the keyboard or laptop. The object is to shake out as much of the dry, loose debris as possible.

  4. Holding the keyboard at an angle (Apple recommends 75 degrees for laptops), spray the canned air in short bursts in the space between each row of keys, working left to right, top to bottom, in a zigzag pattern.

    Canned air being used to clean a MacBook keyboard.
  5. Now turn the keyboard 90 degrees to the right and blow compressed air in short bursts from edge to edge.

    MacBook turn on its side, being cleaned with short bursts of canned air.
  6. Use your canister or shop vac with a soft brush attachment and gently brush along the keyboard or laptop to remove any remaining debris.

    If any of your keys are loose or have fallen off previously, cut the foot from a pair of pantyhose and slip it over the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner before turning on the vacuum. If a key cap comes loose from the suction of the vacuum cleaner, it is caught before traveling deep into the recesses of a vacuum bag.

  7. Now remove surface dirt and grime using the instructions above.

How Do I Clean My Mac's Bluetooth Keyboard?

Your Mac's no-cable Bluetooth keyboard is near indestructible and will last for years with a little preventive maintenance and cleaning.

Apple's wireless Bluettoth peripherals, including Magic Keyboard, Magic Extended Keyboard, Mouse, and Magic Mouse 

Here's what you need to know:

  1. Remove the Bluetooth keyboard's batteries if they are removable. Removing the batteries ensures you don't accidentally power up the keyboard as you're cleaning it. Apple's Magic Keyboards don't have removable batteries, but they have on/off switches, so switch off the keyboard.

  2. Similar to how you clean a MacBook keyboard, hold the keyboard sideways (short side up) at an angle and use short bursts of compressed air to blow debris away from the keys. Move from top to bottom.

  3. Clean the key caps, trackpad or mouse base with a soft cloth dampened with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol. Take care to prevent moisture from entering any opening.

Are Clean Keyboards Necessary?

It hasn't been proven, but a computer with a clean keyboard seems to run faster in the same way a freshly washed car feels peppier.

Spending a few minutes of preventive cleaning time can make a big difference in the performance of this essential part of your digital technology empire.