How to clean a MacBook keyboard

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(Image credit: Iuliia Pilipeichenko via Shutterstuck)

Whether you’ve got a problem with stubborn, sticky keys, or you’ve just decided to give it a clean and want to keep it in tip-top shape, cleaning your laptop keyboard is a must.

Even the best MacBooks are susceptible to dust, crumbs from delicious snacks, and general dirt that can build up over time. Taking a moment to give your keyboard a quick clean will help improve your laptop's lifespan and hopefully keep your typing experience feeling smooth.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to clean your MacBook keyboard effectively using compressed air and microfiber cloth. We’ll also be looking at what Apple recommends for getting rid of that nasty buildup - as well as what to avoid.

How to clean your MacBook keyboard: quick steps

  • Wipe down the keyboard with your microfiber cloth
  • Hold your laptop at an angle 
  • Use compressed air to spray the keyboard, going in a left-to-right motion 
  • Rotate your laptop a few times while doing this to ensure a thorough clean 

Tools and requirements

  • A MacBook (obviously) 
  • A can of compressed air 
  • A microfiber cloth
  • Diluted isopropyl solution (optional)

Step by step guide

1. How to prep your MacBook before cleaning

(Image: © Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Regardless of the model you own, whether it's an old-school 2016 MacBook Pro or the latest shiny M3 MacBook Air you'll be able to use this advice across devices with no issue. It'll also work for external keyboards or other laptops, not just Apple MacBooks.

But first, you'll need to get yourself a can of compressed air, which can easily be found on Amazon for just a few bucks. Once you've got your compressed air ready, you can then shut down and unplug your MacBook and give the keyboard an initial wipe down with the microfiber cloth to dislodge any larger pieces of debris.

2. Position your MacBook

(Image: © Apple )

Right! Now time for the fun part.

Tilt your MacBook so it's not flat but also not exactly vertical, at about a 75-degree angle as shown in the image above. The straw nozzle of the compressed air canister should be just under an inch away from the keyboard when you spray; not close enough to touch the actual keys, but not too far as to be completely ineffectual.

Don't turn the nozzle of the can at any strange angles, and avoid turning the can upside down or bending the straw in any way. 

Start spraying

(Image: © Apple)

Once you've got everything angled up, let it rip!

You're going to want to use the compressed air in steady left-to-right 'zig-zag' motions, doing one half of the keyboard at a time. Once you've done this you can then rotate your MacBook to its right side and spray the keyboard again from left to right.

Repeat this with the laptop turned onto its left side, then finally upside-down, so you're blasting the keys from every angle. That's it - you're done!

Final thoughts

If you have a particularly sticky key or a really grimy build-up that might need a bit more work, Apple also suggests use wiping the keyboard with isopropyl or ethyl alcohol, or even a disinfecting wipe. Just be sure you're not using anything with bleach in it, as this could damage and discolor the keycaps.

If you're planning to use alcohol-based cleaners to give your laptop an antibacterial deep clean, be sure to check the concentration first. 99.9% isopropyl is commonly available, but it may be too harsh and could potentially damage your system. Dilute it with purified water, aiming for about 60-70% strength - this can actually make it even more effective at cleaning, as the water slows the evaporation rate of the alcohol and gives it more contact time with dirt and bacteria.

Other general tips from Apple to avoid damaging your MacBook include not wiping too aggressively, not holding the compressed air nozzle too close, and making sure you don't get any moisture into openings (like the ports) when wiping it down.

Muskaan Saxena
Computing Staff Writer

Muskaan is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing writer. She has always been a passionate writer and has had her creative work published in several literary journals and magazines. Her debut into the writing world was a poem published in The Times of Zambia, on the subject of sunflowers and the insignificance of human existence in comparison. Growing up in Zambia, Muskaan was fascinated with technology, especially computers, and she's joined TechRadar to write about the latest GPUs, laptops and recently anything AI related. If you've got questions, moral concerns or just an interest in anything ChatGPT or general AI, you're in the right place. Muskaan also somehow managed to install a game on her work MacBook's Touch Bar, without the IT department finding out (yet).