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De-booger your laptop

cleaning the Mac

Once a week I make it a habit to give my MacBook Pro a good cleaning. While I may be a bit more OCD about this than most folks I still think it’s a good idea. I’m always amazed when I see laptops that look like they have spent their life on the floor of a preschool. (Those of you who have children will appreciate this reference.) Think about all those germs, food particles, hair, dried spit, dust, coffee, dead skin cells, and boogers that collect on your laptop over the course of a single day. A good weekly scrubbing doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary anymore, does it?

To clean your laptop all you really need is a soft paper towel and some Windex (or other glass cleaner). I prefer glass cleaner as it does not leave streaks on my aluminum 15″ MacBook Pro. Glass cleaner with an antibacterial additive is even better. I suggest avoiding using a vacuum cleaner with a  brush attachment as I have actually sucked the scissor style keys from a laptop keyboard. Digging through the filter bag was no fun. Trust me. Those tiny electronics vacuums may be OK, though I’ve never used one.

Begin by shutting down your laptop to prevent any errant input errors. I like to start with the screen to prevent transferring any grit or grime from the keyboard area to the display. Simply fold a paper towel into fourths and give it a couple of squirts of glass cleaner. I like to start with the screen, lightly wiping back and forth across the display and then once around the perimeter. Fold the paper towel over to expose a clean dry section and repeat the wiping to expedite the drying of the screen and prevent any streaking.

Next, use a clean section of paper towel (with another squirt of glass cleaner if needed) to gently wipe across the keyboard. You’ll find that the paper towel will glide more smoothly in one direction or another depending on the design of your keyboard. Keep the pressure light to prevent snagging on the edges of the keys and use the direction that provides the least resistance. Brush any large particles to one side and dab away with a damp section of the paper towel. Using an edge of the folded paper towel helps to get into tight spots.

Give the palm rest and trackpad area a good wiping then shut the lid and give the outside a thorough once-over. Here, unlike on the inside, I usually spray some glass cleaner directly to the housing (as shown above). Use your best judgment here though as you don’t want to be spraying glass cleaner into any vents or openings in your laptop’s housing. Pay special attention to the rubber feet on the bottom of your laptop- getting them nice and clean will help restore their grippiness. (Grippiness? Is that even a word?)

That’s it. Now you can enjoy your laptop knowing that it is booger free…at least for a few minutes, anyway. Make this a weekly routine and you’ll find it goes much easier next time.

DISCLAIMER: This cleaning method has worked for me for at least 15 years. However, it IS NOT the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning method. Most of the time I have been using this method with Apple laptops with metal housings and tight seams. Your mileage may vary with other laptops. Use your best judgment and don’t try it if you are not willing to take responsibility for any potential damage cleaning your laptop causes.

5 Responses to “De-booger your laptop”

  1. 1

    and i thought i was the only one out there actually cleaning my laptop, haha! i cannot BELIEVE the filth on some folk’s ‘puters, ick.

    and i have always used windex and a paper towel also, how random is that?! you know what they say about great minds… ;)

  2. 2

    I’m pretty careful with my equipment to avoid spills, dents or scratches. Not quite weekly, but certainly at least every couple weeks I do clean my 17″ MBP. Having been warned of the dangers of alcohol and ammonia glass cleaners, I switched to iKlear Apple Polish which does a superb job on the screen…and actually does a good job on the entire case and keys. (and it’s recommended by Apple) For about $20 you get a bottle of it, the perfect microfiber cleaning cloth, and some portable disposable appliers with small polishing cloth for your laptop bag. I use it on my 24″ Dell, too. My first kit has lasted way over a year.)

    Here is another good reason for cleaning the keyboard: the oils from your fingers will transfer to the screen when it’s closed, and after some time, it’ll be difficult to remove the transferred oils. Some folks like to insert a thin microfiber cloth between keyboard and screen when laptop is closed. Or you can use a clean piece of paper cut to fit. Swap it out each week for a fresh one when you do your maintenance cleaning, as booliansplit has recommended.

    Just for fun, every once in a while, turn your laptop over and see what falls out from between the keys. ha ha ha! it’s usually surprising (in a gross kind of way).

  3. 3

    Jim makes a good point about protecting your screen from the keyboard. The danger is more significant than just transferring french fry grease to your screen though. The keys on most Apple laptops can actually touch the screen when pressure is applied to the closed lid. Over time this contact can result in a burnishing (read scratching) of the screen making the marks permanent. This is especially prevalent with the 17″ machines like Jim’s and any Apple laptop carried in a backpack.

  4. 4

    There is a good reason why Apple advises against using glass cleaners on your display. The reason is that they can easily damage your laptop’s display.

    Seriously, it is a very bad idea to use glass cleaner (and other abrasives) on a laptop’s display. Most glass cleaners contain ammonia, which is an abrasive, basic chemical with a pH 11.5. This can seriously damage your laptop’s display, especially if you use it constantly to clean your display. I advise against cleaning your laptop’s display with glass cleaner.

    Instead, I would go with Jim’s advice by using iKlear. iKlear is awesome. It effectively cleans the display (and the rest of the computer) in a non-abrasive way. The company that makes iKlear also makes an antibacterial cloth that can be used to clean the laptop’s surfaces, including the keyboard. :)

  5. 5

    I’m just relaying what I have found that works for me over 10+ years of Apple laptop ownership. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not Apple’s recommended cleaning method. I know iKlear and I know they make a decent product. I just don’t feel like paying $20 to clean my MacBook when a $4 bottle of glass cleaner does the trick. Do what works for YOU.


I'm an industrial designer and an avid hobbyist photographer. People are always asking me "how'd you do that?" So, I decided to create this site as a place to share my experiences and insights about photography, the gear and what it all means to me. I'm not sure if this site will make anyone besides myself a better photographer but I figure it's worth a try. Take a look around and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by!


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