Seeking advice for cleaning laptops and keyboards

Immediately after Apple released its new MacBook and MacBook Pro laptop computers earlier this month, my e-mail account was inundated with questions about how to clean dirt and grime off white Apple laptops and keyboards. My assumption is that these readers want to upgrade to the new machines and sell their old laptops on eBay. Machines that look like new tend to grab higher prices on the bidding site.

I own a white MacBook, so I decided to try my hand at cleaning my laptop in an effort to help our readers. After making a few calls and asking for advice from my friends, I repeatedly heard that the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser was the cleaning tool for me to try.

Here is a picture of my laptop before I tried cleaning it. You’ll see that there are dark spots where my wrists rest while I type:

I then scrubbed the affected areas with the Magic Eraser:

And, it was successful at taking off a good portion of the dirt and grime:

However, I’m not going to say that it was a gleaming success. The side-by-side comparison shows that although it did get rid of a good portion of the yuck on the wrist rest, it wasn’t a perfect solution:

What have other people done to get dirt and grime off of white laptops and keyboards? I thought the Magic Eraser did an adequate job, but I’m hoping there is an even better product out there to help clean up the rest of the dirt. Let us know what you have found to clean laptops and keyboards in the comments.

85 Comments for “Seeking advice for cleaning laptops and keyboards”

  1. posted by georgie on

    Would Clorox Cleanup work?

  2. posted by Karolina on

    Soft scrub.
    Be careful not to get it under the keys and, needless to say, don’t use it on the monitor.

  3. posted by Cupra on

    I have the same issue with my Macbook, I have tried the magic eraser to no avail. I am wondering if hydrogen peroxide would work on it, we use it all the time on our carpets at home to remove pet stains, wonder if it would have any effect on the casing of the Macbook…?

  4. posted by Carlo on

    I own the same exact MacBook and it gets pretty dirty fast. (Especially since I usually eat while working).

    Every other week or so, during my shut down period, I take a paper towel with a healthy spraying of windex to the entire thing. (screen and all)

    I know a lot of you will probably cringe at the thought, but as long as you aren’t spraying the machine itself, you’ll be fine. Just be sure to have a dry paper towel to remove excess cleaning product. I also find that the Apple supplied microfiber is pretty lame. I use the one my ophthalmologist gives me with my eye glasses.

  5. posted by Laurel on

    It looks like you’re using the Magic Eraser dry. It works much better wet or damp.

  6. posted by Katie on

    How about the screen? Mine is gross. Fingerprints and such.

    Any ideas?

  7. posted by Andrew on

    I found that dampening a corner of a soft towel with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) worked really well. A bottle was only $2 at Walgreens which was a nice bonus.

  8. posted by Jonathan on

    I’m with the people who suggested Windex (and isopropyl alcohol, same difference) to get grime off of electronics. I don’t spray it directly on, usually onto a cloth and then wipe. If it’s really persistent grime, try wetting the Magic Eraser with Windex.

    One this is — do be careful about Windex on some LCD screens. The glossy MacBook screens are probably fine, but it can damage the anti-glare coatings on some screens.

  9. posted by Jennifer on

    I use rubbing alcohol on my white Mac keyboard with great success.

    Recently I had 7 keys that started sticking so I gently pried them up and used a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to clean underneath as well.

    Worked like a charm.

  10. posted by James on

    I recently took my macbook in for a repair on my cracked wrist rest (example: http://blueeyedcreature.net/apple/CrackBook.jpg). They replaced the entire piece and my macbook looked as good as new.

    Granted this only helps if you’re still covered by applecare, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

  11. posted by balou on

    I’m with the alcohol consensus. A q-tip with alcohol is great for the keys.

  12. posted by Todd on

    I usually use those electronic cleaning wipes, which are essentially lint free wipes with alcohol on them. Use that on everything and tends to work. What makes window cleaners bad is they usually contain abbrasives that can take off the anti-glare coating on displays. Which is why you’re not supposed to use them on the display part. Shouldn’t have any issue with cleaning the casing though but YMMV.

    And like others have said, if the magic eraser was dry that would definately be the problem. It needs to be damp to activate whatever chemicals are in it. When dry it’s basically the same as taking a plain ol’ sponge to it.

  13. posted by rich on

    i know someone who had the entire piece replaced just because it looked dirty. like james mentioned, you need applecare.

  14. posted by Laura on

    I have heard that toothpaste works wonders on a MacBook. My husband’s is dirty too, and I’ve always wanted to try cleaning it, but I figure if it doesn’t bother him them I’m just going to get annoyed when it gets dirty again. But toothpaste would probably work similiar to soft scrub (a mild abrasive). Let us know what you use and what ends up working!

  15. posted by steve on

    For cases and such I usually use Simple Green sprayed onto a lint free dust cloth. I wouldn’t recommend using it on screens at all though.

  16. posted by Rachel on

    it used to work a lot better on the iBooks than macbooks – i think they must have changed the plastic.

  17. posted by Beth on

    The school where I work uses something called PDI Sani-Cloth Plus wipes. Our students have iBooks and this works great. It is perfect for the keyboard and wrist-rest areas as well as the outer case. Don’t use it on the screen as it can cause damage.

  18. posted by Nia on

    Hi from Casablanca, Morocco :),
    I don’t have a Macbook, but I do have a Toshiba laptop (Orange), and it is true that it gets dirty fast,I clean it every two weeks with “bleach” and I add water, I do it so gently and it works miracle for me, about the dust, I use the vacuum cleaner :) My collegue does have an iMac and he uses bleach as well!

    But my rule N°1 is Never eat next to my laptop;)

  19. posted by Andy on

    I’ve used Novis plastic cleaning products with great success both on my MacBooks and my iPods. It not only cleans but also takes out scratches. Once you have it cleaned I recommend putting on some protective film like that from Zagg. There are others, but I’ve used them for all my machines. Don’t use the trackpad piece. It drives my Wife mad when using my machine. The Novis products are readily available at your local Harley Davidson dealer.

  20. posted by Sean on

    I’ve also found Windex (you don’t need to soak it or anything, just a paper towel damp with it) cleans the white/aluminum mac keyboards really well.

  21. posted by Brian Lang on

    I cleaned my Apple keyboard this week with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes (needed to clean my desk after having a bad cold). IT worked great to remove grime from the keyboard, but next time I will make sure the wipe is a litle bit more dry – I got some moisture into some of the keys and had to set aside the keyboard for a day before it would work properly again.

  22. posted by infmom on

    Rubbing alcohol (the 90% stuff, not the 70% stuff) does wonders for filthy electronics around here.

    I wonder if a thin coating of car wax on the wrist rests would help keep the grime from coming back?

  23. posted by Laura on

    Definitely wet the Magic Eraser and squeeze out excess water. I just cleaned my husband’s laptop and it came out beautifully. This also works on microwave buttons and garage door buttons that get really yucky.

  24. posted by lee on

    Prevention, friends. I have a rubber protector on the keys and wrist-rest.

  25. posted by blue on

    there is a product called apple polish…. specifically made for cleaning them. works really well, but i’d recommend getting the full kit and not just the travel wipes

  26. posted by Richard on

    I used Arm & Hammer Toothpaste on my white MacBook and it worked really well.

    What I did was apply some to the dirty areas one night and left it there until morning. It’s not perfect but you should get better results than you got in those photos.

  27. posted by Dana on

    I’ve used a normal, white rubber eraser and had some marked success. Cheap, easy to try anyway! My biggest problem is that the wrist rests have chipped now :(

  28. posted by Merrilee on

    I purchased iKlear Apple Polish from the Apple store when I purchased my new iPod Touch. I also use it to clean the screen and case on my MacBook Pro.

    The little spray bottle comes with 2 special cleaning cloths. One for cleaning and the other for polishing. Works wonders on the screen and is safe to use!

    safely cleans CD’s too.

  29. posted by leen on

    on our ibooks the iklear spray worked very well. as did baby wipes.

  30. posted by shawnna on

    before I even bought my laptop I invested in this
    http://www.marware.com/PRODUCT.....ack-Deluxe
    When i replace, my computer looks so super clean. Leaves no residue.

  31. posted by shawnna on

    actually, this protection pack comes with much more than when I purchased it, so it’s a stellar deal.

  32. posted by Fabulously Broke on

    1. White eraser. I just erased the dirt.

    2. Get a silicone padding to go over the top. I did that for all of my laptops, and I did a clear shield on my screen as well to stop the pit marks or key marks.

  33. posted by Robin on

    I would think that since the gunk on your wrist rest is dirt from your hands, something like hand or dish soap would clean it up. I’d mix up a solution in a bowl and dip a rag in it.

    I have a black MacBook so I don’t have this problem, but I work for a university in the photography department and all of our students have white MacBooks. The Mr.Clean magic eraser + iKlear works like a charm.

  34. posted by Lex on

    I used to work at a local Mac reseller and remember a replacement program that Apple did for a specific bad batch of top cases. I don’t quite remember the details or know if it’s still going on, but check out this article and see if your MacBook falls in the serial number. If so, you might be eligible to get it replaced for free. But don’t take my word for it.

    http://www.appleinsider.com/ar.....books.html

  35. posted by hereitcomesagain on

    I get the isopropyl alcohol and add a few drops of some super simple detergent like Bio-kleen hand dish detergent. It works great on any kind of electronics. I also swear by the silicone keyboard skins for Macs. You just wash them with dish soap and warm water, then hang dry when they get funky.

  36. posted by Michele on

    On the show “How Clean is Your House?” they used mouthwash on a keyboard. The show uses mostly non-toxic cleaners and common household items to clean.

  37. posted by Kim the Blogging Bard on

    Does anyone else have the problem where your keys are losing their letters? It isn’t because I’ve clean it too much but my “o, l, n, m, and .” keys are no longer readable. This happened with my last computer too.

    I have an iBook G4. Mind you, I also find that stamps on my hands wear off faster than for other people, I can’t get soap or shampoo to lather easily, and when fingerprinted with a scanning machine, they found it hard to get a good reading on my fingerprints, so it may have something to do with my body chemistry.

    I don’t get the brown spots on my keyboard from my wriists but the edges of the keys, the screen, and the area under the buttons do get dirty and I’m interested in other people’s tips on cleaning, so thank you.

  38. posted by FrugalNYC on

    Has anyone tried using dry baking soda to clean? I would not try it on the keyboard.

  39. posted by Tatiana on

    I don’t have an apple, but I do have a white Dacor oven that gets a similar looking brownish tint around the panel. I have had good success using an old fashioned pen ink eraser…the white/grey kind you can buy at the drugstore or office supply. I just rub off the dirt and wipe off the “crumbs”. At least you wouldn’t have to worry about liquids getting into the keyboard.

  40. posted by Isarian on

    Mr. Clean Magic Eraser took permanent marker and year-old juice stains off of a laminate countertop for me. Saved my security deposit.

  41. posted by Courtney on

    Paper towels, like all paper products, are made from wood!! They have tiny wood chips in them that scratch surfaces…so use a soft cloth instead!!!

  42. posted by David Baker on

    If this is an early MacBook, I think there has been a recall on the pad area that gets grimy like that.

    My Macbook got dirty like this and Apple replaced that part of the machine. I was out of AppleCare at the time, there has been a recall on that part. The replacement gets a little dirty from time to time, but nothing like that.

    I would bet that Apple might replace some of them regardless of Applecare.

  43. posted by Stef on

    I think the advantage to the isopropyl alcohol is that a. it works like a charm, although you may have to scrub a bit ; b. it’s cheap; and c. it dries very quickly so you can use it maybe a bit more liberally than any other cleaner. I think a lot of those commercial cleaners are mostly alcohol anyway.

  44. posted by jgodsey on

    magic eraser doesn’t work as well as you think.
    it looks the same to em.

    i would definitely go with the soft scrub, or something with Oxalic acid, Bon Amir or Barkeeper’s friend..that’s for WHITE laptops

    mine is gray and after i simply wash it with detergant i use rubbing compound on the scratches.

  45. posted by Kyle Gray on

    I have a white macbook. My best solution would be buying a mac mouse and a wireless keyboard from the apple store. That way you dont have your wrists resting on there and you can if you travel but it keeps it cleaner in the mean time.

  46. posted by Ellen on

    I have had great success with the Magic Eraser but here’s’ what you need to do.
    1. get a paper towel and soak w/ water or “green “cleaner, wring out excess water.
    2. rub keys & ‘wrist’ surface with the paper towel to dampen then..
    3. scrub lightly w/moistened magic eraser.
    4. Dry w/ clean, dry paper towel
    I do one row of keys at a time and then the wrist board. My white mac looks brand new! The key is damp then dry.
    Good luck and don’t be afraid to scrub a bit!

  47. posted by Tisra on

    I have a white MacBook and Apple has replaced the wrist rest for me under my Apple Care protection. The problem is not just dirt, but the fact that it *discolors* the plastic. My computer looked all gleaming white again, but the problem has re-occurred. Unless they change the type of plastic they use, it will continue to be a problem. For those of you with Apple Care, you do not need chips or anything else to have this replaced- the discoloration alone, is something Apple is willing to take responsibility for.

  48. posted by Almost American on

    Rubbing alcohol worked fine for me.

  49. posted by ns on

    this exact problem happened to my friend. she took it to the apple store and they replaced the panel. they told her it was a problem with the plastic, as tisra said. you can put clear plastic over it for protection once you get a new panel.

  50. posted by Sally on

    Back when I had a white iBook, I had good luck using Palmolive Super Scrub Gel Paste on the track pad and wrist rest. It’s a very, very gentle abrasive cleanser. Used to use it on my (track wheel) iPod as well.

  51. posted by liz on

    Prevention! My school gave macbooks to all teachers and mine, with its lovely keyboard cover, still looks pristine after a year.

    Also, I have had good luck cleaning my student keyboards with rubbing alcohol.

  52. posted by T on

    heh…

    Just one more reason that mac’s look pretty out of the box, but are for people who prefer salesmanship & style over function… my thinkpad has no such problems!

  53. posted by Tim on

    Everyone,

    As has been said, if your MacBook is doing this, contact Apple for repairs. They have a Repair Extension program setup just for this and can most likely repair it free of charge.
    Tim Lewallen
    Apple Certified Macintosh Technician

  54. posted by Lindsay on

    I just don’t let mine get that dirty.
    Gross.
    I clean it once a week or so with some Method all-purpose cleaner on a paper towel.

  55. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    An additional note … thanks to everyone suggesting Applecare … I contacted Apple and discovered that my machine falls under a certain set of serial numbers that qualify for automatic replacement of the wrist rest and keyboard. Apparently, it’s a discoloration problem, not just dirt. Sweet. Now to find time when I can live without my laptop … maybe I’ll think about upgrading … hmmmm … :) Thanks, everyone!!

  56. posted by Keter on

    May I suggest that all owners of non-black laptops use contact paper (peel and stick vinyl) to cover the wrist rest area? It prevents damage to the surface, is easy to clean, and can be easily peeled off and replaced. I have used clear and “stainless steel” finish contact papers with good results.

    For key letters that rub off from use, you can use a paper punch to cut out little circles of clear contact paper or packing tape applied over the waxy backing left over from contact paper. The tape lasts longer, but is more difficult to handle. Apply a circle over each letter to prevent it from wearing away.

  57. posted by Keter on

    Note on Mr. Clean Magic Erasers – these cut very easily with a knife, so cut small squares for better control. They work about 1000x better damp than dry.

    I’ve had good success cleaning computers and keyboards with Clorox disinfectant wipes – I do this weekly on my computers – but for really gross grime like what gets on my husband’s keyboard, some Goo-Gone on a Magic Eraser bit does the trick.

  58. posted by Brooke on

    Whitening toothpaste worked pretty well for me with newspaper ink stains. It is suggested that you use Arm & Hammer, but I used Crest.

    Also, as mentioned, Apple is aware of the staining problem with MacBooks and will replace your top case (the part around your keyboard) with a new one that is supposedly more stain-resistant. I took mine to a Genius Bar with an expired warranty and got a top case *and* keyboard replacement with no trouble. The genius who took care of mine told me that the stains are usually a chemical reaction to lotion. Unfortunately, my new one stains just as easily!

  59. posted by Fit Bottomed Girls on

    Great posts and comments.

    For the record, I think that the Magic Eraser should be renamed to Psuedo-Magic Partial-Eraser.

  60. posted by mab on

    Try some toothpaste and carefully polish the whole thingy. Works quite well on the non-glossy plastic parts.

  61. posted by Lucy on

    Rubbing alcohol and q-tips… cheap, easy, and they work perfectly :)

  62. posted by Brendan on

    I use Bar Keeper’s Cleanser and it works great. Make sure to only use it on areas that do not have screenprinted text. The cleanser powder is gentle but I am not sure what it would do to the areas with text or graphics.

  63. posted by Abby on

    I had a MacBook for work and thought it was dirty. In fact, it was heat damage. The plastic had discolored due to how hot the computer gets. They will never get clean, the plastic needs to be replaced. I now have a MacBook Pro and it gets dirty but is easily cleaned as its not heat damage, its just dirt.

  64. posted by Cody on

    i have a white MB and i have found that the best thing is any type of bleach wipe. it pulls so much dirt off!

  65. posted by Michele on

    If I’m going to be in a public place or eating while typing, I put a piece of Saran Wrap over my keyboard area. It’s a cheap and disposable way to keep the gunk off.

    I don’t tend to get wrist marks, though. I think it’s because I’m always cold and wearing sleeves that are so long they cover the palms of my hands.

  66. posted by jeremy on

    toothpaste is all you need.
    just dab it on some rolled up toilet paper and scrub.
    it works & lasts for quite some time.

  67. posted by JManna on

    409. It’s a magic solution to most any kind o grime. I used to clean houses for a living. Nicotine stains, grease and those smudges of grime on the light switch, they are all solved by 409.

    What is actually causing the stain is oil from your skin gluing the dirty to the plastic. Test the 409 on a small place on the casing (I recommend the underside) to make sure it won’t eat away at the plastic. If it doesn’t mar the plastic, go to town.

  68. posted by chat on

    I found that oil-based cleaners work best. I used MC, and oil-based polisher/cleaner typically used for office tables and equipment (I don’t know if this is available in the US). Because it smelled really nasty, I tried using Ponds Cold Cream which was also oil based, and it worked so well, and smelled better.

  69. posted by Nancy on

    I have both an iBook and an iMac at home, and I have an iMac at my office. I use the store bought Clorox wipes to clean the keys and the touchpad (on the laptop). For the screens, always use water, nothing else. I usually just dampen a towel and wipe the screens.

    I’m thrilled with how well the faux Clorox wipes clean the keyboard, and the water makes the screens look great.

    Nancy

  70. posted by laure on

    windex on the keyboard!

  71. posted by Dennis on

    I have always used Diaper Wipes…yes, you read that right. Diaper Wipes, I never use the scented. Pampers work great as do the Costco brand (I prefer the Costco brand, they work a bit better).

    There are no harsh chemicals in them, and so far, I’ve successfully cleaned a MacBook (white, like the one pictured in the article) a 15″, 17″ MacBook Pro, several iMacs, a G4 tower, G5 tower and a Mac Pro Tower – oh, and a Mini.

    Regardless of dirt, it almost always gets the dirt off (99% of the time for me, it’s 100% gone.)

  72. posted by Chris on

    I have used rubbing alcohol. Works quite well.

  73. posted by Courtney on

    mmmmmmn, now you have formaldehyde all over your keyboard. FYI, I took my macbook in for another problem and they replaced the casetop for free because it was a known defect. It didn’t happen to my new one.

  74. posted by Kara on

    I second the idea of using Novus plastic polish. I’m not a Mac user (yet) but I’ve used Novus on all my mid-century white plastic furniture with great success. The magic clean sponges are great for removing marks from walls but I can’t imagine they’d be good on plastic.

  75. posted by Liz on

    This discoloration was a materials defect. I sent my MacBook back to Apple for replacement while it was still under warranty. The replacement does not discolor.

  76. posted by rutinerad on

    My brother used to have a white iBook. He cleaned it with tooth paste and it looked like new afterwards.

  77. posted by Sam on

    A damp microfibre cloth works wonders on my iBook G4.

  78. posted by Diana on

    I use a microfiber cloth moistened with hand sanitizer gel (it’s mostly isopropyl alcohol). It works wonders. I use the gel on my glasses & sunglasses too – no streaks.

  79. posted by Lisa on

    http://mrclean.com/en_US/sharethelove.do

    You can get a free Mr. Clean Magic Eraser through this site, I just found out.

  80. posted by JefferyK on

    I also have had success with a damp microfiber cloth. I haven’t tried it with hand santizer gel, but I may now. I worship my collection of microfiber cloths. Not only do they spruce up my MacBook, they do an incredible job cleaning eyeglasses and buffing chrome.

  81. posted by DarJon on

    I’m with @Laura and @Klara on this! I little while ago, a printed T-shirt I had on stained my white MacBook badly, as it was on my lap.

    My MacBook was covered in hideous blue and black stains all down the front glossy side just under the wrist rests, all over the wrist rests and lightly on the trackpad. After some scrubbing, most came off of the glossy areas and the trackpad, but the wrist rests remained stained. After hours frantically searching for a solution online and trying Windoleen (Windex) and even a scrubbing brush lightly, I thought I was doomed.

    But then I came accross this article: http://lifehacker.com/353647/r.....toothpaste. Toothpaste. However, I didn’t read the instructions on the article exactly, and simply applied a dab of my little sister’s Milk Teeth (light and not abrasive, just in case) toothpaste to some kitchen towel, and then rubbed it onto the stains. After about a minute of working it into the stained areas, no wet toothpaste was visible and the stains were completely gone. No sign! Relieved, I smelt my minty-MacBook (which now looked like new) and thanked God that I was able to revive my gorgeous MacBook’s looks. I simply dampened some more kitchen towel and wiped gently to remove the minty smell and any dried on toothpaste.

    Swear by it now!! :D

  82. posted by gypsy packer on

    Tim’s correct, go with the black ThinkPad Energy Star.
    Think about all the energy, resources, and time on white computer supremacy.

  83. posted by Bet on

    I didn’t have time to carefully read the other posts to see if anyone mentioned this but, I have replaced my Magic Eraser with the Gleen cloth. They don’t leave any residue, unlike the eraser, which leaves dirty bits of itself which you also have to clean off. I use Gleen to clean walls, windows, refrigerators, etc. It’s a great unclutter, as it may replace some cleaning products! There is a website- I think it’s Gleen.com. I found mine at my local grocery store.

  84. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    This post is getting an unbelievable amount of spam on it, so I’m going to temporarily close comments on it. I’ll reopen comments on Wednesday. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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