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 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. Avatar 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!!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. posted by mab on

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

  11. posted by Lucy on

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. posted by laure on

    windex on the keyboard!

  21. 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.)

  22. posted by Chris on

    I have used rubbing alcohol. Works quite well.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. posted by rutinerad on

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

  27. posted by Sam on

    A damp microfibre cloth works wonders on my iBook G4.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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/remove-stains-from-a-macbook-with-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

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. Avatar 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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