Find out how to Clear Out Mud From Your MacBook or iMac

Dust build-up can be a serious problem for all types of electronic equipment. Not only that, if you let the dust sit too long it can turn into dirt – and dirt is harder to clean and can cause more problems.

You saw the kind of dirt that can build up on your keyboard and mouse, right? Imagine this happening in your computer. Whenever possible, practice good caring skills to keep it from ever getting this bad.

Removing dust from a Mac isn't as easy as removing dust from a PC, but it's not impossible. Here's what you need to know.

Three signs of a dust problem

Before you rush to open your Apple device and void your eventual warranty, you should know that unless you live in an environment with lots of dander, animal hair, smoke, and carpets, you are unlikely to have a dust build-up problem rarely are suctioned and so on.

However, if you are still concerned that your system could be at risk, here are the three main symptoms of a dust problem that needs immediate attention.

1. Unexpected shutdowns

As dust builds up on various internal components, it begins to affect air circulation. If the air cannot circulate, the heat cannot escape. If the heat cannot escape, the internal equilibrium temperature continues to rise and eventually overheats.

In the worst case, overheating can cause permanent damage to CPUs, GPUs, hard drives, and more. However, modern systems are good at detecting overheating and shutting down your hardware before things get out of hand. If you unexpectedly shut down or restart, your Mac could overheat.

2. Slow system performance

Another feature of modern computer parts, especially CPUs, is the ability to throttle performance when it gets too hot. Throttling prevents the CPU from working too hard, which in turn generates less heat.

Few things are as frustrating as having a throttled CPU as they slow everything down on your system. If you feel that apps are taking too long to load, or your overall system feels slow or choppy, it could indicate overheating.

3. Excessive fan noise

As your Mac gets older, you may find that your fans get louder and louder. You may also find that your Mac's fans are spinning at top speed all the time. This could be due to an incorrect system setting, but it is most likely caused by overheating.

If your Mac sounds like it's taking off, it's time to learn how to clean your iMac or Macbook fan.

It makes sense doesn't it? The fans are programmed to spin faster as the temperature gets warmer. So if they're spinning at top speed all the time, excess heat could be the problem. Removing dust can be an easy way to reduce fan noise.

These are just indicators! Other problems can cause high temperatures. So make sure you are going through the correct troubleshooting steps and channels. Macbooks are more prone to buildup of dust than iMacs.

If you find dust is really the problem, read on to find out how to remove it.

How to remove dust from a MacBook

Unlike iMacs, MacBooks must always rest flush on a surface during use. Therefore, their ventilation openings are always close to potential sources of dust. The problem is even worse for users who use their laptops on beds, blankets, carpeted floors, blankets, and other soft surfaces.

We recommend regular cleaning, at least every six months for a low-dust environment and more frequently for a dusty environment.

Basic Macbook Maintenance

Before you dive into the actual cleaning of any internal parts, it should be noted that a basic maintenance routine can really help minimize the number of times you have to open your Macbook. Keep these tips in mind!

  • Always use a hard surface: I know that using your laptop in bed or on the floor can be very tempting – I do it from time to time against my better judgment – but it only exposes you to more dust. Use at least one laptop shelf! Hard surfaces are also better for air circulation.
  • Keep your home and surfaces dust free: It's obvious, but it's amazing how many people neglect it. The more dust there is in your house, the more dust will be sucked into your Mac. Also, do not use your MacBook in dusty environments.
  • Let the fan speed for 15 to 30 seconds: You can manually adjust your fan speeds using a program like Macs Fan Control. Some users recommend running them at maximum speed every now and then to remove dust particles before they get stuck.

Now that you've got these general guidelines out of the way, here's how to manually remove dust from a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro.

DIY MacBook cleaning method

For a complete cleaning, be sure to open your MacBook so that you have access to all corners and edges where dust can collect. Note that opening a MacBook can be risky, so do so at your own risk. We don't take responsibility if something goes wrong.

Always turn off your MacBook before opening it, and be aware that it will void your warranty – including AppleCare.

Select your MacBook model from this list of iFixit repair categories for model-specific instructions on how to open the case. In particular, look for instructions on how to open the lowercase letter.

Use it to clean your Macbook Pro or Macbook Air Compressed air to remove dust from every open crevice you can find. This is going to be messy, so take the laptop outside if you can. Never use a vacuum cleaner for this task.

Put the device back together and you're good to go.

How to remove dust from an iMac

Warning: There is no easy way to access the internal components of an iMac 2009 or later disassemble the whole. Not only can this cause damage, but you will also void any warranty that you may have. Do this at your own risk!

Fortunately, iMacs don't collect as much dust as MacBooks, so you don't have to worry as much. In fact, many iMac users have never dusted their machines, but everything still works fine. Your mileage may vary.

Basic iMac maintenance

If you stick to a basic maintenance routine, you can effectively prevent a lot of dust from getting into your machine in the first place.

  • Wipe the air circulation openings: There are vents along the bottom edge of the iMac, as well as a larger vent on the back where the stand meets the iMac. Never use a vacuum cleaner as it can generate static electricity and fry your electronics.
  • If you have carpets or rugs, vacuum them regularly: They tend to collect and produce a lot of small particles that are thrown into the air and can settle elsewhere, such as on your desk.
  • Wipe your desk once a month: This dust may look like it has settled, but all you need is a sneeze or a breeze or even a fist pounding down to remove some of it which can be sucked into the iMac.

DIY iMac cleaning method

We'd like to remind you once again that opening your iMac is a risky process and, if not done properly, can do a lot of damage. If you choose to continue with this, we will not be responsible if something goes wrong.

Always turn off your iMac before opening it!

Select your iMac model from this list of iFixit repair categories for model-specific removal instructions. Follow the instructions carefully! Even small mistakes can be expensive here.

Use compressed air to blow out the dust and clean your iMac fan and iMac air vents. Again, do not use a vacuum as the static electricity can fry the electronic components. Use compressed air only!

Put the device back together and you're good to go.

Apple Service Center

If you are sure that your iMac internals need a thorough cleaning but are not comfortable doing it, take it to a local Apple service provider. The Apple Store can even clean it for free.

But even if it costs something, the price can be worth it. Not only do you avoid the risk of damaging your machine, but simple cleaning can significantly extend the service life of your machine.

Other Mac maintenance tips

If you're really concerned about getting the best possible care for your Mac device, you should invest in all the benefits of AppleCare, including free service, support, and troubleshooting for specific types of defects and issues.

AppleCare Guarantee: What Options Do You Have and Is It Worth It?

AppleCare + protects your Apple device, but is it worth the cost? Here's what AppleCare + does, and if you should get it.

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About the author

Joel Lee
(1529 articles published)

Joel Lee has been Editor-in-Chief of MakeUseOf since 2018. He has a B.S. in computer science and more than nine years of professional writing and editing experience.

Posted by Joel Lee

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