Can I Use Alcohol to Clean My Macbook Screen?

You can clean your Macbook screen and/or keyboard using 70% Isopropyl Alcohol and the process is supported by Apple. But it’s not without its risks

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You Can, But Read on For the Risks

About 10 min reading time

Yes you can – but be careful of the type and strength of alcohol you’re using and make sure you’re not getting it anywhere that could cause incidental damage. Apple themselves answer this very question here.

Before using alcohol to clean your macbook screen – try using a damp cloth with just water. The emphasis here is on the word damp though. It should not be a wet cloth. Make sure you squeeze all the excess water out of the cloth before wiping the screen.

If the damp cloth doesn’t work, then you can switch it up to use the 70% alcohol.

Important note: Apple states that you can use 70% alcohol to clean your Macbook screen but doesn’t go into detail about how you should safely do that. Please read on for more information.

Firstly, you cannot use just any alcohol. You’ve probably seen in the movies where someone cuts their leg in the jungle and the medic, all out of supplies, pours whiskey over the wound to stop it getting infected. It has been shown that whiskey is an effective anti-bacterial (Settanni et al., 2017), but it contains other things that aren’t helpful for cleaning a mac screen! For cleaning a macbook screen you need 70% Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA). And, that IPA doesn’t mean a pint of Tennants either…

How To Use Alcohol to Clean Macbook Screen

  • Before beginning, switch off and unplug your Macbook.
  • Use a soft, lint free cloth. Avoid any abrasive cloths or paper towels (these are surprisingly abrasive)
  • Do not rub hard. Softly will be enough.
  • Don’t allow the alcohol rub to get into any openings. Some items may be damaged by the liquid.
  • Don’t spray the screen – see below for more on that.
  • Don’t use bleach, other cleaners or any other liquid – only Isopropyl Alcohol.

The first thing to remember is that less is more in this case. You don’t want to be using a spray bottle – or indeed any kind of pouring action with the alcohol. Although 70% alcohol solution (also known as IPA) doesn’t conduct very much electricity (indeed, the alcohol portion conducts no electricity – but the water part and any impurities can) you still don’t want to flood your computer with it. There may be items inside (such as speaker cones, heatsink paste or other things) that the alcohol will still damage if copious quantities come into contact.

If you do spill cleaning alcohol into your computer leave it switched off until all the alcohol has evaporated. If you spill drinking alcohol such as wine, you’re going to have to clean it up internally with IPA because the additional ingredients in alcoholic beverage will become sticky, and likely conduct electricity and cause problems with the delicate circuitry in your Macbook.

Anyway – instead of spraying the screen directly, find a soft, lint free cloth and spray or pour a small amount of Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) onto the cloth. Then you can use the cloth to clean your macbook screen. In doing this you won’t overdo the amount of alcohol and there’s much less risk of spilling it all inside the computer. Don’t rub too harshly – it won’t be needed and rubbing too harshly risks damaging any coating on the screen. Before it dries, use a second lint free soft cloth to dry the screen. Doing this helps reduce any smearing. If you find there are still smears, you may need to repeat the process.

Do NOT use cleaners that contain bleach, hydrogen peroxide, acetone, solvents or abrasives.

How Often Can I Use Alcohol to Clean My Macbook Screen

We would say as rarely as possible. Stick to the damp cloth method rather than resorting to alcohol if you possibly can. Only use alcohol as a last resort for really stubborn fingerprints. Some Apple products suffer with a phenomenon known as ‘Staingate‘ whereby the quality of the anti-reflective coating deteriorates over time. One of the solutions to this phenomenon is to use 70% alcohol rub (and some elbow grease) to remove the anti-glare coating. Clearly, if this is the way to remove the anti-glare coating to fix Staingate then using alcohol too often on your Macbook screen will do the same.

To summarise, use 70% alcohol to clean your Macbook screen only very occasionally. A damp cloth will normally do and is safer.

Can You Clean Your Macbook Screen with Glasses Lens Cleaner

Apple doesn’t specifically recommend using glasses cleaner for cleaning Macbook screens – but many manufacturers of glasses cleaner do state that they are safe.

It’s important to remember that over time, if used too much, any chemical runs the risk of removing any anti-glare coating. Similarly, rubbing too hard or using any kind of abrasive cloth will also run that risk.

We’d recommend, in general, using a damp, soft, lint-free cloth to clean your screen normally and only look at using Isopropyl Alcohol as mentioned above for stubborn fingerprints or marks that won’t come away with a damp cloth.

Nevertheless, glasses cleaner (and by that we mean the small containers for cleaning spectacles – NOT glass cleaner that you might use for cleaning windows) that is designed to be used with anti-glare coatings on lenses is likely to be suitable for occasional use on your Macbook screen. But do check the manufacturers data to determine for sure. This Zeiss Lens Cleaning Spray for example states that it’s safe for use with all sorts of displays, camera lenses as well as digital displays and even mentions iPads specifically.

Can I Clean My Macbook Screen With Hand Sanitizer

No. We would not recommend using hand sanitizer for cleaning your Macbook screen. Although hand sanitizer contains 70% alcohol, and Apple do suggest (as seen above) that you can use 70% alcohol to clean your screen, the alcohol they state you can use is specifically Isopropyl Alcohol.

Hand sanitizer contains all sorts of other chemicals – such as Aloe Vera and/or fragrances to make them smell better. At best you’ll end up with a very smeary screen after using hand sanitizer to clean it and at worst you may even damage the screen itself.

Don’t use hand sanitizer to clean your Macbook screen, it’s not worth the risk. Preferably just use a damp cloth but if that isn’t removing stubborn marks then use 70% Isopropyl alcohol as recommended by Apple.

Can I Clean My Mac Keyboard with Alcohol

As with the Mac screen, the safest way to clean your mac keyboard is to use a damp cloth. But if the keyboard is particularly grimy or sticky then you can use 70% alcohol to clean it.

How to Clean Mac Keyboard with Alcohol

The process for this is very much the same as cleaning the screen with alcohol;

  • Before beginning, switch off and unplug your Mac.
  • Use a soft, lint free cloth. Avoid any abrasive cloths or paper towels (these are surprisingly abrasive)
  • Do not rub hard. Softly will be enough.
  • Don’t allow the alcohol rub to get into any openings. Some items may be damaged by the liquid.
  • Don’t spray the keyboard- see below for more on that.
  • Don’t use bleach, other cleaners or any other liquid – only Isopropyl Alcohol.

Pour or spray some Isopropyl Alcohol onto the soft lint free cloth so that it has a damp patch. Don’t soak the cloth so that it drips, it just needs to be damp. Don’t spray or pour anything directly into the keyboard as there may be components inside that will be damaged by excess fluid, even if it is the relatively non-conductive 70% alcohol.

Gently rub the keyboard with the soft lint free cloth to remove the grime. But be gentle – you do not want to rub off any lettering (although this is fairly unlikely with a backlit keyboard). You can use a cotton bud with some 70% alcohol on it, and indeed, for between the keys this can be useful but do bear in mind that a cotton bud may release fibres which you’ll want to pick up afterwards.

Does Cleaning Mac Keyboard With Alcohol Kill Coronavirus

Yes. A study in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that 70% Isopropyl Alcohol (also known as 2-propanol) will kill SARS-CoV after 30 seconds (Kampf et al., 2020). However, it should be noted that on a keyboard because we’re not trying to soak the keyboard with Isopropyl Alcohol that you may need to perform a few cleaning activities as the amount of IPA used will evaporate before it has been present for 30 seconds.

It’s worth pointing out that our recommendation for using simply a cloth dampened with water for cleaning screens and keyboards offers almost no protection against SARS-CoV-2 (or any infectious agent) so if your reason for cleaning is infection prevention than Isopropyl Alcohol is best choice supported by Apple. However, do bear in mind it is likely to damage the finish on the object over time and will therefore potentially shorten the devices lifespan.

Summary

You can clean your Macbook screen and/or keyboard using 70% Isopropyl Alcohol and the process is supported by Apple. Using a cloth dampened with water is the most recommended solution (ensure though that cloth is only damp, not dripping) and the use of any other cleaning agents aside from water or IPA is not recommended at all.

For disinfection purposes where infection control is required, IPA is the best solution – but may need to be done a couple of times due to the evaporation time. IPA takes around 30 seconds to be considered disinfected against SARS-CoV (Kampf et al., 2020).

Don’t use spray bottles or pouring of any liquids onto the screen or keyboard, use a soft lint free cloth onto which the water or IPA is poured sparingly with just enough to make the cloth damp not wet.

Using IPA too often will likely degrade the surface of the device over time and shorten its lifespan, so plain water to create a damp cloth is the best choice for regular use with IPA used occasionally for any stubborn marks.

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References

Kampf, G., Todt, D., Pfaender, S., & Steinmann, E. (2020). Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. Journal of Hospital Infection, 104(3), 246–251. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhin.2020.01.022

Settanni, L., Gaglio, R., Stucchi, C., De Martino, S., Francesca, N., & Moschetti, G. (2017). Presence of pathogenic bacteria in ice cubes and evaluation of their survival in different systems. Annals of Microbiology, 67(12), 827–835. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13213-017-1311-1