Why MacBook Keyboards Break So Easily (And How to Fix Jammed Keys)
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Computers aren’t perfect. Parts can—and do—break. And when something goes awry, it’s a frustrating experience.

MacBooks are no exception. Users complain about everything from broken Mac trackpads to poor performance when running on battery MacBook Running Slow on Battery? Here Are 3 Ways to Fix It MacBook Running Slow on Battery? Here Are 3 Ways to Fix It Does your MacBook run slow on battery? Try these fixes to get your Mac running properly again. Read More .

But even more common than both those issues is a malfunctioning keyboard. It’s also a more exasperating problem.

With a broken battery, you can run off external power. If your trackpad isn’t working, you can use a physical mouse. But if your keyboard breaks? It’s off to your local computer store to buy a Bluetooth device.

Or is it? Don’t grab the car keys just yet. You might be able to fix it. Keep reading to find out more.

The Butterfly Mechanism in MacBook Keyboards

Back in 2015, Apple reinvented the keyboard. Or at least, that’s what the company claimed.

In practice, it didn’t come up with a revolutionary new keyboard layout or a different way of typing; it just altered the physical mechanism under the key. As is the logic behind so many Apple design decisions, the change was made to save space. It allowed Apple to make its MacBook thinner than ever.

The new design is known as the “butterfly” mechanism. Theoretically, it reduced each key’s travel distance and paved the way for a more stable, less error-strewn typing experience. In practice, it’s prone to jamming up and not functioning.

You can see the difference between Apple’s butterfly approach and the more conventional “scissor” approach in the image below:

macbook keyboard not working - Scissor keyboard vs. butterfly keyboard

The Problem With Butterfly Keyboards

So, what’s the problem? Why are the MacBook keyboards so prone to jamming?

In a word: dust.

Unlike scissor keyboards, Apple has designed its butterfly keyboards to be exceptionally good at preventing dust from getting under the keys. Again, in theory, that’s a good idea.

But dust being dust, it can get into the tiniest spaces imaginable. No matter how good the design is, it’s an inevitability that gunk will eventually work its way under the keys.

On a scissor keyboard, that’s not an issue. A good blast of air will clear it out again. On the MacBook, less so. The space between the key and the laptop chassis is so small, all the blowing in the world won’t budge it.

The problem is especially apparent on the space bar. If you’ve got a steady hand and good eyesight, you might be able to pop off the other keys, clean them out, and replace the button. However, users have found that the space bar is particularly fragile.

It’s incredibly difficult—if not impossible—to remove the space bar and replace it again without damaging either the butterfly mechanism or the key itself.

As a result, people have started taking their machine into an Apple Store. If the technicians can’t fix it, they’ll send it away and replace the entire top part of your laptop, including the whole keyboard.

If you’re not covered by AppleCare How to Check the Warranty Status of Any Apple Device How to Check the Warranty Status of Any Apple Device Damaged your iPhone or Mac and need to see if your warranty is still active? Here's how to check the warranty status of any Apple device. Read More , the replacement will set you back an eye-watering $700.

How to Fix a Jammed MacBook Key

Warning: All MacBook keys are fragile; proceed with extreme caution.

If you don’t fancy handing over $700 to Apple for something that’s not your fault, there’s a remedy you can try at home.

As you might expect, it involves a focused blast of air. While you might not be able to produce the necessary air gust using your mouth, you can with a can of compressed air. Sounds simple, but it’s the Apple-approved method.

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Before you start using the compressed air, there are a couple of notes to keep in mind:

  • Always use the supplied straw so you can control air flow.
  • Keep the end of the straw at least half an inch away from your machine.
  • Never turn the can of air upside down.
  • Spray the first bit of air away from your machine in case there’s liquid in the nozzle.
  • Try to maintain a steady airflow throughout the process.

Ready? Great. Now follow the step-by-step instructions below:

  1. Pick up your laptop and hold the keyboard at a 75-degree angle.
  2. Move the straw over your keyboard in a steady left-to-right motion.
  3. Rotate your keyboard to the left so it’s vertical.
  4. Again, hold it at 75 degrees.
  5. Steadily blow the air in a left-to-right motion.
  6. Lastly, rotate your keyboard to the right.
  7. Blow the air left-to-right.

Other Common MacBook Keyboard Fixes

If jammed keys aren’t your problem, there are a few other fixes you can try.

If you have a wired or wireless keyboard, we’ve covered the most common Apple keyboard fixes Trouble with Your Apple Keyboard? Here's How to Fix It Trouble with Your Apple Keyboard? Here's How to Fix It Maybe you plug your keyboard in and nothing happens. Maybe your computer isn't picking up the Bluetooth signal. Maybe your keys aren't responding to input. Here's how to fix it. Read More in great detail. But if the problem is with your built-in keyboard, you can try some of these six solutions.

1. Create a New User on Your MacBook

You need to establish whether the problem is isolated to one user or computer-wide. To make that test, you’ll need to create a new user.

Here’s how to make a new user on your MacBook:

  1. Go to Apple > System Preferences.
  2. Click on Users & Groups.
  3. Click the Plus (+) icon below the list of users.
  4. Select the type of account you want to create.
  5. Enter the name and password.
  6. Click on Create User.

Now log in to your computer as the new user and see if the problem has gone away.

macbook keyboard not working- Create New User

2. Reset the PRAM and SMC

Resetting a Mac’s PRAM (parameter random access memory) and SMC (system management controller) is a common troubleshooting technique when something isn’t working as it should.

It’s easy to reset them both, but the exact approach varies depending on the Mac model you own. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Check out our guide to resetting your PRAM and SMC How To Reset Your Mac's SMC & PRAM – And Why How To Reset Your Mac's SMC & PRAM – And Why Sometimes your Mac will act strange for no apparent reason, and if a restart doesn't work, sometimes you'll need to reset the SMC and PRAM. Read More for more information.

3. Make Sure Slow Keys Is Disabled

Slow Keys is a Mac accessibility feature. It’s designed to help people who struggle with repetitive keystrokes, as it changes the delay between when you press a key and when it’s activated.

If you’ve enabled it by accident, you might think your keyboard is unresponsive.

To check Slow Keys’ status, navigate to Apple > System Preferences > Accessibility > Keyboard > Slow Keys and make sure the Off checkbox is highlighted.

4. Ensure Mouse Keys Isn’t Turned On

Mouse Keys lets you control your on-screen pointer using your keyboard. It’s useful if your trackpad is malfunctioning or when you don’t have a mouse handy.

To make sure it’s not turned on, go to Apple > System Preferences > Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad.

macbook keyboard not working- Mouse Keys

5. Disable Speak Selected Text

As the name suggests, you can make your Mac read any selected text aloud by pressing a user-specified key. You might have accidentally enabled the feature so that it overrides a key’s primary function.

To make sure it’s not turned on, you’ll once again need to head to the accessibility settings. Go to Apple > System Preferences > Accessibility > Speech and unmark the checkbox next to Speak selected text when the key is pressed.

6. Boot in Safe Mode

MacBooks let you boot your computer in safe mode. Doing so will prevent most drivers and caches from loading at startup.

Put your MacBook into safe mode by rebooting your machine and holding Shift until you see the login screen. If your keyboard starts working, you will need to re-enable each driver individually until you find the guilty party.

And If All Else Fails…

If you can’t resolve your MacBook keyboard issues using some of the tips we’ve outlined, it might be time to seek professional help.

Thankfully, Apple offers excellent customer support. Check out our advice on how to contact Apple’s technical support team Need Mac Tech Support? Here Are Your Options Need Mac Tech Support? Here Are Your Options "Tech support" — two words that strike fear into the hearts of all but the most competent computer users out there. Where do you begin to look when things start to go wrong? Read More .

Image Credit: Bill Burris/Flickr

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  1. Steven Bennett
    June 22, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Can you clarify what you mean by "hold the keyboard at a 75-degree angle"? The computer (and thus keyboard) has a standard position on the desk. Do you mean that I should raise the back of the MacBook so that the keyboard is at a 75-degree angle from the desk?

  2. Timoha
    April 9, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks! Got my shift key stuck in pressed position and spent a week on cleaning it. Should have bought a can with pressed air