How to Clean Your Mac's Display

Step Away From the Glass Cleaner!

Mac computer screen
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Cleaning a Mac's display is an easy process, with only a few don'ts but a lot of do's to consider. We're going to talk specifically about Apple displays, but these cleaning instructions will work for most LCD displays. For general instructions for cleaning LCD displays, Tim Fisher, About's Guide to PC Support, has a great write-up called, appropriately enough, How To Clean a Flat Screen Monitor. I highly recommend Tim's guide for general cleaning guidelines.

We're going to break Mac displays into two categories: naked LCD displays and glass LCD displays.

Naked LCD displays aren't truly naked; they have a plastic screen that protects the underlying LCD components. However, the screen is very flexible, and susceptible to many common cleaning supplies. Some common cleaning products can etch or damage the plastic screen; others can leave streaks that in most cases are worse than the dirt you were trying to eliminate.

For this reason, you should never clean any naked LCD with anything but cleaners designed specifically for LCD displays. Alternatively, if you're like me and you don't like to spend more cash on cleaning supplies than necessary, you can use Tim's suggested cleaning mix of distilled white vinegar and distilled water. This works great for me, because we always have distilled white vinegar in the kitchen for cooking, and a small container of distilled water lasts a long time.

Naked LCD displays are used on many of the older portable Macs and most third-party desktop monitors.

Glass LCD displays, like the ones used in recent iMacs, are really just naked LCD displays with a glass panel in front of them. Because the LCD panel is protected, you may think it's OK to use normal glass cleaners on your iMac.

Well, the answer is no, it isn't. Apple recommends distilled water for cleaning these displays. So far, I haven't found any dirt, smudges, or cat or dog nose prints that can't be cleaned off our iMac with just distilled water. If I had a stubborn spot, I would try the distilled white vinegar/distilled water combination.

Cleaning Your Mac's Display

What you will need:

  • 2 microfiber cloths.
  • Distilled water.
  • Distilled white vinegar.
  • About a minute or two of your time.

I recommend two microfiber cloths so you can use one for a dry cleaning of the display, and dampen the second one with distilled water for any stubborn spots. You can use a single microfiber cloth, just be careful to dampen only a small area of it.

  1. Start by using a dry microfiber cloth to gently wipe down the display. Don't press hard against the LCD panel, because this can cause problems with the individual pixels that make up the display. If you're cleaning a glass panel, you can apply a bit more pressure, but you should still go lightly.
  2. Once the dry cleaning is done, check the display for any remaining spots or dirty areas. In most cases, a light cleaning with the microfiber cloth is all that is needed.
  3. If you still have areas that need cleaning, dampen the second microfiber cloth with distilled water and gently go back over the areas that are still dirty. Wipe dry with the first cloth, then inspect the display.
  1. If any dirt is still stubbornly hanging on, use a commercial LCD cleaner or mix up your own distilled white vinegar/distilled water mixture. Never use a mix that is more than 50% vinegar. I've had good results with a mix that is 25/75 (one part vinegar to three parts water).
  2. Dampen the second microfiber cloth in the cleaning mixture, and wipe the display, concentrating on the areas that are still dirty.
  3. Wipe the display with the dry cloth, and then inspect the display again. It should be clean by now, but you can go over it one more time with the damp microfiber cloth if necessary. Be sure to finish with the dry cloth.

    Cleaning Behind an iMac's Glass LCD Display (2011 models or earlier)

    It's possible, though unlikely, that a smudge or spot on the glass panel on your iMac's display is actually on the inside surface. If that's the case, then the best thing to do is to take the display to an Apple Store for cleaning. They will pull the glass panel, clean both surfaces of the glass, as well as the underlying LCD panel, and then seal it all back up.

    If you don't have an Apple Store or authorized Apple dealer near you that will do this, you can do it yourself. The glass panel is held in place with magnets. Not special glass magnets; just a couple of magnets embedded in the glass panel along the panel's edge. What you'll need to pull this off (pun intended) is a pair of good quality suction cups, a pair of gloves, so you won't leave fingerprints all over the glass, and a couple of large microfiber cloths to rest the glass panel on. You can also use the spun fiber cloth that your iMac was housed in when you first received it.

    Before you proceed, be aware that removing the glass panel may void your Apple warranty.

    1. Clean the exterior glass surface using the method described above, to ensure a good grip by the suction cups.
    2. Put on the gloves. Place a pair of suction cups at the two top corners of the display. Be sure they are well adhered to the glass. Small dent-pulling suction cups available from auto supply stores will work best. This type of suction cup has a handle that is used to create the vacuum that adheres the suction cup to the glass. This is far preferable to common suction cups, which would require you to press them forcefully against the glass.
    1. Gently lift the glass by the two suction cups. If you're standing in front of the iMac, lift the glass towards you, letting the bottom of the glass panel pivot against the iMac. Be careful as you lift the glass, as there are a couple of steel guide pins along the top of the iMac. You must lift the glass far enough to clear these pins.
    2. Once the glass panel is clear of the steel pins, grab it along the sides with your gloved hands, and lift it free of the iMac.
    3. Place the glass panel on one or more large microfiber cloths or the spun fiber cloth.
    4. Clean the inner glass surface using the cleaning steps outlined above.
    5. Allow the glass to completely dry before reinstalling the glass panel.
    6. Once the glass is dry, use an airbrush or similar device to ensure that no dust particles are present.
    7. Reinstall the glass panel.

    That's it! You should now have a sparkling clean Mac display.