Cleaning the Keyboard in My MacBook Pro

My battle-tested MacBook Pro has been through a lot in the last six months. I spilled seltzer on it in July. I also spilled black coffee in late November and, in attempting to dry the computer, I broke the connector to the fan cable. And just in time for the new year, the keyboard’s home row stopped functioning. The non-alphabetical keys, such as ;, , Caps Lock and the Return keys worked fine. I knew that the problem was not with the logic board because I could type these keys with an external keyboard.

After much hesitation, I decided that the only way I could get the computer to work properly was to open the computer and clean out the keyboard. Apple does not make it easy. To access the keyboard, you have to take apart the entire computer and then remove the keyboard from the notebook’s upper case. The process must be complicated because you can only find instructions on replacing the upper case on, a process which they already rate as difficult. Separating the keyboard from the upper case requires peeling off the keyboard illumination sheet and then unscrewing about forty of the smallest screws you’ve ever seen in your life.

Before Cleaning

I’ll spare you the details, but I was able to remove upper case and the keyboard. I cleaned out the keyboard with some rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and a cotton swab. I also scraped some white substance that has settled under some of the keys. I used nothing more than a thin plastic straw, such as coffee stirrer. I also used some compressed air, from a can, to blow away hair, dust and other detritus from under the keys.

Putting together the computer was a bit more difficult. Shortly after I took the computer apart, I had to leave for Los Angeles for five days. Today, I finally had the chance to put the computer back together. Thankfully, I labelled the screws by placing them in small cups with post-it notes, which made putting the computer a lot easier after not having looked it at my machine in over a week.

When I finished reassembling the computer, I powered on the computer. Immediately, the fan went into overdrive and was spinning at its maximum speed. I was able to login to the computer and, most importantly, all of the keys were working. However, the Wi-Fi wasn’t working. The Wi-Fi menu indicated that there was “No Wi-Fi Hardware Found.” Looking at Activity Monitor, the kernel was consuming as much as 100% of the processor, and attempting ro to run any other software resulted in very slow performance.

After some investigating, it appears that the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and camera are all connected via a single cable to the display. I removed the “camera connector” and reconnected it, hoping that securing the connection would get the computer to work. I rebooted the computer and noticed that the fan was spinning at its normal speed. Then after encountering a kernel panic, which has been more common since Mountain Lion on both this MacBook Pro and 2009 iMac, the Wi-Fi menu showed a full signal to my usual Wi-Fi network. I verified that the FaceTime (iSight) camera worked, and the Bluetooth is working, too.

It Works!


One mystery remains. Why does the lack of a camera, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth cause the kernel to take up so much of the processor and cause the fan to spin at its maximum speed?

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