How to Fix Keyboard Issues on a Mac

Introduction

Mac keyboard with stethoscope on top.
The keyboard is one of two primary input devices that every computer comes equipped with. Naturally, if the keyboard on your Mac is not responding to your commands properly, it can be quite frustrating. Whether the issue is with a single key, multiple keys, or the entire keyboard, this guide will provide you with troubleshooting steps to help fix the most common issues you may encounter with the keyboard of your Mac.

? What kind of issue are you having with your keyboard?

  1. None of my keys respond
  2. Some keys don't respond
  3. Keys respond slowly
  4. Keys produce capital letters only
  5. Some keys produce numbers only
  6. Some keys produce the wrong characters
  7. Numeric keys move the mouse cursor instead of producing numbers

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Mac keyboard with stethoscope on top.
The keyboard is one of two primary input devices that every computer comes equipped with. Naturally, if the keyboard on your Mac is not responding to your commands properly, it can be quite frustrating. Whether the issue is with a single key, multiple keys, or the entire keyboard, this guide will provide you with troubleshooting steps to help fix the most common issues you may encounter with the keyboard of your Mac.

  1. From the menu bar across the top of the screen, select the Apple menu, then Restart...
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.
  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
    System Preferences highlighted in Apple Menu.
  2. Then select Accessibility.
    Accessibility highlighted in macOS System Preferences.
  1. In Accessibility Preferences scroll down in the left pane and select Keyboard.
    Keyboard option pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
  2. In the right pane you can toggle the Slow Keys feature. If you want key presses to be delayed put a check mark next to Enable Slow Keys. If you want to be able to type fast on the keyboard make sure there is no check mark next to it.
    Enable Slow Keys toggle box pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
To better assist you, please answer this question.

Apple identified a bug that could affect Mac computers running macOS 10.12 Sierra, regarding low battery alerts. If none of your keyboard keys work, your Mac may be showing a low battery alert that you cannot see, which is preventing your keyboard from functioning. Connect your Mac to its charger to clear the alert. If this particular bug is the cause of the issue, the keyboard should begin functioning again.

  1. Connect your MacBook to the supplied charger.

    Without the Extension Cable

    MacBook being connected to power with power supply without extension cord.

    With the Extension Cable

    MacBook being connected to power with power supply with extension cord.

    Make sure the power supply is firmly plugged into the wall socket, and power connector into the computer. 

    • The power adapter and charging connector your MacBook uses may be different than the style depicted above. The following are the three common charging connector types you may encounter:
      1. Magnetic T style
      2. Magnetic L style
      3. USB-C style
        Different types of MacBook power connectors.
  2. Test your keyboard to see if this has resolved the issue.

Whether you're using a wired Apple Keyboard or a wired keyboard of a different brand, they all connect to your Mac computer through a USB connection.
USB connector highlighted for Apple Wired Keyboard.

  • Follow the wire coming out of your keyboard and check if it's connected to any of the USB ports of your Mac. If it's already connected, then unplug it and plug it back in firmly.
    USB ports highlighted on Mac.
  • Bypass any USB hubs or extension cords for troubleshooting purposes.
  • If the keyboard is not working connected to a USB port, try connecting it to a different port.
  • If the keyboard is not working connected to any of the USB ports, try connecting it to a different Mac or try connecting a different keyboard to this Mac. This can tell you whether the keyboard or Mac is malfunctioning.

Whether you're using a Magic Keyboard or an Apple Wireless Keyboard, they have to be turned on in order to use them.

For a wireless keyboard of a different brand, check the device's documentation if you're unsure whether it has a power switch.

Magic Keyboard

The Magic Keyboard has a slide switch on the back edge of the device. If the green coloring is visible then it means the keyboard is turned on. Otherwise it's turned off.
Power switch highlighted on Magic Keyboard.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

Earlier Apple Wireless Keyboard models have a power button on the right side of the device and a green LED on the top of the device near the button. If the LED is lit then it means the keyboard is turned on. Otherwise it's turned off.
Power button highlighted and LED pointed out on Apple Wireless Keyboard.

If you're keyboard is not functioning even when turned on, try power cycling it: turn it off for 10 seconds, then turn it back on.

  1. Open the Apple menu and then click on System Preferences.
    Apple menu with System Preferences selected. Screenshot.

  2. Click on Bluetooth.
    System Preferences with Bluetooth selected. Screenshot.

  3. Click Turn Bluetooth On.
    Bluetooth radio Enabled. Screenshot.

Wireless keyboards need batteries to function. Depending on which type of keyboard you have, here's how you can make sure it has enough energy to be able to work:

Magic Keyboard

The Magic Keyboard has a built-in battery that needs to be recharged when it's depleted.

  1. Plug the smaller connector of the Lightning to USB cable into the top edge of the keyboard.
    Lightning cable being plugged into Magic Keyboard.
  2. Plug the other end into a USB port of your computer or a USB charger.
    USB ports highlighted on Mac.
  3. Turn the keyboard on if you wish to charge it faster. The green coloring is visible when the switch is in the on position.
    Power switch highlighted on Magic Keyboard.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

The earlier Apple Wireless Keyboard models use AA batteries that need to be replaced when they're depleted.

  1. Use a coin or anything similar to open the battery compartment cover.
    Using a coin to open the battery compartment cover of an Apple Wireless Keyboard.
  2. Remove the depleted batteries and replace them with new ones.
    Inserting battery into Apple Wireless Keyboard.

    Ensure you are inserting the batteries in the correct orientation by checking the positive and negative terminals.

For a wireless keyboard of a different brand, check the device's documentation if you're unsure what type of batteries it uses and how it's powered up.

To better assist you, please answer this question.
  1. Turn your Magic Keyboard on.
    Magic Keyboard on/off switch.

  2. Now connect your Magic Keyboard to your Mac with the supplied lightning cable.
    Magic Keyboard plugged in via supplied Lightning to USB cable.

  3. Plug the USB end into any available USB port on your Mac.
    Magic Keyboard connected to a Mac via USB.

  4. You will see a Connected message appear on-screen. This will disappear on it's own.
    macOS Magic Keyboard Bluetooth pairing process.

  5. Your Magic Keyboard is now connected to your Mac! You may disconnect the lightning cable as you can use this Magic Keyboard wirelessly. But don't forget to charge the keyboard whenever it is low on battery.

Wireless signal interference can cause performance issues such as slow or intermittent connections and even complete disconnects. This type of interference can be caused by the presence of:

  • Electromagnetic fields created by other electronic devices such as: Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capable devices, cordless phones, baby monitors, remote controlled toys, microwave ovens, seasonal lighting, or even garage door openers.
  • Structural materials in walls, floors, furnishings or other large objects. The potential for structural materials in your home to absorb wireless signal and cause signal loss or undesirable behavior is as follows:

    Interference Potential Type of Material
    Low Synthetic material, wood, glass
    Medium Brick, marble, water
    High Concrete, plaster
    Very High Metal

To reduce wireless signal interference caused by other electronic devices:

  1. Turn off temporarily any of the above devices and check if the issue persists.
  2. If it does, consider moving the affected device or any of the other devices further from the affected device.
  3. Alternately, if possible, you can select different wireless channels in the devices' configuration. Consult the devices' manufacturers documentation for details on how to make those changes.

To reduce wireless signal interference caused by other objects or structures:

  1. Move the affected device or any obstacles if possible and check if the issue persists.
  2. If the device is in a cabinet or closet, consider taking it out.
  1. Set your device to pairing mode. The way you do this may differ from device to device.

    In many cases, you can place your device in pairing mode by having the device off, then pressing and holding the power button to start it up. Usually, after a few moments, it will indicate it is in pairing mode (flashing its indicator light, for example), and you can release the power button.

  2. On the menu bar, click the Apple menu, then System Preferences.
    macOS Apple Menu with System Preferences highlighted.
  3. Select Bluetooth.
    System Preferences with Bluetooth highlighted.
  4. Ensure that it says Bluetooth: On. Turn it on with the button if it isn't.
    Screenshot of the Bluetooth properties box. Annotation that shows how to turn the Bluetooth radio on.
  5. Your computer will search for any Bluetooth devices in range.
  6. Once your device is located, click Pair.
    Bluetooth properties box with directions to click the Pair button next to the device you wish to connect to.
  7. Once the pairing process is complete, your Mac will automatically connect to the device whenever it is in range.

Certain keys, such as the Caps Lock and Media Eject keys, are designed to purposely use a slight delay to prevent accidental keypresses from activating them.
Caps Lock and Media Eject keys highlighted on Mac keyboard.
To activate these keys properly, press and hold the Caps Lock key until the key’s indicator light comes on. Similarly, press and hold the Media Eject key until the Media Eject icon appears on your screen.

  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
    System Preferences highlighted in Apple Menu.
  2. Then select Accessibility.
    Accessibility highlighted in macOS System Preferences.
  1. In Accessibility Preferences scroll down in the left pane and select Keyboard.
    Keyboard option pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
  2. In the right pane you can toggle the Sticky Keys feature. If you want modifier keys to behave as if they're held down when you press and release them, put a check mark next to Enable Sticky Keys. If you don't want to use this feature, make sure there is no check mark next to it.
    Enable Sticky Keys toggle box pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
  3. The keys affected by the Sticky Keys feature are: command ⌘, option ⌥, control ^, shift ⇧.
  1. In Accessibility Preferences scroll down in the left pane and select Speech.
    Speech option pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
  2. In the right pane you can toggle the Text-to-Speech feature. Put a check mark next to Speak selected text when the key is pressed if you want to use this feature, otherwise make sure there is no check mark next to it.
    Text-to-Speech toggle box pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
    System Preferences highlighted in Apple Menu.
  2. Then select Keyboard.
    Keyboard highlighted in macOS System Preferences.
  1. In Keyboard Preferences put a check mark next to Show keyboard and emoji viewers in menu bar.
    On-screen keyboard toggle box pointed out in Keyboard Preferences in macOS.
  2. Click the keyboard icon in the menu bar, then choose Show Keyboard Viewer.
    Keyboard icon pointed out in macOS menu bar and Show Keyboard Viewer option highlighted in menu.
  3. You'll see a graphical representation of your keyboard that highlights the corresponding keys you press on your keyboard.
    macOS on-screen keyboard.
  4. Compare the layout of your physical keyboard with the on-screen keyboard and check if the keys you press are highlighted as well.

This is a generic method to clean keyboards. It applies to notebooks with built-in keyboards as well as individual keyboards.

To clean your keyboard you will need to use a compressed air duster.

Always hold the can upright and use the included straw to control airflow. Keep the end of the straw about a half-inch away from the keyboard as you blow compressed air.

  1. Hold your notebook or keyboard at a 75-degree angle, so it's not quite vertical.
    Notebook being held at a 75-degree angle.
  2. Blow compressed air onto the keyboard, or just the affected keys, in a left-to-right motion.
    Movement on how to clean notebook being shown.
  3. Rotate your notebook or keyboard to its right side and blow compressed air onto the keyboard again, from left to right.
    Movement on how to clean notebook turned to right being shown.
  4. Repeat the action, this time with your notebook or keyboard rotated to its left side.
    Movement on how to clean notebook turned to left being shown.
  1. In Keyboard Preferences select the Input Sources tab and choose the preferred keyboard layout from the left pane.
    Input Sources tab pointed out and keyboard layout selection area highlighted in Keyboard Preferences in macOS.
  2. If no matching keyboard layout is listed, click the plus sign at the bottom left.
    Plus sign pointed out in Keyboard Preferences in macOS.
  3. Select your preferred language in the left pane, then select the preferred keyboard layout in the right pane and click Add.
    Left & right panes and Add button highlighted in keyboard layout selection window.
  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
    System Preferences highlighted in Apple Menu.
  2. Then select Accessibility.
    Accessibility highlighted in macOS System Preferences.
  1. In Accessibility Preferences scroll down in the left pane and select Keyboard.
    Keyboard option pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
  2. In the right pane you can toggle the Slow Keys feature. If you want key presses to be delayed put a check mark next to Enable Slow Keys. If you want to be able to type fast on the keyboard make sure there is no check mark next to it.
    Enable Slow Keys toggle box pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.

The Caps Lock feature allows you to type with capital letters without needing to hold down the Shift button while you are pressing the letter keys. To activate the feature, press and hold the Caps Lock key until its indicator light turns on. To deactivate it, press and hold the key until its indicator light turns off.

Caps Lock key highlighted on Mac keyboard.

The Num Lock feature allows you to type numbers only using keys that have multiple functions. The activation and deactivation of this feature depends on the keyboard type you have:

  • On keyboards with a numeric keypad, press the Clear key to toggle the Num Lock feature.
    Clear key highlighted on Mac numeric keypad.
  • On keyboards without a numeric keypad, press the Fn and F6 keys at the same time to toggle the Num Lock feature.
    Fn and F6 keys highlighted on Mac keyboard.
  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
    System Preferences highlighted in Apple Menu.
  2. Then select Keyboard.
    Keyboard highlighted in macOS System Preferences.
  1. In Keyboard Preferences put a check mark next to Show keyboard and emoji viewers in menu bar.
    On-screen keyboard toggle box pointed out in Keyboard Preferences in macOS.
  2. Click the keyboard icon in the menu bar, then choose Show Keyboard Viewer.
    Keyboard icon pointed out in macOS menu bar and Show Keyboard Viewer option highlighted in menu.
  3. You'll see a graphical representation of your keyboard that highlights the corresponding keys you press on your keyboard.
    macOS on-screen keyboard.
  4. Compare the layout of your physical keyboard with the on-screen keyboard and check if the keys you press are highlighted as well.
  1. In Keyboard Preferences select the Input Sources tab and choose the preferred keyboard layout from the left pane.
    Input Sources tab pointed out and keyboard layout selection area highlighted in Keyboard Preferences in macOS.
  2. If no matching keyboard layout is listed, click the plus sign at the bottom left.
    Plus sign pointed out in Keyboard Preferences in macOS.
  3. Select your preferred language in the left pane, then select the preferred keyboard layout in the right pane and click Add.
    Left & right panes and Add button highlighted in keyboard layout selection window.
  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
    System Preferences highlighted in Apple Menu.
  2. Then select Accessibility.
    Accessibility highlighted in macOS System Preferences.
  1. In Accessibility Preferences scroll down in the left pane and select Mouse & Trackpad.
    Mouse & Trackpad option pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
  2. In the right pane you can toggle the Mouse Keys feature. If you want  the numeric keys to control your mouse cursor put a check mark next to Enable Mouse Keys. If you don't want to use this feature, make sure there is no check mark next to it.
    Enable Mouse Keys toggle box pointed out in Accessibility Preferences in macOS.
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