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Why is my Mac fan so loud? Causes, troubleshooting and how to get it to quiet down

When your computer overheats, your MacBook's fan kicks into action. But when it runs too long or too loud, there may be another cause to consider.

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Your fan is there to cool your MacBook, but sometimes it can get too damn loud.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If your MacBook's fan is running too loud for too long, and too frequently, you may have a problem. For the most part, fans are a part of laptop life. Humans sweat, dogs pant and laptops generally spin fans to keep cool. Unless you have the tiny, fanless MacBook, then your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air will occasionally fire up its cooling fan to keep its thermals in check. But your Mac's fan has gone from occasionally spinning to regularly and loudly spinning, you'll want to slow its roll (or whir, as it were).

There are five proven ways to do this, and it might be that you need to go through all of these steps until your fan finally calms down. Whatever you do, don't ignore the problem. Set aside a little time to genuinely focus on your fan health, and you'll continue to get a lot of quality life out of your MacBook -- without it sounding like you're at the airfield.

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Check your apps and tabs

The more apps and browser tabs you've got running, the greater the odds are that your Mac will need to employ its fan to keep things cool. Cut down on your multitasking by closing apps when you are done using them, especially when you are using graphics-intensive apps like Photoshop and iMovie.

To see which apps are using the most CPU resources, open the Activity Monitor and click on the CPU tab. In my experience, Chrome is more of a resource hog than Safari, so you might try switching browsers for a quieter Web browsing experience (and good news, Safari is getting favicons!) I also use my iPhone ($899 at Amazon) to play music and podcasts with iTunes and Spotify instead of keeping those apps running on my MacBook Pro.

activity-monitor
Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Keep vents clear

The MacBook Pro has vents on its sides and back edge, and the MacBook Air has vents along its back edge. These vents draw in cool air and expel hot air. If you block these vents by resting your laptop on a lap, couch cushion, pillow, bed or blanket, then your Mac is sure to heat up quick. I use a coffee table book to keep my MacBook Pro's vents unobstructed when sitting on a couch or lying in bed.

If it looks like a bunch of grime has collected along the vents, you can try blowing it away with a can of compressed air. Of course, you run the risk of just blowing the debris further into your Mac. If that appears to be the case, then you will need to open up your Mac to get under the hood.

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Open up and clean

Get yourself a tiny Phillips-head screwdriver and you can remove the bottom panel of your MacBook to clean out any dirt, dust and grime that may have collected over the years. Use your can of compressed air to blow away any debris or a lint-free cloth to wipe it away. Pay particular attention to the cooling fan itself and its vents, along with the entire back edge of your MacBook. The goal here is clean passageways for maximum airflow.

Test your fans

There is a chance that the reason your MacBook is overheating is there's something wrong with the cooling fan itself. Baked into your Mac is a hardware diagnostic tool. If it was made prior to June 2013, you'll use the Apple Hardware Test. After that date, you'll use Apple Diagnostics.

These tools operate in a similar fashion. With your MacBook plugged in and all external peripherals removed, restart it and hold down the D key to start either diagnostic program.

Follow the onscreen instructions to start the test. The standard test takes only a minute or two to complete and will report any hardware issues. For a more thorough investigation, you can check a box to run an extended test that will take an hour or more to complete.

Check out this Apple Support page of reference codes that may appear in the Test Results section after the test completes. There are three codes, all starting with "PPF," related to the cooling fan. If you get one of the results that indicates there may be an issue with your fan, it's time to contact Apple Support or visit your nearest Genius Bar for a repair.

Reset the SMC

If your Mac is clean and grime-free and you are keeping your apps and tabs in check and the fan is still spinning frequently and loudly, then try resetting the System Management Controller (SMC). The SMC is responsible for controlling low-level functions on your Mac including "thermal management," aka the cooling fan. Follow Apple's instructions for resetting the SMC.

This story is updated periodically with new information.