7 Tips to Keep Your MacBook From Overheating

Don't let the summer heat get to your MacBook. There are some easy ways to keep it running cooly and quietly.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
4 min read
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2023 open and angled to your left with an orange flower screen desktop sitting on a blue couch
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Summer has arrived, which means warm-weather activities can commence. And while you can cool off after running, biking, golfing or a heated game of backyard Wiffle Ball with a swim in the nearest ocean, lake or pool, your MacBook can't so easily escape the hotter ambient temperatures of July and August. 

If your MacBook becomes sluggish during the dog days of summer with its cooling fans spinning constantly and making it hard to hear the baseball game you're watching on MLB.TV or the show you're streaming (we also have recommendations for the best Mac VPN for when you're on vacation), then here are seven ways to help keep it running cooling and quietly. 

1. Avoid using Chrome

Chrome isn't the resource hog it once was back in the days of Intel-based Macs in my experience, but it still consumes its fair share of CPU resources on my M1 MacBook Pro. And when a MacBook's CPU works overtime, its cooling fan kicks in to dissipate the heat. And with the built-in Activity Monitor app, you can quickly check to see which of your apps are weighing most heavily on your MacBook.

To see which apps are using the most CPU resources, open Activity Monitor and click on the CPU tab. In my experience, the usual suspects using the highest percentage of the CPU are Google Chrome Helper and Google Chrome. If this also describes your experience, it may be time to switch to Safari or another browser.

Activity Monitor in MacOS
Matt Elliott/CNET

2. Keep tabs to a reasonable minimum

Regardless of which browser you use, the more tabs you have open, the more system resources it uses. Close or bookmark tabs you aren't using to reduce your browser's workload.

Chrome has a useful tool that shows the CPU and memory resources each tab and extension is using. To open Chrome's Task Manager, click the triple-dot button to the right of Chrome's URL bar, click More Tools and then Task Manager. As with the MacOS Activity Monitor, you can sort by CPU usage and see which tabs are consuming the most of Chrome's resources.

3. Slow your multitasking roll

I find my MacBook Pro can be a step slow when Spotify and Photos are both running -- in addition to a handful of other apps, including Chrome. So I use my iPhone to play music while I edit photos on my MacBook. If your Mac struggles to juggle multiple apps, lessen its load by closing apps you aren't using instead of leaving them running in the background.

4. No laps, no sun

In the warmer months, I resist the impulse to plop down on the couch and use my MacBook on my lap or stomach. Not only does the warm laptop make me even warmer than I already am on a muggy July night, but it also means my MacBook's cooling fans rev up more quickly. When I do want to use my MacBook while reclining on the couch, I grab a coffee-table book to put it on, to keep my MacBook's vents unobstructed.

MacBooks vent from the back edge, so make sure the back of your MacBook isn't blocked or it will heat up quickly. That means, don't rest it on a pillow or blanket but on a flat surface like a desk, table, counter or book.

I also find the cooling fan spins less frequently when my MacBook Pro isn't sitting in direct sunlight. When the sun hits my kitchen table in the morning, it's time to take my coffee and MacBook to my office. Apple recommends keeping your MacBook in a spot that's between 50 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 35 degrees Celsius).

5. Test your fans

There's 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 few minutes 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. (If holding down the D button doesn't start the Apple Hardware Test, try pressing Option-D.)

Matt Elliott/CNET

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.

6. Clean your Mac

Sometimes you need to get under the hood. Apple recommends taking your MacBook to an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider and not opening it yourself, but if you have an old MacBook that's no longer under warranty, the DIY route might be the best option. 

Depending on the year and model of your MacBook, you might find Phillips-head or T5 Torx or P5 Pentalobe screws on the bottom panel. With the correct screwdriver, 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 a can of compressed air to blow away any debris or use 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.

Matt Elliott/CNET

7. Keep current

Apple releases new versions of MacOS and apps as free upgrades, so there's no reason not to stay current. New versions of MacOS contain performance enhancements and security improvements to keep your Mac cool, safe and running smooth.

Check in periodically with the Updates tab of the Mac App Store for updates, and don't ignore notifications of updates that are ready to install.