MacBook Air Overheating? 7 Tips and Tricks to Cool It Down
You might think your MacBook Air is overheating if it sounds like a hairdryer and feels like a grill. Depending on your model, the fans may be working hard to stop your Mac from getting too hot. But if they fail—or if your MacBook Air doesn’t have any fans, like the M1 and M2 models—your computer might shut down unexpectedly.
There are lots of tricks you can use to stop your MacBook Air overheating. For our purposes, “overheating” means being very hot to touch, but still operational. That way, you don’t need to wait for your MacBook Air to turn itself off before you use the suggestions below to cool it down.
Why Is My MacBook Air So Hot?
All sorts of problems might make your MacBook Air overheat, ranging from a buildup of dust in the vents to a load of browser tabs open at once. These are issues that every computer contends with, but MacBook Air models seem to experience more overheating issues than most.
The MacBook Air from 2020 appears to be particularly prone to overheating problems. It’s likely that this problem is down to the compact design with only a single vent—located at the hinge of the screen—to aid heat dispersal.
Worse than that, the M1 and M2 MacBook Air models don’t even have fans, making them potentially more prone to overheating if you manage to push the Apple silicon chips hard enough.
Intensive processing tasks like rendering video effects, playing games, or opening too many browser tabs take their toll on your Mac’s logic board and processor. The board generates heat as it works, and that heat only has one route of escape. Apple simply didn’t design these slimline laptops for processor-intensive tasks, which is why the MacBook Air gets hot so easily.
Still, if your fans are whirring loudly and it’s heating up to a worrying temperature, here’s how to cool down your MacBook Air.
1. Change Your Environment
Despite the name, the best place to use a laptop is not on your lap. Aim to use your MacBook Air on a hard and flat surface, such as a desk, to offer the best ventilation without blocking the fan. Soft furnishings, like a pillow or a couch, store more heat and introduce dust. Both of these can reduce your MacBook Air’s ability to cool itself down.
You should also avoid using your Mac in direct sunlight for the same reason. Apple says the ideal ambient temperature for your MacBook Air is 50°F to 95°F (or 10°C to 35°C).
2. Remove Any Cases and Keyboard Covers
Although your MacBook does have a vent for cooling itself down when it gets too hot, it also releases heat through the enclosure and the keyboard. This is precisely why they feel so hot when your Mac is overheating, because they’re acting as another way to release that heat.
For this reason, having a case or keyboard on your MacBook can cause it to overheat more often and stop it cooling down when it does so.
Remove any cases or hardcovers from your MacBook Air and make sure nothing is covering the keyboard. This will hopefully allow your Mac to regulate its temperature better and stop it overheating in the future.
3. Drop the Demanding Software
If your physical environment seems fine, there’s a good chance your MacBook Air is getting hot because it’s trying to do too many tasks at once. Find out exactly what processes are causing your Mac to work overtime by launching the Activity Monitor app from your Utilities folder (or search for it using Spotlight with Cmd + Space).
In Activity Monitor, go to the CPU tab and click the % CPU column to sort every process in descending order, based on the percentage of available processing power it’s using.
This is likely to reveal particular apps or processes using excessive amounts of CPU (90% and above) for no reason. Sometimes, this happens when an app crashes and fails to shut down properly. You can fix that by selecting the process and forcing it to quit with the Stop (X) button at the top.
A lot of MacBook Air users find that Google Chrome is a big CPU hog. If that’s the case, you might want to consider switching to Safari or Mozilla Firefox.
You should also reduce the number of login items that start up when you log into your Mac. Open the Apple menu and go to System Preferences > Users & Groups, then select your profile and open the Login Items tab to remove apps.
Don’t use Activity Monitor to quit any processes if you don’t know what they do. These might be essential for macOS to function as intended.
4. Update macOS and Reset the SMC
Even if there aren’t any particular apps causing your MacBook Air to overheat, you might still be suffering from a software-related problem. This could come down to a bug in the operating system. Usually, all you need to do is update to the latest version of macOS to fix these issues.
Open the Apple menu and go to System Preferences > Software Update to check for new macOS updates. Be sure to download and install any that are available for your Mac.
There’s a chance Apple is still working on a patch for the particular bug you’re facing. You should turn on the option to Automatically keep my Mac up to date or keep checking for updates yourself.
It’s also a good idea to reset the SMC on your Mac, which you can do by restarting some MacBook models after updating. This stands for System Management Controller. An issue with it might explain why your MacBook Air isn’t using the fans to cool itself down properly.
5. Run Diagnostics on Your Fans
If your problems are more pronounced and your MacBook Air is regularly shutting down, you may need to test your fans. Sometimes, you can obviously hear a problem with your fan if it stutters and grinds audibly. But not all fan failures are this clear.
If you’ve got an Apple silicon MacBook Air (with an M1 or M2 chip inside it), then you don’t have any fans, so you can skip this step. For everyone else, find out how to test your fans below.
You can test the fans on your MacBook Air using built-in diagnostic software. If your MacBook Air was made before June 2013, it’ll use the Apple Hardware Test. More recent models, use Apple Diagnostics.
Don’t worry, both diagnostics tests are quite similar, and you access them in the same way:
- Shut down your Mac and connect the power cable.
- Press the Power button to restart your Mac, then press and hold the D key.
- Select a language (if prompted), then follow the onscreen instructions.
On newer Macs, Apple Diagnostics should start testing automatically. Older Macs using the Apple Hardware Test give you the option of a Basic or a Thorough test. The basic test should be enough to detect fan problems.
After the diagnostics are complete, make a note of any error codes or other information you get. You might want to give these codes to Apple if you need to make a Genius Bar appointment to repair your Mac.
6. Override Your Fans
If your MacBook Air is consistently overheating and you struggle to see why, you may want to install an app that allows you to manually override the fan speed. That way, you can keep the fans on full even if your Mac doesn’t usually want to do so. Again, you can skip this step if your MacBook Air doesn’t have any fans.
Of course, this might come at the expense of wearing out your fans sooner. But it’s a lot cheaper to replace a fan in your MacBook Air than to replace the logic board if it dies from overheating.
The best app to use for this is Macs Fan Control, a free utility that lives in your menu bar. It provides easy controls to override the default rules about using the fans: choose to keep them on all the time or adjust the acceptable temperature range.
Download: Macs Fan Control for macOS (Free, premium version available)
7. Laptop Coolers and Cleaning
It’s a last resort, particularly for such a stylish machine, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and buy a laptop cooler for your MacBook Air. These are more than just MacBook stands. Instead, they prop your MacBook up and use additional fans to encourage better ventilation.
If you use your MacBook Air at home most of the time, getting a decent laptop cooler could be the simplest solution to avoid overheating issues. This is ideal if you combine your MacBook with a monitor and keyboard, so you can keep the cooler off to the side.
If your Mac is older and the fans spin up a lot more than they used to, you may want to go a step further and clean it out. This involves opening the laptop enclosure and exposing all the delicate inner-workings.
It’s all too easy to cause permanent damage to your MacBook while doing this, so you should probably hire a professional. That said, it’s entirely possible to clean the dust from your MacBook yourself. Just take extra special care when you do so.
Any Computer Can Have Overheating Issues
We’ve looked at how to stop your MacBook Air overheating. This issue is common to Mac owners, particularly those with the 2020 MacBook Air, because Macs don’t feature great ventilation options. But a MacBook Air isn’t the only computer that overheats.
We’ve previously written about advice to fix any overheating laptop. If your MacBook Air is still getting too hot, take a look at those general tips to find out what else you can do to fix it.