USB-C is a versatile little port. You can charge devices, transfer data, or connect accessories using it. And it’s completely reversible, unlike older USB connections. But now that you depend on your USB-C port for so much, it’s even more important that you learn how to clean it properly.
You can already find USB-C ports on the latest MacBook and iPad Pro devices, and it won’t be long until it turns up on your iPhone as well. Here’s everything you need to know about how to clean a USB-C port on any device.
How to tell if you need to clean a USB-C port
There are plenty of telltale signs that you need to clean a USB-C port. We’ve detailed each of them below, so you can be certain that cleaning the port will fix your problems before fiddling around with the insides of your device.
Any of the following issues can come as the result of dust, dirt, or fluff building up at the bottom of your USB-C port.
USB-C port doesn’t charge
The first problem you’re likely to notice when your USB-C port is dirty is that it doesn’t charge anymore. When this happens, you’ll probably be racing to fix it before your battery runs out.
Another similar problem might occur when your device believes it’s already charging, but you don’t have anything plugged in. This happens because a build-up of dirt inside the port tricks it into believing a cable is connected.
USB-C port can’t transfer data
You’ll notice this problem the next time you try to use your device with an accessory. That might be an external storage drive, a keyboard, or a monitor connected to your MacBook.
Whatever it is, it won’t work properly if your USB-C port can’t transfer any data. And that often happens when you need to clean it out.
Cables don’t click into place in the USB-C port
The last telltale sign of a dirty USB-C port is that cables don’t click into place like they used to. Lots of people believe this is the result of their USB-C port wearing down over time, but that isn’t true.
This same issue often results in a spongy feeling when you plug cables into the port.
After you learn how to clean the USB-C charging port on your iPad, MacBook, or other devices, you’ll be delighted to learn cables click into place just like they used to.
How to clean the USB-C port on your MacBook, iPad, or smartphone
You can normally see a build-up of dirt in your USB-C port when you need to clean it. But don’t go jamming anything in there yet because you might damage the delicate connectors.
In fact, before you do anything else, you should power off your device. That way you’re less likely to cause short circuits by using metal objects or inserting water into the port—not that we recommend doing either of those things!
Use the tools below to clean your USB-C port as safely as possible.
Use compressed air
A canister of compressed air is the best tool for cleaning most of your electronic goods. Spray a couple of bursts into your USB-C port to get rid of loose dust and debris.
You might need to spray the air using a thin nozzle to get the angle just right. Even if the gunk inside is particularly stubborn, try cleaning it with compressed air a few times before giving up.
Use a toothpick
Compressed air is the safest way to clean your USB-C port, but if the dirt is wedged in tightly, you might need to pick it out instead. You need to be extra careful when doing this so you don’t damage the metal connectors.
We recommend a wooden toothpick for this task, although you might need to split it down the middle so it’s narrow enough to fit in the port. Alternatively, use any other thin, pointed object, as long as it isn’t metal.
A lot of people recommend using the sharp end of a disposable floss pick.
Metal pins or safety pins are too hard and sharp. They can damage the inside of your USB-C port and the conductive metal might cause electronic problems.
After settling on your tool of choice, carefully insert it into a narrow end of the USB-C port. Slide down the edge until you get to the bottom of the port, then gently move around the edge to loosen any dirt. Slide that dirt back up a narrow edge to flick it out of the port.
Use isopropyl alcohol
You might need to use isopropyl alcohol to clean particularly stubborn dirt from a USB-C port. This is most common when food or liquid gets inside.
Be sure to use the highest percentage of isopropyl alcohol you can find. 99% is best. You should also avoid using too much isopropyl alcohol, as it can damage the oleophobic coating on your screen and the rubber seals inside water-resistant devices.
The best way to apply isopropyl alcohol to your USB-C port is to dampen a small piece of cotton with it. Then insert that cotton and move it around using a toothpick. This allows you to wipe up the dirt inside your port before the alcohol evaporates.
Get a repair from Apple
If you still can’t clean the USB-C charging port on your MacBook, iPad, or other Apple devices you might need a repair. Unfortunately, these repairs can be costly. And they might not be covered under your warranty.
Visit Apple’s Get Support website to schedule a repair or get a quote for your device. If Apple can’t help, you might want to void the warranty and look for a third-party repair instead.
How to keep your USB-C charging port clean in the future
After cleaning the USB-C port on your device, here are some steps to take to keep it clean in the future. Unfortunately, none of these solutions is perfect, but they are all less work than cleaning the port again every few months.
Cover your USB-C port with tape
This is the most basic suggestion for keeping your USB-C port clean. Take a small strip of adhesive tape and stick it over the port to stop dirt finding its way inside.
Over time, this is likely to leave a sticky residue on your device but at least that’s easier to clean than the inside of the port.
Get a case that covers the port
It’s a good idea to get a case for all your expensive gadgets to keep them safe. When case shopping, look for options that cover the USB-C port with a removable flap.
That way, you can keep the port closed whenever you aren’t using it. These cases are often more expensive but should be effective at keeping your USB-C port clean.
Get dust plugs to keep in the USB-C ports
If you don’t want to use a case—or can’t find any that cover the USB-C port—you can buy standalone dust plugs instead. These little bits of rubber or plastic fit into your USB-C port to stop dirt and fluff from getting inside.
They’re easy to insert or remove, but you might lose them when you take them out. Fortunately, you can buy USB-C dust plugs on Amazon relatively cheaply.
Are your USB-C ports loose?
A build-up of dust and grime isn’t the only problem you might have with your USB-C ports. After learning how to clean a USB-C charging port on your MacBook, iPad, or other devices, find out how to fix other problems as well.
In particular, watch out for loose USB-C ports on your MacBook. This is a common issue that causes connection issues and can lead to expensive repairs down the line.
He spent two years supervising repairs as a Genius Admin for Apple Retail and uses that knowledge to keep our troubleshooting guides up to date.
Long before that, Dan turned to Apple products from a musical background. Having owned iPods for years, he bought a MacBook to learn sound recording and production. It was using those skills that he gained a first-class Bachelor of Science in Sound Technology.