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MacBook electric shocks: why is it shocking me?

MacBook electric shocks
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If you have a MacBook, you might have experienced a slight tingling sensation whenever you touch the metal body. It might have even given you an electric shock – similar to when taking off a woollen jumper. But, before you ring up Cupertino and demand to speak to Mr Cook, there are a few simple explanations. Here’s why MacBook electric shocks happen.

And it’s not an obscure problem: type “MacBook shocks” into Google and you’ll be confronted with dozens of forum posts and a smattering of YouTube videos. However, there’s really nothing to worry about. Yes, Apple did have to recall some faulty plugs in April, but that was a rare issue and, for most of us, the tingling will just be a mild annoyance.

MacBook electric shocks: why they happen

There are three main culprits behind the tiny shocks: static electricity, an improperly grounded plug socket, a third-party charger or, quite simply, the age of the laptop. It can be just one of the above or, as I suspected recently with an old MacBook of mine, a combination of all of them.

Here’s what happened: I was sitting at my wooden kitchen table tinkering with a venerable 2013 MacBook Air, which was plugged into the outlet beside the cooker using a cheap third-party charger bought on Amazon, when suddenly – ouch! It was a perfect (electrical) storm that I, a Big Tech Plonker, could have easily avoided.

How to stop your MacBook shocking you

Switch plugs

It’s highly likely that you’ll only experience the shocks/electrical “rumbling” when your laptop is charging.

An easy fix, then, is to unplug it and try a different socket. If you’re still getting non-static (i.e. more significant) shocks when the laptop is unplugged there could be a more serious issue, such as leakage, so contact Apple support.

Examine, or change, the cable

If you’re still getting the tingling from another plug socket, it could be the charging cable that’s at fault – especially if it’s a knock-off bought from Amazon. I know they’re outrageously expensive (a MacBook Air charger is £79, for Pete’s sake), but it’s worth buying official kit, if possible.

If your charger is getting old, it’s also worth checking that it hasn’t accumulated any gunk. Unplug it, obviously, and then run a dry cloth over the plug prongs. It’s a long shot, but it might work.

Avoid humidity

Okay, this is obvious advice, but you’ll be surprised at how many people ignore it: don’t use your MacBook in the bathroom with a hot shower running or in the kitchen when, for instance, you’re boiling pasta. Water and electricity really don’t mix.

“Ground” yourself

To avoid a buildup of static electricity, you could regularly touch hefty metal objects – a filing cabinet would be perfect – to dissipate the charge. It may raise eyebrows in your office, though.

The nuclear option

Occasional ramblings, tingling and mild shocks can just be part and parcel of an ancient MacBook. If you can live with them, great. If you’ve tried all of the fixes above and have reached breaking point, it might be time to find a replacement.

Please let me know in the comments section if you’ve experienced this issue and what, if anything, you did to fix it. Don’t suffer the shocks in silence.

READ NEXT: How do I reduce Mac System storage?

About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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  • I, too, have been surprised by this electric shock issue, which I experience as tingling when touching the case (body) while the device is plugged in. I say device because I have experienced it with my previous MacBook Pro 15” (~2008) since it was brand new, my current MacBook Pro 15” (2017) since it was brand new, and even my iPad Pro—again since brand new—all while using only the original Apple cables that came with the equipment. It is not occasional—it is continual every time I place fingers on the metal parts of the equipment while it is plugged in, for the duration that I am touching the metal.

  • My wife’s and Son’s Macbook Airs both do the same, both with the original Apple chargers. I have also noticed this on other equipment, lots of it very expensive and well made professional broadcast equipment.
    In the past, in the studios I have worked in this has sometimes been cured by re earthing the equipment. This is obviously not possible with a Macbook.
    My wife became so concerned today that I thought it best to check and take some basic measurements, First I checked ground resistance between the extension block the charger was plugged in to and the incoming house ground, which was suitably low at 0.3 ohms. Checking the voltage between the Macbook case and earth showed no more than around 1.5v, for this I used s good quality Fluke Multimeter that I know is good up to at least 100khz so it would measure leaked current from the switching PSU. Resistance to ground between the charger 0v / Macbook case was 1Kohm and unmeasurable between live/neutral and case.
    In conclusion, there is no obvious leakage and there is a drain resistance to earth from the case. All of which is good, but doesn’t explain the shocks. I can only assume that the shocks are due to electrostatic leakage building up on the metal case of the Macbook from the PSU, especially if the PSU isn’t very well grounded, this is then discharged through the user at points where the case anodising may have worn away such as the corners, it shouldn’t be dangerous but is uncomfortable and is just one of those things you get with a metal laptop.

    • I’ve been experiencing it too with 2 different brand new macbook pros, but I must admit, i’ve used multiple different metal laptops and i’ve only experienced it with mac.

  • It’s tedious getting this pins & needles sensation. I either unplug or better still wear rubber sole shoes! My pug is from Apple.

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