PROBLEM SOLVED: Glitchy MacBook Trackpad


Quick Answer

Clean your trackpad! It hates oil, jewelry, and cheap power adapters.

The Story

So, my 2.3 GHz i5 MacBook Pro has been really glitchy with an uncontrollable trackpad/mouse for the past few days.

The symptoms were that my cursor would stop responding to my own actions and would jump rapidly rapidly up and down across the screen. Sometimes it’s slightly controllable, and sometimes I basically lose all control of my own laptop. But, somehow if I wait, maybe 5-10 minutes, it would settle down and return my full control.

I expected the cause to be a firmware glitch or maybe malware related since It’s been almost 6 months since I got this machine without any maintenance.

I asked some friends about any good (and free) software to clean and get rid of any viruses and found OnyX and Clam. These seem to be very trusted freeware for OSX maintenance.

A few hours scanning and cleaning out my system for viruses and unnecessary caches. My result was: ‘known system errors’.

After rebooting the laptop, it seemed good… but only for a while.

The mouse started being glitchy again, and frustration returned.

With more searching, I found many users of similar issue, but no resolve. Forums, blogs, questions, Apple support forums, they lacked any practical resolution. Then, I finally ended up at Apple’s official “Portables and Magic Trackpad: Jumpy or Erratic Trackpad Operation” page.

The answer to my particular situation was hidden in a single sentence:

Oil or lotion can also cause the same issue.

No, firmware updates. No, supportive downloads. Just a friendly way to say, “your hands are dirty.”

Jewelry, oil, lotion, and some particular hardware effects the highly sensitive trackpad that measures electrodes capacitance within the surface. Apple calls it, “coupling capacitance.”

A few wipes across the trackpad and the issue was solved (at least so far).

So simple, yet unnoticeable…?

My laptop has always looked physically clean, and unlike old mice with pink trackballs, who would have expected that invisible oil would have caused such a software appearing glitch.

Shameful story, but I hope this helps anyone else with the same situation!

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