Unable to Click with Trackpad or Mouse in Mac OS? Here’s the Fix!

Nov 19, 2016 - 27 Comments

How to fix inability to click on a Mac

Since most of our computing activities require the usage of a mouse click or trackpad click, it’s understandably annoying if suddenly you’re unable to click anything on a Mac. Typically the inability to click occurs all of a sudden, where the mouse still moves around on the screen, but the user can’t click, and when a click on the trackpad or mouse is pressed, nothing is registered. Sometimes this pops up after a computer has been moved physically, some software has been installed, or the Mac has been rebooted, and while it’s peeving to not be able to click, it’s typically an easy issue to resolve in Mac OS .


Before anything else, you should absolutely check the hardware for obvious problems first. Usually there is no mechanical failure going on, but in some cases a MacBook bulging battery can push up against the trackpad mechanism and prevent clicking. Additionally, a damaged mouse or trackpad may also refuse to register a click, particularly if a Mac had water contact that seeped into the tracking area, or if a mouse took a dive into a swimming pool.

Check Any External Bluetooth Mouse or Trackpads

If you use a separate Bluetooth mouse or trackpad, like an Apple Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, it’s possible the device has been turned on and something is pressing down on the click surface of that device, thereby rendering another mouse or tracking surface unable to click. This is surprisingly common, particularly for Mac users who use multiple tracking devices, or for MacBook users who carry and use a separate external Bluetooth mouse and who carry the computer around in a backpack or laptop back, where the mouse or trackpad may have become activated and is pressed against something else in the tote, thereby causing a refusal of Mac OS X to register and acknowledge other clicks.

An easy way to figure out if this is the cause is to temporarily disable Bluetooth. If suddenly the mouse or trackpad click starts working again, you have found your problem.

Don’t skip this, I know it sounds silly, but it’s a common cause of the mouse click not working. I just had it happen to myself, so don’t discount this.

Reboot, Close the Lid

If the click failure is occurring on a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro then often rebooting and putting the Mac to sleep and then waking it up again after a few minutes seems to resolve the issue:

  1. Reboot the Mac as usual from the  Apple menu
  2. When the Mac has booted back up, and assuming the mouse still isn’t clicking, close the lid and put the MacBook to sleep for about two minutes
  3. Open the MacBook lid and use the computer as normal, the mouse / trackpad should click as usual again

Admittedly that’s a quirky solution, but it does work to resolve inexplicable mouse failures in modern versions of MacOS and Mac OS X on the MacBook line.

Other Troubleshooting tips

  • If the MacBook is new enough to have haptic feedback with a Force Click surface, sometimes disabling Force Click on the trackpad can resolve failure to register clicks
  • Delete mouse and trackpad preference files to troubleshoot unusual behavior is particularly effective if the problem started happening after a system update or installing software
  • Reset the Mac SMC controller, which requires a reboot
  • Reset NVRAM / PRAM on the Mac, which also requires a reboot but is separate from the SMC process
  • Check for hardware failures, like a bulging battery which would require replacement, or for dents or damage indicating a drop has occurred and may have caused a physical hardware issue – these type of hardware situations are typically serviced by Apple or Apple authorized repair centers

No Solution? Try Tap Clicking!

Another solution if all else fails is to enable Tap To Click on the trackpad, which allows you to simply tap a finger rather than press down to initiate a click, a feature that exists on the Mac and is popular with Windows laptops. Some people like this feature a lot anyway, and it’s an easy solution for trackpad and Magic Mouse users.

Have you experienced this issue where your Mac suddenly can’t click? If so, did the tips above resolve it for you as well? Let us know your experience in the comments!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

27 Comments

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  1. Luke says:

    My MacBook Pro trackpad stopped working entirely, it actually stopped clicking down. After closely inspecting the hardware (failed software troubleshooting methods) I discovered that the battery in the MacBook Pro had swollen up and was pushing against the trackpad mechanism. It’s probably rare, but it’s something to look out for. The resolution is to replace the battery with one that isn’t swelling.

    • DCJ001 says:

      The same thing happened to me. I took my four-year old MacBook to an Apple store, went to the Genius bar for my appointment, starting explaining the problem and the reason for the problem.

      The Genius bar rep said, “Oh. You have a swollen battery. Let me get you a new one!” I said, “That was easy!”

      Also, I never eveb had AppleCare for this MacBook.

      • Sheila says:

        Hey, I have a few questions.
        I opened up the back of my Macbook Pro and I think my battery is swollen but I can’t be sure. I was wondering but the cost would be to go to a Genius Bar and replace the battery. I don’t have any warranty on this Macbook because I bought it used from a friend.

  2. Jay VerLinden says:

    Maybe you could explain how to “Reboot the Mac as usual from the  Apple menu” when you cannot click on the trackpad.

    • Tom says:

      Was thinking the same thing. With no “click” available, do you force shutdown with the power button?

    • katbel says:

      Yeah…restarting could be interesting!

      Arrows could be helpful at least with the logging into the computer .. . It happened to me two times,
      when mouse or trackpad clicks weren’t working.
      I was able to use the arrows and then the return key,
      put the computer to sleep few seconds , reopened the lid
      and my click was back.

    • Gary Later says:

      Control-F2 will move keyboard focus to the menubar. Control-F8 will move it to the status menus at the right of the menubar. Then you can use arrow keys to access any menu selection.

      Keyboard shortcuts in the keyboard system preferences pane will show many more useful shortcuts.

      • Katbel says:

        Thanks for the tips Gary!
        If you have a Macbook you need to use the
        fn key
        associated to Control-F2 or Control-F8.
        I have to use it even with an external keyboard.

    • Patrick M says:

      Control-Command-Eject (Control-Command-Power on Macs without an Eject button) will force-reboot your computer.

  3. Irwin Judson says:

    None of the suggested workarounds work for me. The only thing I can do is turn off the power, wait for a few seconds and reboot. Frustrating and time-consuming.

    Unable to click used to happen a few times in two – three hours. Over the month it seems to have reduced to once each 2 – 3 hours.

    My mid-2010 iMac went wonky a month ago when I change from El Capitan to Sierra. Absolutely coincidental in timing but I can’t declare cause and effect.

    • James R Adelfson says:

      I fought with the same issue for several month. I made sure there were no other wireless devices to interfere, disabled all plugins, uninstalled all but essential programs but nothing worked. Finally I shut down Safari and started using Chrome only. That fixed the problem. Haven’t had a mouse issue in over 30 days now.

  4. B says:

    Command+Space to open spotlight.
    – type “terminal” (no quotation marks) hit return (to open terminal).
    – type “sudo shutdown -r now” (no quotation marks) hit return, enter password when prompted (you won’t be able to see it) hit return (to restart).

  5. JIMJFOX says:

    Is there a way to DISABLE the trackpad?
    I always use a mouse and often an accidental trackpad touch activates something I don’ t want…

    Jim

  6. IntMarine says:

    I found the problem to be that the computer is reacting to a misplaced few moving fingers that make it think were it is being told to shrink all windows into Mission Control or Dashboard or something. Then after the computer shrinks things only a millimeter it realizes its mistake and stops…you think everything is as normal as it looks, but really everything is really suspended…it takes a pause, several multifinder dance moves, and all three wishes that you saved from that group of DigitalGenii who seemed so nice at the State Fair, and suddenly control returns.

    • Nechama says:

      IntMarine,

      Different people seem to be describing somewhat different phenomena. What you’re describing fits my experience exactly, as each time this suspension of my Mac Mini occurs, it seems that the window in the front is receding (or shrinking? and perhaps it’s more than 1 window?), almost as if I were entering Time Machine.

      I’ve forcibly rebooted the Mac when this happens, which, I realize is potentially problematic. After reboot, everything is normal. Prior to reboot, the Mac is not responding to any clicks, and I’ve found nothing that helps. [NB: I haven’t yet tried every suggestion on this page.] Can you PLEASE elaborate on exactly what you mean by “several multifinder dance moves” so I can try to replicate that and regain control the next time this happens to me? Thanks in advance!!!!!!!!

  7. Philippe says:

    Here is what worked for me.

    I am on a MBP Retina 13″ Late 2013 and macOS Sierra. The pointer started to have erratic movements and generated automatic clicks. Then this stopped but the left click would not work at all, even with an external mouse (only the right click of the mouse worked).

    I tried everything (restart many times, NVRAM reset,…) but nothing worked.

    Then I found a post (on Apple forums) linking it to an issue with an external monitor – I plugged the HDMi of the external screen I use from time to time, turned the monitor on and voila !, the left click worked again !

    I hope this can be helpful.

  8. nicanor says:

    More than likely the hard drive is failing.

  9. JoaLag says:

    I see the same phenomenon as IntMarine.

  10. Willy pott says:

    The left click on my Macbook suddenly stoped working both trackpad and external USB mouse, you can’t do anything if you can’t click!!
    Turned out I have a bluetooth apple magic mouse in my cupboard which i never use (cause it’s crap) and because I just was tyding up and was shuffling some stuff around, something must have been pressing it. Turned that stupid thing off , i can use my Mac again. Thanks for this article! For a while I thought my Mac was gone ! Hey this gives me some prank ideas mmmhhh

  11. John says:

    My Magic Trackpad’s rubber “foot” came out and I forcefully re-inserted it with the resulting problem of inability to click on any desktop screen. Thank you for the tip to check for pressure on the trackpad.

  12. Jerome says:

    Hey I figured out that this problems occur when i change my monitors. So try to plug and unplug your monitor and keep clicking.
    Also sometimes it helps to to reboot in safe mode. just click shift and power and hold shift during the start. But anyway that thing is annoying. Apple support was not able to help out, told me to go to a an Apple store, yeah thx.

    An other solution, but much more complicated and probably over the top, is installing el capitain on a USB or in my case on a SD card. When the problem occurs just shut down. Plug in the SD and start with pressing ALT and choose the other OSX. It´s not perfect, but if you don´t have time for a troubleshooting than this is how you should go.

  13. Nona says:

    Thanks for posting. I traced it down to a bluetooth mouse that somehow connected to my mac without my knowing. I removed the bluetooth mouse and now my trackpad and wireless mouse work again!

  14. Andrew says:

    I found a solution without restarting. In my case the bluetooth connection to my trackpad was messed up (and I could only right click).

    Right click on the apple logo, right click on system preferences, start typing Bluetooth and then key down to the Bluetooth preferences screen and press enter.

    You can right click the mouse/trackpad and disconnect and this immediately fixed the issue. I’m not sure why 90% of the screen items on a mac won’t initiate with a right click, but luckily the ones above did.

  15. W8post Guardian says:

    Happens to me all the time.
    *) solution ONE: ‘Restart’; the funny thing is I can’t click on anything, but EVERYTHING under the  logo, works!
    *) solution TWO: ‘Pull the Plug’ [of the Internet modem]; don’t touch the computer, leave it ‘as is’. I leave the plug out for about 15min. Plug back in and, after a normal restart, everything works as normal. {meanwhile, make yourself a cup of coffee…}

  16. sarah says:

    The “tap to click” was a great solution for me, thanks! My trackpad still clicked, but it was very difficult to do so. It is old, and probably has a swollen battery, but I want to nurse it along (without paying for repairs) as long as possible. I can now easily navigate, and hopefully it will last a little longer, thanks!

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