How to fix a Mac cursor that moves on its own

Imagine working on your Mac and suddenly, out of nowhere, your cursor goes crazy, drifting aimlessly across the monitor. Surely you’d feel frustrated with this erratic “cursor dance.” After all, you need it to help you perform nearly every task on your computer.

With a cursor moving on its own, the Mac virus can be the first conclusion you jump to. But it’s not always the case. In fact, in the majority of cases, your cursor acting up is not caused by a virus at all. With a bit of targeted troubleshooting and regular maintenance, you can easily reclaim your wayward cursor for good.

What to do when your Mac cursor is moving on its own

If you’ve noticed your Mac cursor has started to exhibit troubling symptoms, such as ghost clicks or a slow horizontal drift, it’s time to investigate and find the root of the issue.

Reasons why your cursor malfunctions may range from pointing devices interfering with one another or corrupted files damaging hardware to physical issues like a damaged trackpad or a swollen battery. To uncover and eliminate the issue that’s causing this, you need to complete a thorough checkup.

1. Check your Mac and other devices

First things first, take a closer look at your Mac and pointing devices. One reason trackpads can malfunction on a MacBook is the battery bulging underneath. If your trackpad seems to be slightly lifted, your battery might need immediate replacement.

Similarly, if you’re using a mouse or pointing device like a drawing tablet, check to see if the USB fits properly in the port, if the cord is damaged, if the mouse is dirty, or if the tracking surface is uneven. Some physical hardware issues may require replacement, but sometimes there might be just lint stuck in your mouse, which is easily fixed with a quick clean.

2. Reset all pointing devices

Having multiple pointing devices connected at once can sometimes cause interference. Your computer may try to jump from one to another while you’re working, which could result in bizarre cursor movement.

Bluetooth or USB, test your pointing devices individually. But before that, make sure all devices are fully charged and have fresh batteries. If, when switching from one device to another, you notice the Mac cursor moving on its own — you’ve just found the problem. Try to resolve interference by unplugging and reinstalling your mouse or resetting your Bluetooth pointing device:

  1. Open Bluetooth in System Settings.
  2. Remove all devices by clicking the i icon and choosing Forget This Device. 
  3. Turn Bluetooth devices off and on, make them discoverable, and reconnect.
System Preferences - Bluetooth

In addition, uninstall and reinstall USB-pointing devices:

  1. With the device unplugged, search for your device using the Finder.
  2. Open your device’s application folder and run the uninstaller. If your device has no folder, just drag the icon to Trash.
  3. Restart your Mac, plug the device in, and follow the steps to reinstall.

3. Ignore your trackpad

Another solution to consider in case you’re using an external mouse is to disable the trackpad. Just like with interference, your computer might be sensing another device and, because of that, refuses to collaborate. This trick can also be used to temporarily resolve problems if a trackpad is damaged.

To turn on Ignore Trackpad, follow these instructions:

  1. Open System Settings from the Apple menu.
  2. Select Accessibility.
  3. Find Pointer Control > Mouse & Trackpad.
  4. Select the box “Ignore built-in trackpad when mouse or wireless trackpad is present.”

4. Restart your Mac in safe mode

If your devices don’t seem to be the source of your sudden cursor’s independence, restart your computer in safe mode. Your Mac in this mode doesn’t open programs, apps, or cached files to repair internal issues it detects. Also, starting your computer in safe mode can resolve all kinds of other Mac problems.

To start your Intel-based Mac in safe mode:

  1. Restart your computer normally from the Apple menu but hold the Shift key.
  2. Release Shift when you see the login window.

For a Mac with Apple silicon:

  1. Shut down your Mac and wait 10 seconds.
  2. Press and hold the power button until the startup options window shows up.
  3. Select a startup disk.
  4. Press the Shift key and click Continue in Safe Mode.
  5. Release the Shift key.

In addition to safe mode, try going fully offline. Turn off your Wi-Fi, unplug your Ethernet, and shut off Bluetooth. If you suspect you have a “cursor moving on its own Mac virus,” and the issue still persists while disconnected in safe mode, you can be sure that it’s not malware, adware, or other intrusive programs that are disrupting your cursor.

5. Reconfigure SMC, NVRAM, and PRAM

The SMC (System Management Controller) controls your computer’s thermal, power, and battery recharging operations. Resetting the SMC will allow it to refresh any corrupted file paths that may be preventing pointing devices from working correctly.

To quickly reset your SMC on an Intel-based Mac:

  1. Select Shut Down from the Apple menu.
  2. After your Mac shuts down, hold Shift-Control-Option-Power button for 10 seconds.
  3. Release all held keys.
  4. Power on normally.

For a Mac with Apple silicon, simply restart it. 

Additionally, as your NVRAM (nonvolatile random-access memory) and PRAM (Parameter RAM) perform quick access memory tasks related to the devices you use every day, restarting them will help cure corrupted file paths.

To reset your NVRAM and PRAM on an Intel-based Mac:

  1. Select Shut Down from the Apple menu.
  2. Once your Mac shuts down, press the power button, followed quickly by Command-Option-P-R.
  3. Hold Command-Option-P-R until your Mac restarts,
  4. Once you hear the startup chord, release the buttons and allow the Mac to start up.

A Mac with Apple silicon will automatically reset NVRAM/PRAM. 

6. Repair disk permissions

One more option at your disposal to help your computer resolve internal issues is to repair your disk permissions. Essentially, this forces your Mac to return to its default permissions and ensure everything is running in the way the macOS expects it to, which prevents applications from malfunctioning:

  1. Open Disk Utility.
  2. Click File > First Aid and select Run.

When First Aid is done, a dialogue box will report any programs or applications preventing your Mac from running optimally and point out the next steps to resolve these issues.

Disk Utility window

Consolidate troubleshooting in a single solution

If you find yourself exhausted from manual troubleshooting, or you simply don’t have the time to go through the whole step-by-step process, try CleanMyMac X. This app is a simple but effective way to target and resolve your cursor and other issues at once.

Smart scan

Maintenance scan in CleanMyMac X helps repair disk permissions and free up RAM while flushing your cache at the same time. The app is also equipped with a handy Uninstaller, which allows you to select and uninstall any problematic applications. 

To perform maintenance, follow these steps: 

  1. Install CleanMyMac X (free trial available).
  2. Select the Maintenance tab.
  3. Choose which areas you want to focus on (or choose all).
  4. Run the scan to solve the issues.
Free up Mac RAM with CleanMyMacX

Ultimately, there are quite a few causes for cursor issues, and finding the right one manually can be a real challenge. While some fixes will be as simple as cleaning your mouse, many will still require a lot more effort. That’s where an app, such as CleanMyMac X, really shines, combining all possible fixes into a simple one-click solution to get your cursor back to normal.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.