Warning icon
MacPaw stands with Ukraine. Here’s how you can help our country win with just several clicks.

How to fix Escape key not working on Mac

7.6K views
5 min read

If you feel like you need an escape, time to take a vacay! Doesn't work with keyboards, though. If the Escape key on Mac misbehaves or won't work at all, you might need to do some troubleshooting. In this article, we cover all the working methods for fixing the Escape key not working. Let's dive in. 

What is Escape key used for and why should you fix it? 

Occasionally, some keys might stop responding on Mac. If you have troubles with a certain letter key, we won't be surprised if you just ignore it for a while. Auto-correct will probably fix it, or you just might need to press that key a bit longer for it to work. Unfortunately, the Escape key not working is a more serious problem because of how often this key is being used. 

Esc key is responsible for most cancel/abort/close operations, which includes quitting active processes on Mac. It's part of the frequently used force-quit shortcut (Option + Command + Esc), so there's no chance you can keep ignoring the issue too long. And you shouldn't!

Why is Escape key not working? 

Starting with a why could make all the difference. If you're looking for the solution to fix "Escape key not working Mac," it's useful to look into possible causes. Chances are you will figure out what happened to your Esc key right away, and won't have to go through all the troubleshooting steps. 

Start with determining if it's a software or hardware issue. Here's the checklist to go through: 

  • Have you recently spilled any liquid onto your keyboard? 
  • Is it possible you had dropped your Mac and the key kept misbehaving ever since?
  • Have you dropped any heavy objects onto your Mac or keyboard recently? 

If any of these three is true, you're most likely dealing with hardware-related damage. 

  • macOS bugs can cause the Escape button not working Mac issue. Is your macOS up to date? 
  • Is your Mac slower than before, with certain apps hanging and quitting unexpectedly? 
  • Is it true you haven't done any Mac maintenance for a long time? 

A "yes" to any of the latter three could indicate there's a software issue. 

The fastest way to check if your Esc button not working Mac issue has to do with hardware is to check virtual keyboard:   

  1. Open System Preferences > Accessibility 
  2. Scroll down and choose Keyboard 
  3. Open the Viewer tab and check the box next to "Enable Accessibility Keyboard"
  4. Try using Esc on the virtual keyboard. If it works, something must be wrong with your physical keyboard. 

Accessibility Keyboard

How to quit apps and processes without Esc

It's understandable you can't always solve the Escape key not working Mac issue in a snap — particularly if it requires replacing your keyboard. So here's a quick fix. 

In case Esc is essential to your workflow because you use it to quit active processes, try replacing it with QuitAll. The app essentially helps quit any process — even the background ones — from the menu bar. And you can quit them all at once! This is our favorite way to fix slow Mac, or any Mac misbehavior for that matter. 

quit any process

You can choose if you want to run a normal quit or force quit — use the single tool for each quitting operation! Well, if we're being honest, QuitAll is a perfect replacement for the macOS default quit shortcuts even if your Esc key works just fine! 

What's more, QuitAll shows the percentage of CPU resources used by each process, so you can also use it to quit your biggest CPU hogs. 

Tip: If you're worried about CPU consumption and want an app that could slow it down, install App Tamer. Together with QuitAll, it's available via the Setapp subscription for a free 7-day trial, so you don't have to pay anything to try them both. 

App Tamer monitors CPU usage per app and lets you slow down or completely disable the apps that don't need to be active at the moment. 

slow down or completely disable any apps

What to do if Esc button is not working 

Hardware issues are usually harder to fix than software ones. You might need to replace some hardware components, and if there's physical or water damage, you'll have to take your computer to the repair center. If, however, you've figured out the Escape button not working Mac issue is of software nature, try the following tips. 

Restart your Mac

Cliche. But it might work! Click Restart in the Apple menu and wait a few seconds. Try using your Escape key on Mac after restarting. 

Update macOS

As we've mentioned, outdated macOS could contain software bugs that interfere with your keyboard functioning. Make sure you weed out this issue: 

  1. Click the Apple logo in the menu bar 
  2. Choose About This Mac 
  3. Click Software Update
  4. Wait a few seconds while your Mac checks for updates
  5. Click Upgrade Now if there's an update available (you might be prompted to restart your Mac). 

Software Update

Note: If your Mac runs macOS Ventura, you'll find the Software Update menu in System Settings. 

Check Siri 

Do you use Siri? If you do, it might be the reason for your Esc key not working properly. Many users reported that they noticed their Escape key malfunctioning when Siri gets stuck or shows errors. You can fix this by restarting or disabling Siri: 

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Choose Siri
  3. Uncheck "Enable Ask Siri." 

Either wait a few seconds and then enable it again, or leave it disabled. 

Siri voices

Run maintenance scripts 

We have to be honest, it's not always possible to find the "why" behind "Escape key not working Mac." But some universal fixes such as running maintenance scripts can repair a huge number of system errors. One of them could be the villain messing with your Esc! 

CleanMyMac X is a brilliant Mac cleanup utility, running maintenance tasks automatically:  

  1. Open CleanMyMac X via Setapp 
  2. Go to Maintenance
  3. View available tasks and select Run Maintenance Scripts (you can also select multiple tasks for full-scale Mac optimization) 
  4. Click Run. 

Run Maintenance Scripts

Reboot in Safe Mode

The last thing to try is to restart your Mac in Safe Mode. While in this mode, your third-party software won't be loading, which could help "disable" software bugs that cause the Esc key issue. 

Here's how to reboot in Safe Mode on an Intel Mac: 

  1. Turn off your Mac 
  2. Turn on your Mac while pressing and holding the Shift key 
  3. Release Shift once you see the login screen
  4. Log in and try using the Escape key on Mac. 

Here's how to reboot in Safe Mode on an Apple Silicon Mac: 

  1. Turn off your Mac 
  2. Press and hold the power button
  3. Release the power button once you see the startup options
  4. Choose your startup disk 
  5. Click Continue in Safe Mode while holding down the Shift key
  6. Log in and try using the Escape key on Mac. 

Escape key not working: The ultimate helper kit 

Some apps that help troubleshoot Mac Escape key misbehavior are conveniently available with a single toolkit, Setapp. This includes Quit All, App Tamer, and CleanMyMac X. With Setapp, you also get access to dozens and dozens of other top-rated Mac and iOS apps, all of which are free to try for 7 days, then $9.99 per month. 

Once you sign up for Setapp, we recommend that the first thing you do is clean up and optimize your Mac with CleanMyMac X. You won't believe how many software bugs it can fix, including issues with unresponsive keyboard. 

Get 230+ Mac apps for any job

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.