How to fix Mac not connecting to WiFi issues

7 min read

Wi-Fi is a fast and convenient way to connect to the internet. It’s so natural that we don’t even tend to think about it unless it breaks. But when you see your Mac not connecting to Wi-Fi, your day might quickly take a turn for the worse. 

What do you do when you find your Mac Wi-Fi not working? Follow our simple checklist to detect and fix underlying network issues and get back online in no time!

What are the reasons for Mac not connecting to Wi-Fi?

If your Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar has turned gray or shows an exclamation mark, it means your network is down. However, sometimes you might not be able to connect to Wi-Fi even when the icon is bright blue.

There are three top reasons for why your Mac won’t connect to Wi-Fi: 

  • Mac software problems. From macOS to settings to conflicting apps, software might be the reason for Mac Wi-Fi not working. 
  • Router problems. Your router might be the issue if it hasn’t been updated for a while. 
  • Internet service provider (ISP) problems. Your ISP might have an outage or another temporary network issue. Also, make sure you’ve paid your internet bill!

If you have trouble with your internet, it’s likely because one (or more) of these three reasons isn’t working properly. For example, you might see your Wi-Fi icon as bright blue but not be able to connect because you need to authenticate yourself on the network internally (as you’d do at an airport).

How to force my Mac to connect to Wi-Fi

If you follow the steps below, you should be able to quickly resolve your network issues within a few minutes in 99% of cases. Most issues turn out to be simple glitches or software update bugs.

1. Check your Wi-Fi signal

When your Wi-Fi is not working as it should, it’s a good idea to check the strength of your Wi-Fi signal. The best way to do that is to use the WiFi Signal app for Mac. 

WiFi Signal is a lightweight utility that works out of your menu bar and monitors your network to give you real-time updates. At any time, you can click on the WiFi Signal icon, and it’ll show you the current Wi-Fi speed, band, signal quality, noise level, and more. The app lets you set up notifications and label networks, which is great for troubleshooting.

check network speed with WiFi Signal app

Alternatively, there isn’t a good way to measure your precise Wi-Fi signal with default Mac utilities. The best you can do without installing extra apps is to look at the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar to see the signal strength based on the amount of full bars. Besides that, try launching Activity Monitor from the Utilities folder and navigating to the Network tab. If you see packets being transferred in and out in real time, your connection is working.

Activity Monitor > Network stat

Lastly, you can launch a Wi-Fi diagnostics test from the Wireless Diagnostics tool, which you can find in the Utilities folder. This tool can generate technical reports that might be useful if you need to call up a technician to fix your Wi-Fi after all. 

Wireless Diagnostics tool

2. Restart Wi-Fi router and Mac

If you’ve identified a network issue, the first step to fixing it is always restarting your devices. 

To restart your Mac: 

  1. Click the Apple icon in the menu bar. 
  2. Click Restart.
  3. Click Restart again. 

    Restart Mac from menu bar

If your Mac restarts but your network won’t connect, you need to restart your router. Find a router in your space and press the restart button twice (usually located on the back). Wait for a few minutes. 

3. Forget Wi-Fi and reconnect your Mac to the network

Another common glitch is in how your Mac connects to the network on the software level. In these cases, forgetting the network and reconnecting to it from scratch might help. 

To forget a Wi-Fi network:

  1. Open System Settings. 
  2. Select Network. 
  3. Next to your network, click Details.
  4. Click Forget This Network.
  5. Click Remove.

    remove wifi network

Once done, reconnect to your Wi-Fi network via the menu bar (you’ll have to enter the router/network password again).

4. Check Wi-Fi network configuration

The way your Wi-Fi network is physically configured makes a big difference when it comes to performance. The further away you’re from the router or the more walls there are to separate you, the weaker your Wi-Fi signal becomes. That’s why Wi-Fi router extensions are often used.

In practice, it’s hard to know how many Wi-Fi extensions you need without looking at some sort of map. But there’s NetSpot. 

NetSpot is one of the best apps for analyzing, managing, and fixing your network connection issues. Besides detailed stats on all the Wi-Fi networks around you, NetSpot allows you to upload or draw a map of your space and test the signal throughout, so you can identify weak spots and extend your Wi-Fi coverage accordingly. 

detailed stats on all the Wi-Fi networks around you

Another quick tip is to make sure your Wi-Fi allows for a 5 GHz band frequency, which is generally faster and less susceptible to interference. If you don’t have two networks (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) enabled by default, you can change that by logging into your router settings. Check on the back of the router for more information.

However, if you only have one Wi-Fi router and it’s far away, switching to the 2.4 GHz band might improve your signal since this band has a better range. You can read more about it here.

5. Renew DHCP lease

One of the more technical solutions to the “why won’t my MacBook connect to Wi-Fi” problem is renewing a DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) lease. DHCP is a network management protocol that assigns IP addresses to your devices. 

When you renew your DHCP lease, your Mac will be forced to get a new IP address, which can resolve a lot of the glitches at the network level. 

Renewing DHCP lease is easy: 

  1. Open System Settings. 
  2. Select Network. 
  3. Next to your Wi-Fi network, click Details.
  4. Go to TCP/IP. 
  5. Click Renew DHCP Lease.

    Renew DHCP Lease

6. Update Mac software

The majority of bugs and security issues with your Mac come from not running the latest stable version of macOS. That’s why it’s important to keep your Mac up to date.

Here’s how to update your macOS: 

  1. Open System Settings. 
  2. Go to General > Software Update. 
  3. Turn on automatic updates.
  4. If there’s a new macOS version available, click Update. 

    update your macOS

7. Update Wi-Fi drivers

Those who have experience using Windows remember that it’s necessary to install drivers for everything. But it’s usually not so on the Mac. You should get everything you need to run your apps by keeping them updated.

Check whether your router or modem has its own software and find out how to update it regularly. Besides, look up how to upgrade the software on the router itself, if possible.

The easiest way to do software updates is to have a Mac optimization app like CleanMyMac X. 

CleanMyMac X can improve every aspect of your Mac, from getting rid of junk to removing malware, to protecting your privacy, to uninstalling apps, to updating them — all in a few clicks. 

Here’s how to update all software with CleanMyMac X: 

  1. Open CleanMyMac X. 
  2. Click Updater in the sidebar. 
  3. Select the apps you want to update. 
  4. Click Update. 

    update apps and drivers using CleanMyMac X's Updater

The ultimate checklist for Mac Wi-Fi not working

Following the steps above should quickly resolve your “why won’t my Mac connect to Wi-Fi” questions. As you can see, you just need to have a few apps in your toolkit, such as Wi-Fi Signal for real-time connection details, NetSpot for visual network signal representation, and CleanMyMac X for updating and resolving software issues. 

When you find a MacBook not connecting to Wi-Fi, try Wi-Fi Signal, NetSpot, and CleanMyMac X for free during the seven-day trial of Setapp. Setapp is a platform with more than 240 Mac and iOS apps across all categories you can think of, from writing prose to editing photos. Download any app from Setapp today at no cost and find useful tools that you’ve been missing.

FAQs: How to solve Mac not connecting to WiFi problem

On top of the methods detailed above, here are some answers to the most common questions about WiFi on MacBook not working.

How do I force my Mac to connect to WiFi?

Go to the WiFi icon in the menu bar and choose the network you want to join. If prompted, enter the password for the network and your Mac should go online.

Why does my Mac WiFi have an exclamation point?

The WiFi icon with an exclamation point indicates that a router and IP address can’t be assigned to the WiFi interface and so Mac won’t connect to internet.

How do I fix the exclamation mark on my WiFi?

Since the exclamation mark on the Mac WiFi icon indicates troubles with the internet connection, one of the methods above should help you fix this issue.

240+ apps for $9.99
per month

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.