How To Fix A Foggy Mac Display

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One of the perks of being a Mac owner is that bugs are a rarity. Especially bugs that alter the usability of your computer. But after Apple’s most recent round of macOS updates, I experienced one of the worst bugs I’ve ever had while owning a Mac: A foggy Mac display.

My Mac screen appeared cloudy and odd, and the only way to make it stop was to restart my Mac. But sure enough, just a few minutes after restarting my Mac, it would return to looking foggy again.

This told me that the problem must be software-related, not hardware, so I took the internet to find a solution for this problem. However, I couldn’t find any help anywhere. I did eventually figure out how to fix the problem, and Apple came out with an update a few days later that removed the issue.

In this post, I’m going to share the fix for a foggy Mac display, get into why this happens, and also explore some related issues you might experience.

Let’s get into it!

What is a foggy Mac display?

First things first, what do I mean by a “foggy Mac display”? I tried to take pictures of it to give you an idea of what I mean but wasn’t able to capture it properly. And the nature of the bug meant it wouldn’t show up in screenshots, just like how turning on Night Shift before taking a screenshot won’t make your screenshot orange.

My specific instance of a foggy Mac display looked as if a white filter had been overlaid on my Mac screen. It was a software issue, as the screen itself didn’t appear damaged. It just looked like a semi-transparent white filter (like Night Shift’s orange filter) was washing out my Mac’s display.

This didn’t change the resolution of my Mac, make things appear blurry, or vary in color. One area of my Mac’s screen wasn’t more white than the other; it was uniform. And the more the problem progresses without me restarting my Mac, the more white and washed out my Mac display became.

Other issues can resemble the description of a foggy Mac display, which I cover briefly in the second half of this article. But for now, the problem I just described is the one we’re going to focus on.

How to fix a foggy Mac display

Ultimately, I was able to determine that the source of the problem was Mac’s auto-brightness feature. This feature automatically adjusts your Mac’s brightness level depending on how bright the space you’re in is.

So to “fix” this problem, all I did was turn off this feature. To do so, open System Preferences, click Display, then uncheck Automatically adjust brightness:

Doing this means that you’ll need to adjust your Mac’s brightness manually. If you recheck this box, the washed-out bug will immediately take hold again. But as long as you have this box unchecked, your foggy Mac display woes should be held at bay.

And that’s it!

What causes a washed-out Mac display?

I’m only guessing here, but I think I have a pretty good idea of what was going on with this bug.

As I was experimenting with my Mac to figure out what was causing my foggy Mac display, I noticed that putting my thumb over the camera of my MacBook and then removing it would cause my display to become washed out. The more I repeated this process, the foggier my Mac would look.

That’s what initially gave me the idea to turn off the Automatically adjust brightness setting, which fixed the problem instantly.

And that is what led me to the conclusion I’ve reached now. I believe that the cause of this bug is tied to how the auto-brightness feature works.

The auto-brightness feature on Mac aims to match the color temperature of your environment. If there’s a lot of blue light around you, it looks bluer. If there’s a lot of warm light around you, it looks more orange.

Another component of this color correction is gamma. This controls how luminous your display is. The higher your gamma, the darker shadows appear. The lower your gamma is, the more washed out and “foggy” your Mac’s display looks. Depending on your ambient light, your Mac will adjust your display’s gamma.

Take your iPhone, turn on its flashlight, and hold the flashlight right up to the camera on your Mac with the Automatically adjust brightness setting enabled. You’ll notice that your screen doesn’t just get brighter, but whiter, too. That’s because it’s trying to match the luminance of the flashlight.

So! I guess that this bug was caused by the gamma setting of the auto-brightness feature increasing your screen’s luminance but never decrease it. The bug made it so that your screen can only get more washed out; the slider would never go back down.

A foggy Mac display is a common macOS bug

In researching for this post, I found that this is a pretty common bug that pops up on Mac. I found forum posts about it as far back as 2012 and as recent as late 2020. Despite few posts addressing how to fix this problem, it appears that for whatever reason, the auto-brightness feature on Mac can bug out in this way pretty easily.

To be fair, Apple did remedy the issue quickly. Within a week Apple put out a new update for macOS that resolved the issue (as well as improved macOS security). So even though reporting on this issue was slim, Apple caught it and repaired it.

Anyway, that’s everything I know about this problem. If you happen to know anything more about it or have a better theory than mine, please let me know in the comments!

Only the middle of my Mac display is foggy – what do I do?

While doing my research for this post, I came across some similar issues that Mac users run into. These issues could also be described as a foggy Mac display, so to try and help everyone reading this post, I decided to give some quick help and insights on these problems.

First, one issue that Mac users can run into is a Mac display that appears foggy in the center of the screen only. As if there’s a cloud in the middle of your Mac screen.

Unlike the software issue we addressed in the first half of this post, this problem is a hardware issue. It should be pretty obvious that your actual screen is appearing foggy and not just the image being displayed.

This problem can have a few different causes. It might just be that your screen is old, that moisture has somehow gotten inside the display, or that you’ve encountered some obscure issue that requires your Mac screen to be replaced.

In any case, this is a sign that you should take your Mac to the experts. Scheduling an appointment with a local, authorized repair shop or the nearest Apple Store is your best bet. Some online folks have advised removing your Mac’s screen, which you can try if you feel confident. But this isn’t a repair the average user should undertake (myself included). So bite the bullet and ship your Mac off to a professional repairperson.

I have a foggy vignette around the edges of my Mac screen?

Another issue I came across online was users whose Mac had a vignette of white around its edges. Unlike the other causes of a foggy Mac display, this problem makes the edges appear stark white, not just cloudy white. This problem generally affects the half-inch area around the perimeter of your display.

From what I can tell, this problem is generally associated with overheating. Again, the advice here is to bring your device to the experts. Most likely this will require a replacement Mac display. Taking your Mac to the Apple Store or an authorized repair shop is the way to go.

My Mac’s resolution is blurry?

A less serious issue that can cause a foggy Mac display is a blurry resolution. In this instance, your Mac won’t appear cloudy so much as blurry, as if your screen is out of focus.

The first fix for this is to check your Mac’s current resolution. Open System Preferences and click Displays.

Next to the Resolution: section, you’ll have one of two options selected:

  • Default for display
  • Scaled

For most users, Default for display is the option you want to be selected. If your Mac looks blurry and this option isn’t selected, go ahead and choose it.

On the other hand, if your Mac is blurry and Default for display is selected, then you may want to try choosing from the Scaled options. Go ahead and choose scaled and click through the options that appear.

Another reason your Mac might look blurry is that your font smoothing isn’t set properly. In macOS Big Sur, the only way to edit your font smoothing is in the terminal app. Press cmd + spacebar, type “Terminal”, and press return.

Then, type defaults -currentHost write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 0 into the terminal and press return.

This will disable font smoothing on your Mac. Restart your Mac for it to take effect.

You can keep altering your font smoothing by changing the “0” at the end of the command with a 1, 2, or 3. 0 means no font smoothing, 1 is light font smoothing, 2 is medium font smoothing (the default on Mac), and 3 is heavy font smoothing.

If you end up not liking this change and want to go back to where your Mac was before, replace the 0 in the command with a 2 and restart your Mac.

Watch out for a foggy Mac display in the future

As mentioned, this is a foggy Mac display is a pretty common issue. Hopefully, the tips in this post will help you to either fix the problem at home or encourage you to bring your Mac in for repairs. At the very least, it’s important to know that this is an issue, and you’re not alone.

For more tips, tricks, and advice on all things Apple, be sure to check out the rest of the blog here at AppleToolBox.

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