Computer users are drawn to the Mac due to the elegance of the user experience combined with the power of the underlying operating system. Chances are when you first started using that new Mac you were blown away by its performance.
It was fast and you could easily find any files you needed to locate in the blink of an eye.

Over time you probably downloaded many apps, images, and files that contain audio or video content. That is perfectly normal and is the way that the majority of individuals use their computers.

clean up mac hard drive

If you have used the same machine for any length of time, you may have noticed that it has started to slow down a little. Perhaps it is taking a longer amount of time than normal to open apps or find files.

You might need to take some corrective action to restore your machine to its original levels of performance. You might be wondering, “How can I clean up my Mac?” We suggest you continue reading this article!

Common situations when you need to clean your Mac

There are various situations that call for giving your Mac a deeper cleaning. Your computer might be running slow, or you might notice specific applications underperforming. If you experience problems with applications failing to save their data under strange circumstances, that’s another reason to consider cleaning your Mac.

🖥 Insufficient storage space: Not having enough space to save your data can result in problems that range from mildly annoying to disastrous. You will not be able to save any new files or copy them from other sources. This could hit you at a bad time when you urgently need to transfer something and have limited time to do it, for example backing up family photos from CDs belonging to a relative visiting you temporarily.

💻 Poor performance: If your Mac is running slow, then this could be caused by too much hard drive clutter. It’s a common misconception that this issue affects only Windows users—macOS users are just as susceptible. In fact, depending on what exactly is taking up too much space, your Mac may even run worse than a Windows machine with a similar configuration.

💾 Backup issues: If you work with any applications that store large files, that’s another reason to clean out your hard drive on a regular basis. Especially if any of those applications frequently save automatic backups of your work.

In this case, you might lose a lot of disk space to those backups without even realizing it. And what’s worse, you might run into a situation where one of those applications fails to write to its backup because there’s no free space.

How to Clean Up Your Mac

Understanding how to clean up your Mac can be useful for keeping it running smoothly for a longer period. Many users underestimate the requirements of their machines in this regard, only to end up wondering why they are performing worse than expected.

There are a number of ways that you can perform a Mac cleanup. Here are some of the best methods you can use.

1 Perform a Cleanup of Your Desktop

mac disk cleanup

The Mac Finder treats any folder or file on your desktop as if it was a window. This is not a problem when there are only a few items on the desktop, but when they start to accumulate, Finder will slow down considerably.

A quick and easy way to begin cleaning up your Mac is to take the icons spread out over your desktop and organize them into folders. In all likelihood, you already have folders where many of the desktop items can be stored. If not, create a few and cut down on the clutter to improve Finder’s speed.

2 Query Your Disk To See What is Occupying Space

As applications and files accumulate on your internal disk you may be subject to degraded performance and slower system response. What you need is an easy way to identify what is on your disk so you can decide if you still need it or if it can be deleted to free up space.

Knowing what is on your disk is the first step in performing a Mac disk cleanup.

clean up my mac

3 Eliminate Duplicate Files

Duplicate files are another nuisance that can accumulate over time and result in performance issues with your Mac. Finding duplicate files manually can be an extremely time-consuming process, which is why many users never bother to address this potential problem.

The tool offers filters to assist with automatic removal of duplicate files that have been discovered. Ridding your system of duplicate files is a necessary step to clean up your Mac’s hard drive.

how to clean up your mac

4 Clean up Your System’s Cache Files

Cache files are intended to store information required by applications on a temporary basis. These cache files can grow in size and cause your system to run more slowly than you would like. The main caches that can be cleaned on your Mac are the system, user, and browser cache.

You can use automated tools to clean the cache files or perform a manual cleanup. Here is a procedure to clear the user cache on your Mac manually:

  1. Navigate to ~/Library/Caches in a Finder window.mac cleanup manually
  2. Go into each folder and clear out all the to clean up my mac
  3. Empty your trash when finished to fully delete the files from your computer.mac cleanup

5 Review Your Startup and Login Items

If you are noticing that it takes longer than usual for your computer to boot up, it may be due to the apps which are being started automatically by your system. It is quite possible that some applications you do not need every time you start your machine are part of your login profile.

To see what is starting during login follow these steps:

  1. Open your System Preferences.cleanup macbook
  2. Then the Users and Groups panel.macbook cleanup
  3. Click on the user in question and then on the Login items tab located in the upper right of the window.
  4. Remove any applications that are not required each time you start up the machine. This will help speed up your machine when you restart to clear startup on mac

6 Delete Extraneous Email Attachments

Each time you receive an email that contains an attachment that you open, your Mac’s Mail application saves that attachment in a Mail Download folder. If you get a lot of messages of this type, you can quickly use up quite a lot of space on documents and images that you no longer need. The best way to address this issue is to clean out the Mail Download folder.

To accomplish this goal, open a Finder window and select Go and the Go to Folder.
This is the folder that you want to access:

~/Library/Containers/ Downloads

go to mail downloads

You will probably be surprised at the age of some of the files found in this folder. If the attachment is still part of the email or if you have saved the attachment to another location, you can safely delete all of the files in the Mail Downloads folder.

Delete Extraneous Email Attachments

Using these tips can help you maintain your Mac’s high standards of performance and allow you to have enough space to continue saving files that are important to you. A routine which involves a periodic review of these potential issues will keep you happy with your Mac for a long time.

7 Clear Your Downloads

Many applications – including most browsers – automatically save downloaded files to your Downloads folder. It’s easy to have it fill up with a lot of data without even realizing it. Thankfully, clearing out your downloads is very simple.

  1. Open Finder.
  2. Go to Downloads from the list on the left.
  3. Go through the files in the folder, select ones you don’t need, and delete them.
  4. Optional: click the Size column to sort files by size. This will make it easier to identify the biggest offenders.downloads folder on mac

8 Uninstall Unused Programs

All of us have the habit of installing programs that we only use once or twice and then forget about. It’s important to clear out those applications every once in a while, because they would otherwise start to clutter up your hard drive. This is especially valid for large programs like Photoshop and other heavy suites.

  1. Open the App Store.
  2. Go to Updates on the left.
  3. Browse through the list of installed applications and look for ones which you haven’t used recently.
  4. Uninstall any unused applications.Uninstall Unused Programs

9 Remove Unused iOS Backups

If you’re using an iOS device like an iPhone, you might have lots of iOS backups piling up on your hard drive. While those can come in handy, it’s a good idea to clear them out every once in a while because they can quickly start adding up.

  1. Go to Apple Menu -> About This Mac.about this mac
  2. Go to Storage.
  3. Click Manage.manage storage on mac
  4. From the menu on the right, select iOS Files.
  5. You will see a list of all current iOS backups you have on your Mac. Select any backup you don’t need.
  6. Click Delete.delete ios backups on mac

10 Empty the Trash

This is a simple one, but it’s surprising how often people forget to do it. If you delete files by sending them to Trash, you can easily forget that they’re still there and occupying space on your drive.

  1. Long-click on Trash.
  2. Go to Empty -> Empty Trash.empty bin on mac

Make sure to check if you actually need any of those files before deleting them! After all, it’s entirely possible that your trash contains things you didn’t mean to delete permanently.

11 Clean Your System Cache

To clean your system cache, simply follow these steps:

  1. Open Finder.
  2. Go to Go to Folder.go to folder on mac
  3. Enter the following and press Go: ~Library/Caches/empty your system cache on mac
  4. Look around the folders and delete ones that haven’t been used in a while

12 Remove Duplicate Files

Removing duplicate files is another good way to clean up your Mac. You can use Disk Drill’s built-in duplicate file removal tool.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill.
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
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  2. Start Disk Drill.
  3. Go to Find Duplicates on the sidebar.find duplicates disk drill sidebar
  4. Drag folders you’d like to search onto the Disk Drill main window.
  5. Click Start Scan.start scan of duplicates finder
  6. See if there are any duplicate files taking up a lot of space, and delete them.

13 Use an All-in-One Cleaner App

Apps like Clean-Me can make it easy to perform many of the above steps in one go.

  1. Download and install Clean-Me.
  2. Click Analyse at the bottom of the main window.clean your mac with clean-me
  3. Go through the list and mark any options you’d like to clean
  4. Click Clean


Keeping your Mac clean is important if you want it to continue running optimally. Sometimes the need to clean out files is not immediately obvious. But if your computer has been running slow for a while and you can’t figure out why, that’s a good place to start.

The file system of a Mac that’s been in use for a long time can be difficult to navigate. Using third-party tools that analyze your hard drive is a good idea if you don’t want to waste too much time browsing through folder after folder on your own.


Stefan Ionescu

A technology passionate, Stefan holds an MSc in geological engineering and currently serves clients as a freelance writer. Despite having a master's in geological engineering, Stefan's passion for writing and technology t...

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Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.