21 Tips to Clean your Mac

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“What’s the best way to clean my Mac?” If you are looking to answer this question, it’s likely that your Mac is bloated with junk files, running out of free disk space, and hanging or even freezing more and more often. These issues can range from minor annoyances to serious problems that render your Mac almost unusable. Whatever may be the case, this post will show you 21 different ways in which you can clean up your Mac, potentially restoring its performance and capabilities to how it was when you first brought it home from the store.

21 Tips to Clean your Mac

1. The easy method – Using software to clean up your Mac

If you are pressed for time or would rather avoid jumping through technical hoops, using a software program to clean your mac is probably the most efficient and convenient method.

A program like CleanMyMac 3 can help clean your Mac quickly, restoring several GBs of hard disk space while also allowing your Mac to boot faster, connect to the internet more smoothly, and generally allow for faster multitasking and more seamless usage.

CleanMyMac 3 has been mentioned on sites the likes of Cult of Mac, PCMag, and Gizmodo. The download and scan are free, as is some preliminary cleanup, so there is nothing to lose. Once you’ve gotten your Mac cleaned and back up to speed, CleanMyMac 3 is also great at making sure your Mac stays that way.

CleanMyMac 3 is available for download here.

2. Reset your Mac’s SMC (System Management Controller)

One very essential yet not very well known tip when it comes to Mac cleaning procedures is resetting your Mac’s system management controller, also known as SMC. This is particularly relevant if you are looking to clean up your MacBook, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

Here’s information on how to do a SMC reset for different types of Mac computers:

Now, please note that resetting your SMC is to be done maybe just once or twice a year. While Apple doesn’t necessarily say that only so many SMC resets can be performed in a year, we definitely do not recommend resetting your SMC very often.

How to reset SMC on MacBook and MacBook Pros (with removable batteries)?

  • Shut down the MacBook or MacBook Pro
  • Disconnect the MagSafe connector
  • Remove batteries from the bays
  • Press and hold down the power button for at least 10 seconds
  • Release the power button
  • Put the batteries back in the bays
  • Connect the MagSafe connector
  • Power on your MacBook or MacBook Pro like you usually do

How to reset SMC on MacBook Air and other portable Macs where batteries cannot be removed?

  • Shut down your MacBook Air or other Mac portable computer that does not have removable batteries
  • Connect the MagSafe adapter to a standard power outlet
  • Use your keyboard to press (Left Shift + Control + Option + Power Button) all at the same time, holding for at least 5 seconds
  • Release all 4 keys at the same time SCM Reset to clean up a mac
  • Power on your MacBook Air or other Mac as like you usually do

Note – When you are resetting the SMC on a portable Mac, note that you must use the built-in keyboard that came with your Mac. Using external keyboards to press the key combinations described above will not reset the SMC.

How to reset SMC on Mac Pro, Mac Mini and iMacs?

  • Power off your Mac
  • Remove power cord from the wall outlet
  • Wait at least 15 seconds
  • Press and hold the power button for at least 15 seconds
  • Release the power button
  • Plug the power cord back into the wall socket
  • Wait at least 5 seconds
  • Power on your Mac like you usually do

Resetting your Mac’s SMC does no harm and can only help in improving your Mac’s performance. While not all might benefit from an SMC reset, the ones who do will usually benefit quite significantly, with your Mac’s performance improving rather dramatically.

Resetting your Mac’s SMC is a rather important step in figuring out how to clean up a Mac and we urge you to share this tip with a few friends if you can. They will be very thankful that you did.

3. Reset your Mac’s PRAM

This is another component just like your Mac’s SMC that, when reset, can make a significant change to your Mac’s general performance.

Before we get into how to reset your Mac’s PRAM, we again have to tell you that you must reset your Mac’s PRAM only once in a while, when you feel your Mac’s performance is unusually slow.

How to reset your Mac’s PRAM?

  • Shut down and power off your Mac (No sleep or hibernate mode)
  • Press the Power button
  • Now, as your Mac boots up, before the grey screen comes on, you must press the following combination of keys
  • Command + Option + P + R PRAM reset to clean up a mac
  • Press and hold those keys until your Mac restarts and reboots again
  • When you hear the familiar Mac start-up chime, you can let go of the keys and allow your Mac to restart like it usually does

Note – Resetting PRAM will often mean that you might have to adjust your time, date and a few other minor settings after your Mac has restarted. Please don’t be alarmed when this happens as nothing important has been deleted from your Mac. It is just that some system settings have been reset and they need a little help from you to be configured properly.

 4 De-clutter your desktop

How many icons does your desktop have? When it comes to a performance friendly desktop for your Mac, the less icons you have to deal with, the better. Take about 10 minutes to see if you can delete icons that you almost never use.

Try creating folders to help organize your computer. For example, if you have 30 different photos from your recent vacation strewn all over your desktop, you could put them into a folder titled “Vacation Photos”. A clean desktop alone won’t necessarily boost your system’s performance, but it help you find files, folders, and apps more quickly and provide a more efficient overall user experience.

5. Choose the best starting programs

You can choose a starting lineup for your Mac! Your list of startup items is essentially a list of programs that automatically begin to run each time you power up your Mac. Sometimes these startup programs aren’t ideal, and choosing your starting lineup is a great way to speed up your Mac.

What this essentially means is that your Mac will always run these programs in the background, every time it starts up, whether you use the programs or not! So make sure to turn on programs you always use (to save you time it would take to start them yourself) and turn off programs you never or rarely use (to free system resources).

Login list cleanupTo check and optimize your Mac’s starting lineup, go to System Preferences -> System ->Users & Groups ->Login Items and check the programs or apps listed there. Choose only the ones you absolutely need to automatically start up as you start your Mac.

Disabling a program from this list won’t delete the application, but it will simply keep it from launching when you start the computer. The program or app will remain on your Mac and can still be used upon request after startup.

6. Say no to a full hard disk

Full hard drives are frustrating and make it more difficult to use your computer. First of all, not having enough free disk space will obviously mean that you can’t store any user files on your Mac anymore. Even more importantly, a low amount of free hard disk space WILL affect your Mac’s general performance.

As a general rule of thumb, try to keep at least 40% of your hard disk free as your Mac’s processor depends on this free disk space as memory, from time to time. If you have several partitions, it is important that this free space be in the partition where your operating system (OS X) is installed.

7. Take the trash out!

Just like how the trash in your house won’t disappear unless you take it out, you are going to have to manually empty your Mac’s trash bin from time to time. Every time you delete files and folders on your Mac, your Mac simply moves them to the trash can.

It is up to you to empty this trash can.

To empty your trash now, press Command + Shift + Delete on your Mac. You will see a prompt that will ask you if you want to permanently delete the items in your trash. Select “Ok”.

While deleting the trash folder might be something that you already knew about, deleting your iPhoto trash folder might be something that you haven’t yet thought of. When you have iPhoto activated, go to the left hand top corner in the menu, then choose iPhoto and then choose “Empty iPhoto Trash”. Depending on how many pictures you crop or edit, this cleanup can free up quite a large amount of hard disk space.

Good cleaning software, like CleanMyMac 3 mentioned in step 1, can take care of this for you.

8. Clear Browser Cache

Every time you use your internet browser, be it Safari, Chrome, or something else, the browser is designed to create a cache of all the webpages that you visit. Over days, months and years, this cache can build up to monstrous sizes, sometimes totaling 20GB+! Thankfully, this step is quite easy, regardless of what browser you use. Below, you will find quick steps on how to clean up your browser cache on your Mac.

By the way, we would highly recommend that you start using Google Chrome, even if you dislike all things Google. It simply is, hands down, the fastest browser you can use on your Mac.

Safari cache cleanup

Safari cache cleanup

Safari – Open Safari -> Preferences -> Advanced -> Show Develop Menu -> Check Develop Menu -> Empty Caches

Chrome – Open Chrome -> Press Ctrl+H -> Clear browsing data ->Choose “the beginning of time” to delete all history items -> Select at least the first 4 items (clear browsing history + clear download history + delete cookies and other site and plug in data + empty the cache) -> Clear browsing data

Firefox – Open Firefox -> Edit ->Preferences ->Expand Advanced (Choose +) -> Cache -> Clear Cache

If you use a browser that is not mentioned above, do a quick search on any major search engine and you will easily find instructions on how you can clear your browser cache with just a few clicks.

Clearing out your cache will not only free up some hard disk space, but it can also result in faster browsing speeds as well.

9. Get rid of useless apps

Just because the App Store has millions of apps doesn’t mean that you have to have hundreds of them on your Mac as well. Go through your application list to find and uninstall apps that you just don’t need. Even if you are careful in choosing apps for your personal use, it’s usually not hard to find at least a few apps that you just needed once or haven’t used like you thought you would. Uninstall such apps, or at least remove them from your starting lineup (login items), as suggested before. If you have a cleaning app as suggested in step 1, consider running it after removing several apps to catch leftover files and logs.

You can also take a look at your Mac’s activity monitor, when your apps are running, to see how much resources are being used by a particular app. If an app is using an unreasonable amount of resources, it might make sense to remove it or replace it with a resource friendly alternative.

You can access your Mac’s activity monitor by going to Finder -> Applications -> Utilities -> Activity Monitor

10. Compress old data

If there are large folders on your Mac’s hard drive that you need but don’t need right away, it makes a lot of sense to compress such folders. You can then always extract these files when you need them in the future.

Here’s how you can compress multiple files or folders

  • Install free compression software like WinZip or 7-Zip
  • Select folders or files that you want to compress
  • To select multiple folders and files, press the Ctrl key and then use your mouse to select data that you want to select Compress data to cleanup mac hard drive
  • Go to send and then choose “Compressed (Zipped) folder
  • Once your data is compressed, you can take one of the following routes
    1. Keep the compressed folder and delete all the files and folders that you originally compressed

or

2. Copy the compressed folders onto a backup drive and delete both compressed data as well as original data from your primary hard disk

11. Trash the logs

Whether you like it or not, the fact of the matter is your Mac keeps logs about everything and anything you do with your Mac. Is it important to you? Not at all, unless you for some reason want to know everything you did on your Mac, step by step, from the time you started using it.

As you can expect, such tedious logs can take up a large amount of hard disk space. It is possible for you to delete all logs on your Mac manually although it is a fairly tedious process that will require time and technical knowledge. We do intend to write a dedicated post on clearing logs although we would recommend that you use a program as mentioned in Step 1 like CleanMyMac 3 to take care of this cleanup for you in a worry free manner, at least for now.

12. Clean out older content

There’s a good chance that there are old entertainment files on your Mac that you no longer enjoy. That hit movie from a couple years ago is probably old news by this point, and that one-hit-wonder band just doesn’t sound as good as they used to.There’s no reason to keep these files on your system if you no longer enjoy them. These old files can take up a surprising amount of space on your hard drive.

Take a few moments to go through your Movies, Music, and Downloads folders to see if you can delete these files. One DVD-quality movie equals 700MB of space, so they can really add up. Deleting just 10 movies would free up 7GB of extra hard disk space.

13. Expand your storage

Deleting old files can get you to a certain point, but you might eventually have to upgrade your hard disk. Music and movie fanatics could consider purchasing an external hard drive to keep their files safe without filling up your computer’s hard disk. Here’s our buying guide on external hard drives with recommended options.

Mac hard disk cleanupTry to keep at least 40% of the space free on the hard disk where your OS X is installed. Move user generated data like movies and music to an external hard drive. Besides freeing up much needed hard disk space, having such media on an external hard disk will also allow you to enjoy your movies and music on the go!

Here’s our post on the top 5 external drives for your Mac.

14. Foreign language files anyone?

Macs are sold worldwide. With that being the case, they come equipped to display OS X in any language spoken in the world. If you prefer to use your Mac in just one language, you can free up several GB of hard disk space by deleting such foreign language files from your Mac’s hard drive.

How do you clean up your Mac by deleting foreign language files?

  • Install a free program called Monolingual
  • Configure the settings so it uninstalls all languages except English or the preferred language of your choice
  • Run it to complete foreign language uninstalls
  • Enjoy 3-4 GB of added free disk space

15. Widget cleanup

Widgets are cool and let you stay connected to real time information on your dashboard. However, if you go overboard with widget installations, you easily run the risk of slowing down your Mac while also leaving your dashboard looking like a cheap news channel, one that makes a lot of noise about almost nothing.

If you are ready for a dashboard widget cleanup, go to Dashboard-> Click on (+) sign at the bottom left corner -> Manage Widgets -> Hit the cross mark to delete widgets that you think you can do without

16. Update OS X!

Sometimes people are afraid of a software update breaking their computer, but it’s a tremendously important procedure. System updates will fix bugs and security flaws, improve system performance, and introduce new, useful features for your Mac.

Choose Apple Menu -> Software Update -> Select Updates (if updates are available)

Note – It has been almost a year since Apple released OS X Yosemite, the latest version operating system. If your Mac hasn’t already updated to this version, it is high time you made the update, following the steps mentioned above.

Please also note that OS X updates will sometimes be available only for some model Macs as hardware requirements are different for each OS X update that Apple releases.

17. Don’t let your Mac sleep all the time!

A lot of current generation Mac users don’t like to shut down their Macs, rather preferring it to sleep or hibernate. This allows you to resume using your computer extremely quickly, but your Mac needs to restart in order to apply some software and system updates. Mac cleanup after shut down and restart

Most programs will prompt you to restart after installing them, but if you tend to skip this step then this tip is for you. Make it a point to restart your Mac when prompted, but if not try to restart the system every week or at least biweekly.

18. Cool your Mac down

This isn’t a software tip to help you figure out how to clean up a Mac, but it can help extend the longevity of your device. Just like any piece of electronic equipment, Macs don’t respond well to heat. Make sure to keep your desktop Apple computers like the iMac or the Mac Pro in a well-ventilated area.

In case of laptops like the MacBook Air, MacBook, and MacBook Pros, try not to use your Mac while it is placed on a sofa cushion or a bed as fabric tends to trap heat, leading to potential overheating or even failed hardware. We would highly recommend a good USB powered laptop cooling pad like this Belkin model here.

19. Permissions for your Mac!

Your Mac has a built in utility that helps you repair disk permissions. If that sounds too technical for you, you can satisfy yourself by just knowing that such repairs, run every once in a while, can help you experience faster speeds from your Mac’s hard drive which will in turn result in faster performance.

To repair your Mac’s disk permissions, use the following steps:

  • Choose Applications -> Utilities -> Disk Utility
  • Once inside Disk Utility, select your hard drive
  • Click on verify disk permissions
  • Wait for scan to complete
  • Click on repair disk permissions once scan is complete
  • Restart your Mac to see if it just a little but snappier than before as it usually will be

20. Call the hard drive doctor

Besides permissions repair, Disk Utility, just discussed in the point above, also has the ability to scan your hard drive for errors and also fix such errors.

To run the disk scan, use the following steps

  • Choose Applications – Utilities -> Disk Utility
  • Choose hard disk you want to scan
  • Select Verify Disk
  • Wait for scan to complete
  • If errors are found, choose Repair Disk when prompted

21. Clean your workspace!

All the points mentioned above relate to cleaning your Mac from the inside but how about the outside? Believe it or not, having a messy table on which your Mac is placed can have a psychological effect on how you perceive your Mac’s performance and general usability to be, and built up dust can get sucked into your Mac and lead to overheating issues in the future.

Take an hour to untangle cables, reduce workspace clutter, and clean your Mac’s exterior, wiping off the coffee stains and getting rid of those little crumbs that have wedged themselves into the keyboard. Use a good screen cleaner to give your Mac’s monitor or screen a makeover as well. Just be careful on the types of solutions you use on your computer screen.

Clean up your Mac workspaceYou will be surprised at how good you feel after cleaning your workspace, even if it’s just a psychological improvement!

There you go, 21 steps that will have hopefully help you learn a few things about how to clean up a Mac! We hope this answered your question on how to clean your Apple computer, regardless of what model you’re using. If you have extra tips that you want to share with us, we’d appreciate them in the comment box below.

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About the Author
Michelle, author at Mach Machines. A tech lover and an insatiable latte drinker. Michelle blogs about improving the personal computing experience.
  1. Rory

    Wow…had no idea about PRAM and SMC reset. They certainly seemed to have helped improve the speed of my mac, quite considerably I might add.

    I also use CleanMyMac as maintenance software every now and then. It routinely takes out at least 3-4GB in trash each time I run it. Helps me keep my hard disk light and also always improves my iMac’s boot up time as well.

    +1’d this post 🙂

  2. Miriam_74iowalvr

    The login items cleanup tip was what helped me the most. I had a total of 32 programs starting up on my iMac! 32! Teenagers, I tell you! lol. I gotta tell my daughters to stop installing unnecessary apps now.

  3. TaverezI087

    If you have an SSD hard disk, especially a 128 GB hard disk, I would highly recommend that you constantly cleanup your hard disk. Remove user saved files like movies and music and save them on external drives like hard disks and flash drives.

    You can also use clean my mac 2 to delete your caches regularly, using the automatic maintenance schedule options that it provides. Pretty useful to keep your hard disk quite light.

  4. Lota_girl

    Great tips. Used several of them to now enjoy a faster Mac! +1’d your post on Google too 🙂

  5. Ricks_garageRocks

    Very helpful post…thanks..carried out many of the resets suggested here and also really cleaned up the outside of my mac, including my desk. It does make quite a psychological difference like you say Michelle 🙂

  6. Taylor

    Nice share this. Definitely helped to speed up my mac.

  7. Kane Southee

    Great share. Used several of the tips to really revamp performance levels in my 2010 iMac.

  8. Dave

    All I want to say (and all I need to say) is thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

    However, in order to be helpful to other readers: The PRAM and SMC resets as well as the repair permissions are the most helpful suggestions to me in my situation of an iMac (late 2013) behaving oddly after a format/re-install of Mavericks

  9. Michelle Smith

    Thank you for the comment Dave. We are glad you found this post useful.

  10. Amelia-Richards

    This is such a comprehensive list. I actually started right at the bottom, first physically wiping down my Mac. It does leave you feel psychologically better about your Mac. LOL.

    The resets were a godsend as well. Great share. G+’ed it. Thanks:)

  11. Rife_Life

    Concerning point number 17…any idea when Yosemite is going to be rolled out as an official update option?

  12. Amelia-Richards

    I am pretty sure Yosemite is going to be rolled out this Fall or before the year runs out. They will definitely want a big stage to roll out Yosemite. Apple always does that.

  13. Thank you

    WOW, my computer took at least 5 minutes to start up and i used the pram and PRESTO !
    I thought i had a big problem that may need a proffesional but NO !
    Thank you very much ! It is a new computer again!!!!!!!!!

  14. Tom

    Michelle I have relied on free Mac cleaner tools like Onyx, Stellar Speed up Mac because startup drive becomes so cluttered that it is beyond user’s ability to identify junks files. Software at least run algorithms to check for junk data. Every month I remove upto 2 gb of files that are completely unwanted.

  15. Luke

    Is there any way to tell if you have effectively reset your pram? I tried it but wasn’t sure if it actually did the job. no change on my hard drive memory afterwards and I didn’t have to reset time or dates. Maybe I didn’t hold down the keys long enough….?

  16. Michelle Smith

    Hi Luke. As you say, you might have not held the keys down for long enough. You have to press and hold that combination until your Mac restarts. You can release it when you hear the familiar Mac startup chime. Once that happens, you know you have reset the PRAM successfully. Hope this helps.

  17. Ana

    Hi! After I did a partitition on my Mac and then undid it, every time I turn on my Mac and dont press ALT, a black screen comes up, sayng there`s no partitition. I feel that after that it started to be more slow… Do one thing have to do with the other and how do I do not to have this black screen opening anymore? Thank you very much! The other tips were very useful!

  18. Michelle Smith

    Hi Ana. Thank you for your comment. Did you use BootCamp for this?

  19. Pingback: Mac clean up for increased performance || Things I’ve Learned from People

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