How to Clean Up a Mac? 21 Essential Tips

clean up a mac


21 Tips to Clean your Mac (because we like really comprehensive posts)

Editors note: this post was originally published in May 2015 and was updated in June 2017 to reflect new reviews and experiences.

How do I clean clean up a Mac?” If you are looking to answer that question, it probably means that your Mac computer is currently full with junk, slowing down to frustrating speeds, and not working correctly. This post will give you 21 different way to speed up your Mac– one of these should fix whatever problem you have that’s slowing down your computer. This should be just what you need to make your computer as fast as the day you brought it home from the store.

1. The easy 1-click method – Using Mac cleaner software to cleanup your mac

There’s a way to speed up your computer even if you don’t want to bother learning technical details about how your computer works. One-step utility programs will do most of the work for you and make sure that you’re using your time as effectively as possible.

A software 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 faster boot times.

CleanMyMac 3 is approved and endorsed by several Mac community sites like MacWorld, Cnet, and several other prestigious technology sites. Given the fact that it is available for a free trial and download, your first step to clean your mac should begin with this download. It is also a great way to always ensure that you keep a clean Mac computer, at all times.

Save space on your HDD with CleanMyMac 2!

CleanMyMac 3 is available for download here

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

Resetting your System Management controller is a great way to keep your computer in tip top shape. The System Management Controller, well, manages all the parts of your system and keeps them working together. Any hardware issues could be fixed by resetting this component, so you can prevent hardware issues by making this part of your maintenance routine.

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, like every time you use your Mac.

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 power button
  • Put the batteries back in its bay
  • 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, you must note that you must use the inbuilt 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 isn’t dangerous and won’t damage your computer. This shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you do when your computer is acting up, but there’s a good change that a SMC reset will fix any hardware problems you have with your computer.

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.

PRAM controls other portions of your Mac’s hardware, like time and date performance and volume settings. This is more of the relationship between hardware and software for more minor applications.

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 off to clean up your desktop and make it less cluttered overall.

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”.

Some people seem to be under the impression that a clean system will speed up your Mac’s performance. Trimming unnecessary icons simply makes it easier for you to find things on your computer, but a ton of icons on the desktop won’t slow down the system.

5. Choose the best starting programs

Your list of startup programs is a list of applications 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.

This means that your Mac will always run these programs in the background, every time it starts up, whether you use the programs or not!

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. You’ll have to launch the program after startup in order to run them if you’d like.

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.

A program like CleanMyMac, discussed in the post earlier (refer to #1), can take care of this hard disk cleanup for you, freeing up 5GB, 10GB or even up to 20+ or 50+ GB of hard disk space in less than 10 minutes! Hard drives tend to fill up and get horribly disorganized by

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. Don’t let it get overfilled.

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, you might have forgotten about your iPhoto trash folder. 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.

8. Browser cache delete

Internet browsers create a cache file of every website you’ve ever visited. Over days, months, and years, this cache can build up to monstrous sizes, sometimes totaling even 20GB!

Thankfully this step is extremely easy no matter which browser you prefer. Here are some quick steps on how you can clean out the browser cache on your Mac.

On a side note, we 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 up browser cache with just a click or two.

9. Get rid of useless apps

Just because iTunes has millions of apps doesn’t mean that you have to have hundreds of them on your Mac. Go through your application list to find and uninstall apps that you just don’t need. Unused applications can pile up no matter how careful you choose each program– eventually they might just fall out of favor for you.

Please note that you should only uninstall and not delete apps as deleting apps will result in even more problems, as not all files associated with an app are all located in the same location on your hard drive. Only an uninstall can completely rid your computer of a particular app.

CleanMyMac, mentioned in #1 of this post, can take of these uninstalls, giving you a convenient list of apps from which you can just click to uninstall, keeping you from having to search through your computer.

You can also take a look at your Mac’s activity monitor, when your apps are running, to see how much resource is being used by particular appa. If an app is using an unreasonable amount of resources, it might make sense to replace that app with a resource friendly app or maybe make do without that app entirely, even if it means a little inconvenience for you.

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

10. Compress old data

Sometimes you hold large files for a long time for use in the future– but you don’t need them at the moment. Compressing files meant for long-term storage can help save space on your hard drive. 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 the 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 your files 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


2. Copy the compressed folders onto a hard disk and delete both compressed data as well as original data from hard disk (Maximum freeing up of hard disk space)

11. Trash the logs

Your computer keeps logs about everything and anything you do with your Mac. Is it important to you? Usually not, unless you need to comb through everything you’ve ever done on your computer.

These detailed logs can take up an enormous amount of hard disk space. CleanMyMac, discussed in #1 earlier, can slice through these logs with just a single click, freeing up a great deal of hard disk space, depending on the volume of logs that your particular Mac has on the hard disk.

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 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 sound.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 700 MB 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.

Mac hard disk cleanupTry to keep at least 40% of the hard disk 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, readily letting you play them at a friend’s house, as all it takes is a USB port to access such data from an external hard drive.

>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.

Once again, CleanMyMac 3, discussed at the beginning of this article, can delete such files for you with a single click. You could also perform this on your own by following these steps:

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 MacOS

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)


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 even 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.

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.

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 would have hopefully let 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
Kylie Larson is a content wrangler, helping both small businesses and large organizations get their message up and out. When she's not writing and organizing online, you'll find her walking the dog, with a camera in hand, riding the Chicago blue line, and in the midst of a home renovation project that never ends. Connect with her at
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