The Ultimate Guide to Fixing Your Mac Spinning Rainbow

Get Rid of You Mac Spinning Rainbow Wheel Once and For All

The Mac spinning rainbow is annoying. The spinning rainbow is a sign that you’re not getting work done and sometimes it means you lose unsaved work. If you’re seeing the Mac spinning rainbow wheel you need to understand why you're seeing it and what you can do to get moving quickly again.

Why are you seeing the Mac spinning rainbow wheel?

Following are a few reasons you might be seeing the Mac spinning rainbow:

You have a cluttered hard drive

When was the last time you went through your file structure and deleted old or unnecessary files? When did you last empty your trash can? Have you checked for duplicate files and removed any?

We treat our computers as digital closets. Just as our physical closets, though, we need to cull through the material regularly to keep organized. When you can’t find an item in your closet you have to dig through baskets and drawers in a frustrating search. When your computer is attempting to complete a task in a cluttered environment, it has to do the same thing. In this case, the Mac spinning rainbow wheel is a digital “wait” sign as it works through the clutter.

If you’re sick of Mac spinning rainbow and you know you have plenty of clutter that could be causing it, our recommendation is to start cleaning with a Mac cleaning program that will automate a ton of the work.

You are running power-hungry programs and you need more processing power

If you are the proud owner of a sleek Macbook Air, congrats! Those devices are gorgeous—and convenient to take anywhere. However, these beautiful and lightweight machines come at a price: they have less RAM. RAM (Random Access Memory) or computer memory does the work for you while you’re actively using programs or apps. While you are working with Photoshop, for example, you need sufficient computer RAM to run the program. For the sake of keeping things simple, think of RAM as short-term, active memory.

Many Mac lovers grab the Macbook Air without recognizing they need a more powerful machine to complete their work. Photographers, videographers, architects, and engineers often run huge, power-hungry programs on their computers and need machines with more power. If you’re running creative editing software or engineering modeling software and frequently noticing the Mac rainbow wheel, it may be time to upgrade to a new machine.

You’re almost out of storage space

Even if you have a perfectly organized file system, you may have too many files weighing down your Mac. Macs with too much stuff on them take longer to find individual items, thus resulting in the Mac spinning rainbow wheel. To check your storage space go to the apple in your menu bar and choose About This Mac. Then select Storage. Ideally, you want to have 25% or more of free space.

If you have a low amount of storage left (or no storage left!), you have a decision to make. You can first try a cleaning program to catch anything you may miss. Or, you can start moving files off of your device. We recommend considering an external hard drive for files you don’t use on a daily basis.

What can you do when the Mac spinning rainbow pops up?

Take the following steps in order to attempt solving your issue:

Force quit the offending program

Whichever program you know or suspect to be malfunctioning (often the one you were most recently working in) needs to be closed. To force quit a program you can either,

  • go to the Apple menu in your menu bar and select “Force Quit” from about halfway down the menu,
  • right click (or Control + Click) on the program and select “Force Quit,” or
  • press Command + Option + Esc

Reboot your computer

You can do this by holding down the power key on your keyboard.

Reboot your computer in safe mode

Once you hear your computer start with the “dawning of the morning” sound, press + hold Shift. Let go when you see the Apple logo.

In safe mode your Mac will look for system issues. If nothing happens after a bit of use then you’re good to go. Shut down your computer and restart as normal. If Mac goes haywire in safe mode then get your computer to Apple Support stat.

Check Your Wifi Connection

We recommend the following steps:

  • Ensure you’re on a high-speed broadband connection.
  • Reconfigure your wifi by going to System Preferences > Network > Advanced. Delete old wifi networks and reconnect your computer to your preferred network.
  • Reboot your computer and try the wifi again.

Repair Disk

Apple gives you a free tool in within the “Disk Utility” section that can repair your Mac’s hard disk. This repair might not always speed up your MacBook Air, but it’s worth a shot.

To run your Disk Repair,

  • Restart your Mac
  • When you hear the startup chime press Command + R
  • Release the keys when you see the Apple logo
  • Disk Utility > Continue
  • Select Disk for repair
  • Click First Aid
  • Click Run

Run Apple Diagnostics

Go through the built-in program — it knows the system best and can help you sweep up any issues causing your machine to overwork and overheat.

Turn off Programs that Run at Start Up

To confirm which programs run at startup go to System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items. Turn off or uninstall programs you don’t use daily.

Re-install your operating system

You may need a fresh start and to make sure things are installed properly before going to Apple Support. MacPaw has an excellent tutorial on how to prepare your MacBook Air for High Sierra.

Ready to keep the Mac spinning wheel away permanently?

Download CleanMyMac 3

This MacPaw product and it’s truly a game changer for Mac speed and performance. It’s resolved many issues for me on my six year old Mac and, thus, my machine is humming along beautifully. Plus, you can download a free trial before committing to it. That’s a no brainer in our opinion!

Move Most of Your Files onto a Cloud or External Hard Drive

Your computer is often running slow because it’s weighed down by many, many files. You can give it a good kick in the butt by lightening its load. As a photographer, I have thousands of RAW files and high resolution final images. These would do serious damage to my Mac speed so I save these types of files on a Western Digital hard drive and leave my Mac hard drive with more room to breathe.

Further, I host personal photos and files on Dropbox and selectively sync only active folders. These products help me ensure that my Mac speeds like the wind when I’m working from it. Explore your files and see what might make sense to move to an external hard drive or cloud storage solution.

Consider a Cooling Pad for Your Mac

If you feel as if your Mac is frequently hot to the touch, you might need a cooling pad to prevent your Mac spinning rainbow. The Mac often overheats when you’re running graphics-intense programs such as video games and image editing software. A cooling pad essentially takes a wet towel to the marathoner’s forehead and keeps it going.


Did our solutions for your mac spinning rainbow wheel work? Tell us which one in the comments! If not, tell us what you tried and what’s going on — we’ll try to help you find another solution.

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