How to Clean Up a Mac: Essential Tips

how to clean up a mac

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

How to Clean Up a Mac

1. Using a Mac Cleaner Software

One-step utility programs will speed up your computer and make sure that you’re using your time as effectively as possible.

CleanMyMac 3 can help clean your Mac quickly, restoring several GBs of disk space while also allowing your Mac to boot faster, connect to the Internet 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, About.com and is a great way always to ensure that you keep a clean Mac at all times.

It is available for a free trial and download, so your first step to clean your Mac should begin with this download.        
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2. Reset Your Mac's SMC (System Management Controller)

Resetting your SMC is a great way to keep your computer in tip-top shape. You can prevent hardware issues by resetting this component 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.

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 an SMC reset for different types of Macs.

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 chance that an SMC reset will fix any hardware problems you have with your computer.

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 
  • 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 
  • Power on your MacBook Air or other Mac as like you usually do
  • Power on your MacBook or MacBook Pro like you usually do
how to clean up a mac

Note – When you are resetting the SMC on a portable Mac, 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 difference 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
  • Fully shut down your Mac 
  • Press the Power button
  • As your Mac boots up, before the grey screen comes on, you must press the following combination of keys
  • Command + Option + P + R 
  • 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
how to clean up a mac

Note – Resetting PRAM often means that you have to adjust your time, date and a few other minor settings after your Mac has restarted. Nothing important has been deleted from your Mac. It is just that some system settings have been reset and they need a little help to configure properly.

4. De-clutter Your Desktop

When it comes to a performance-friendly desktop for your Mac, the fewer icons you have to deal with, the better. Take about 10 minutes off to make your desktop less cluttered. Create folders to help organize your computer. 

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

5. Choose The Best-Starting Programs

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

how to clean up a mac

To 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 keep it from launching when you start the computer. 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 Drive

Full hard drives are frustrating and make it more difficult to use your computer. First of all, not having enough free 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), can take care of this cleanup for you, freeing up 5GB, 10GB or even up to 20+ or 50+ GB of storage space in less than 10 minutes! 

7. Take The Trash 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 and not 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 delete the items in your trash permanently. Select "Ok".

Don’t forget about your iPhoto trash folder, too. When you have iPhoto activated, go to the top left-hand 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 storage space.

8. Browser Cache Delete

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

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.

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.

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

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.

Please note that you should only uninstall and not delete apps. 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 care of these uninstalls, giving you a convenient list of apps that you can just click to uninstall.

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 apps.

You can access your Mac’s activity monitor by going to Finder -> Applications -> Utilities -> and it’ll be in this section.

10. Compress Old Data

Sometimes you hold large files for a long time for use in the future. 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.

Here's how:

  • 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
  • Go to send and then choose “Compressed (Zipped) folder
  • Once your data is compressed, you can keep the compressed folder and delete all the files and folders that you originally compressed or copy the compressed folders onto a hard disk and delete the data.
how to clean up a mac

11. Trash The Logs

Your Mac keeps logs about everything and anything you do 

These detailed logs can take up an enormous amount of storage space. CleanMyMac, discussed in #1 earlier, can slice through these logs with just a single click, freeing up a great deal of 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. 

12. Clean Out Old Content

There's no reason to keep these files on your system if you no longer enjoy or use 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 to 7GB of extra 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 storage space.

Try to keep at least 40% of the space free on the hard drive where your OS X is installed. Move user-generated data like movies and music to your new drive.

Try 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. 

how to clean up a mac

Besides freeing up much needed hard disk space, having media on an external device will also allow you to enjoy your movies and music on the go, 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, so 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 can delete such files for you with a single click. You could also perform this on your own by following these steps:

  • 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.

If you are ready for a dashboard widget cleanup, go to Dashboard-> Click on the (+) 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!

how to clean up a mac

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.

Make it a point to restart your Mac when prompted, but if not, try to restart the system every week or even biweekly.

18. Permissions For Your Mac!

Your Mac has a built-in utility that helps you repair disk permissions. 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 the scan to complete
  • Click on Repair Disk Permissions once the scan is complete
  • Restart your Mac to see if it just a little but snappier than before as it usually will be

19. Call The Hard-Drive Doctor

Besides permissions repair, Disk Utility, 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 the scan to complete
  • If errors are found, choose Repair Disk when prompted
how to clean up a mac

Do You Have Any Tips on How to Clean Up a Mac?

There you go, 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 up a Mac, 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.

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 ShorewoodStudio.com.
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