While macOS does a good enough job of keeping itself clean, there are times when you have to manually clean your Mac so it keeps running without any hiccups. It is especially important for older mac devices as the mileage you have put on your machine does come with consequences. While there is nothing you can do to solve a problem that is occurring due to outdated hardware, more often than not, your Mac slows down because of software related issues. In this article, I am going to give you 10 steps that can help you keep your Mac clean and running at its full capacity. So whether you are using an older MacBook Air or the latest MacBook Pro or the 5K iMac, here are some of the steps you can take to clean your Mac and make it faster.
Why Cleaning Your Mac Is Important?
While it is not required to clean your Mac on a daily or even monthly basis, it is a good practice to tidy things up once every few months. The main reason why we should clean our Macs is that there are a ton of residual files on our Macs that fill up the storage and make it slower. From file caches to uninstalled app residues to redundant backups, some files take up unnecessary space on your Mac.
Cleaning our Macs once every few months not only ensures that our Macs are running at their full potential, but it will also help you release lost storage. While this is the main reason Macs slow down over time, there are other reasons, including and not limited to residual files from apps, a large number of start-up apps, malware (Yes! Macs can get infected too), and more. In this article, we are going to take a step-by-step look at all these problems and show you how to clean them up.
How to Clean Your Mac in 2020
There was a time when cleaning your Mac was an arduous process. But in 2020, we are blessed with several pieces of software that can get the job done in minutes. One such software, and the one I prefer to use, is CleanMyMac X. It brings all the tools that you need to clean your Mac. But at $34.95/Year or $89.95/lifetime, it is expensive. I find it worth the cost but you might not. So, in each section, I have mentioned an alternative that is either free or significantly cheaper.
Since we are going to do a step-by-step cleaning, it’s good to have an idea of the things we are going to clean. Here are the steps we are going to take to clean your Mac.
- Clean Cached Files
- Remove Junk Files
- Remove Unwanted Login Items
- Delete Mail Attachments
- Uninstall Apps without Leaving Residual Files
- Delete Large and Old Files
- Remove Duplicates
- Delete Redundant Backups
- Remove Malware
- Run Maintenance
Now that you know what we are going to do, open your Mac and follow the steps below to clean your Mac and make it run as new.
1. Clean Cached Files
For providing fast access to some files, your Mac stores a lot of files as cache. A cache file is a temporary file that is created by your apps, browsers, and other programs to help you open them faster. However, sometimes these cache files become corrupt and cause a problem. In some cases, they also build up over time, eating up precious storage space on your device. We will start by clearing this cache files. Since this a part of the hidden file system, you won’t be able to access it normally.
To access the cache folder, open a Finder window and then hit the “Cmd+Shift+G” keyboard shortcut. It will open a “Go to folder” search directory. Type or copy and paste “~/Library" as shown in the picture above and hit enter. It will open the Library folder. Here, locate the "Cache" folder and delete its content. To delete the content, select all the files (Cmd+A) and then hit the "Cmd+Opt+Delete" key to permanently delete the files.
2. Remove Junk Files
Cache is just a small part of all the junk files that your Mac accumulates over its usage. There are many other types of junk files that macOS builds up including system junk files, residual files, browser caches, mail attachments, and more. You can manually remove some of the junk files as we did with cache files, but it’s hard work. And you cannot be sure that you have removed all the junk. An easy way is to use CleanMyMac X. The app is really easy to use. Launch the app and select the “System Junk” option. Now, click on the “Scan” button and it will identify all the junk files. It takes less than a minute to scan your Mac. Now, click on the “Clean” button and it will permanently purge the junk files.
I use CleanMyMac X to scan my Mac every month and it finds anywhere around 3 to 5 GBs of junk data to clean. When I first used the app to scan my Mac, it was able to release more than 12 GB of storage. If you don’t believe me, install the free trial of the app and check it out for yourself.
If you are looking for a free app that does the same thing, the best option is to use OnyX. I have featured OnyX in my best free Mac apps list as it’s the best free Mac cleaning app you can get. You can use this app to perform miscellaneous maintenance and cleaning tasks. The only problem with OnyX is that sometimes it is unable to differentiate between junk files and system files. So, after every scan, you have to check the files that it is recommending to delete. And if you are not familiar with the macOS file-system, I will suggest that you avoid using it. That’s why I prefer using CleanMyMac X. I know that no system files will be deleted and I can hit the clean button with gusto.
Get Clean My Mac X: Free Trial, $34.95/Year or $89.95/lifetime license
Get OnyX: Free
3. Remove Unwanted Login Items
Login Items are those apps that automatically launch when you start your Mac. This is a great feature for launching apps automatically. However, these days every other app is asking for login permission when you install it. And since most login apps work in the background, users are not even aware of them. If you have numerous login items, your Mac will launch them simultaneously while it boots up and it will slow down your Mac. In the worst-case scenario, it might even make your MAC unusable for a few minutes. And if they keep running in the background, they will eat up precious CPU resources and make your Mac slow.
To check up which apps have permission to launch when you boot up your device, go to System Preference → Users & Groups → Login Items. Here, you will see a list of all the apps that have the permission to launch when booting up. Take a look at your list and remove the items that you don’t need to start when booting up. To remove an item, first, click on the lock icon and enter your password to make changes. Now, select the items that you want to remove and click on the minus sign (−).
If you have bought CleanMyMac X, you can use it to remove the login items. Launch the app and go to Optimization → Login Items. Here select the items that you want to remove and click on the Remove button.
4. Delete Mail Attachments
Every day we receive dozens of personal, professional, and promotional emails. Some of these emails come with attachments that may include PDFs, word documents, pictures, and more. Sometimes we don’t download these files and just double-click to open them. What we don’t realize that when we double click to open an attachment, it is downloaded in the Mail Downloads folder. Double-click on enough files and a huge chunk of your storage is filled by useless files. That’s why it’s necessary to delete those files. So, how will you clean your Mac off these files? Well, if you are using CleanMyMac X you can launch the app → Select Mail Attachments → Scan and then clean.
If you want to do it manually, launch Spotlight (Cmd+Space) and search for “Mail Downloads”. Hit enter to open the folder. Here select all the files (Cmd+A) and permanently delete the files (Cmd+Opt+Delete).
5. Uninstall Apps without Leaving Residual Files
macOS makes it very easy to uninstall files. However, when you uninstall a file using the native method, your apps are not installed completely. The apps leave residual files that clutter up your Mac’s storage. The problem becomes even bigger if you uninstall apps that you were using for a long time, as these apps will leave bigger residual files. If you have already bought CleanMyMac X, you can use it to uninstall apps cleanly. It removes all residual files that an app would have left behind if you have uninstalled it normally. To uninstall an app with CleanMyMac X, click on the Uninstaller tab, select the app or apps ( you can uninstall multiple apps at once), and click on the Uninstall button.
Another great thing about CleanMyMac X is that it also lets you delete any residual files that past apps have left on your device. To delete those residual files, click on the Leftovers tab → select the residual files and click on the Uninstall button to remove them.
The best free alternative to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps is AppCleaner by freemacsoft. To uninstall an app, simply drag and drop the app in the AppCleaner’s window and it will find all the files associated with the app. Click on the “Remove” button to delete the app along with all its files. The only drawback of this app is that it doesn’t allow you to remove residual files that are already on the system.
Get AppCleaner: Free
6. Delete Large and Old Files
Over the years that we have been using our Macs, we download a lot of files that we forget to delete even when they have served their purpose. This leads to the accumulation of files on our Macs that sit there and do nothing other than eating precious storage. There is a native way to find and delete those files and apps. But like other manual methods, it’s cumbersome and you can never be sure if you got them all. To do it manually, go to Apple Menu → About this Mac → Manage.
Here, you will system recommendations for files and apps that are taking the most storage space on your Mac. You can choose files in every category (Applications, Documents, iCloud Drive, etc) and click Delete to remove it and optimize space. I would recommend not to uninstall apps from here as they will leave behind residual files. Just note the name of the apps and then use the steps mentioned in the app uninstallation point to remove those apps.
If you want to use third-party apps to make your work easier, you have a couple of options. First is the CleanMyMac X. It has a “Space Lens” feature that builds your storage map and lets you visualize and find storage hogging files.
If you don’t want to review all the files, you can use the “Large & Old Files” feature to quickly find the biggest culprits.
Another such app is DaisyDisk. It scans your entire Mac and gives you a beautiful graphical representation of its storage. The app represents all the folders and files occupying your Mac’s storage in easy to navigate and color-coded concentric circles. The bigger the circle is the bigger is the size of that folder on your Mac. Clicking on a circle is equivalent to opening a folder. Using its graphical interface, you can easily find out those pesky large and old hidden files and delete them to release storage on your Mac.
If you are looking for a free option, there is another app called GrandPerspective that performs almost the same function. That said, it’s UI is not good and you will find it a bit confusing at first. You can get it from its website for free or pay $1.99 to download it from the Mac App Store. Both links are given below.
Get DaisyDisk: $9.99
7. Remove Duplicates
One of the biggest culprits of lost storage on your Mac is duplicate files. We copy and move a lot of stuff on our Macs and sometimes we just forget to delete the original file and are left with two copies of the same files. It also happens when we are taking pictures. I tend to take multiple shots just to be sure that my picture came outright. Since everything is synced back to my Mac, those multiple shots eat up a lot of storage. Thankfully, there is an easy way to find and delete duplicate files on your Mac. My personal choice of app to do this is Gemini 2.
Once installed you can use the app to scan your Mac and in a few seconds or minutes, it will catalog all the duplicate files and show it to you. The best part is that it doesn’t automatically delete duplicate files but gives you an option to pick and choose the version that you want to keep. Another good app that can help you do the same is the Duplicate File Finder Remover (Free, $19.95). It is also a cheaper alternative to Gemini 2. That said, for me, Gemini 2 has worked great and I prefer it over any other duplicate file finding apps for the Mac.
If you want to do it manually, you can try it but it’s going to be a chore. Also, you will only be able to find duplicates with the same name. That means you won’t be able to find duplicate photos and any file with a modified name. First, open a Finder Window and then go to File → New Smart Folder.
Now click on the (+) button and choose ‘kind is’ opotion. Now, select any of the mention file types. For this example, I have selected “Image”.
As you can see in the picture below, the smart folder is showing all the images on my MacBook Pro arrange by their name. From here, you can see the files with the same name, open them, and delete the ones you don’t want to keep. As I said, it’s not going to be easy, but if you don’t want to spend any money, this is the only way to do it.
Get Gemini 2: Free, $19.95/year or $49.95 for lifetime license
8. Delete Redundant Backups
If you create backups of your iPhone on your Mac, you need to take this step to clean your Mac. Most of us end up creating multiple backups of our iPhone. And as soon as you create a new backup the old backups become redundant. If you are someone who likes having multiple backup points, it’s okay. But if you are keeping multiple backups without meaning to, then it’s time to clean them out. Before macOS Catalina, we used to have iTunes to deal with this. However, macOS Catalina killed iTunes, and now the iPhone manager feature is built into the Finder.
To delete iPhone backups on your Mac, first connect your iPhone to Mac using the lightning cable. If you have the newer MacBook Pro or MacBook Air (2016 models and later), you will need to use a dongle. You can find a list of best dongles on our MacBook Air and Pro accessories blog. After you connect the phone, launch Finder. Here, click on the name of your iPhone in the sidebar and then scroll down and click on “Manage Backups”.
If you have created backups of your iPhone, they will appear in the list. Mine is blank as I don’t take iPhone backups on my Mac. On the list, select the backups you don’t want to keep and click on the “Delete Backup” button to clean your Mac.
9. Remove Malware
Many people believe that Macs can’t catch malware. While it's true that Macs are inherently safer against viruses than Windows machines, they are not invincible against every type of malicious attack. According to security researches, malware attacks on Mac are on the rise, increasing with each passing year. Malware can be anything, ranging from a simple phishing attack to get your account information to ransomware which completely locks down your Mac leaving it unusable unless you pay a hefty ransom to attackers. One of the most prominent attacks on Macs happens in the form of adware which is a kind of malware that shows you a plethora of ads thereby slowing your system. If your Mac is suddenly feeling slow or you are seeing more ads than usual, chances are that you have been attacked by malware. The best tool to fight against malware is Malwarebytes.
Malwarebytes is the best defense against malware for Mac. The app is free to download and use for a trial period after which you will have to upgrade to paid plans to continue using it. If online security matters to you and you want to keep your Mac clean and run it efficiently, do give this app a try. At the very least, download the app and scan your Mac once to see if you have been infected or not. If you have been infected, Malwarebytes will find the malware and remove it for you, making your Mac clean again.
CleanMyMac X recently launched a new Malware removal tool. I don’t know if it’s as good as the one Malwarebytes brings, but it is quite powerful. If you don’t want to pay for yet another new program and have purchased CleanMyMac X, you can use it to scan your Mac and find and fix vulnerabilities.
Get Malwarebytes: Free trial, $39.99/year
10. Run Maintenance Scripts
After you are done with all the steps and thoroughly cleaned your Mac, the final step is to run some maintenance scripts. Both CleanMyMac X and OnyX offer a comprehensive maintenance scripts library. When run these scripts will do things like rotate system logs, remove temporary items, and run several other useful system optimizations. CleanMyMac X takes this one step further and allows you to do other things such as flushing DNS cache, reindexing Spotlight, freeing up RAM & purgeable space, repairing disk permission, and more.
Talking just about maintenance scripts, you can run them manually using simple Terminal commands. Terminal commands are useful and I have mentioned several commands in our MacBook Pro tips and tricks article. So, go check them out if want to learn something new. I recently published a way to get the old iconic macOS startup chime back which also uses Terminal commands. Anyways, to run the maintenance scripts open Terminal either through the Spotlight search or by navigating to Finder → Applications → Utilities and double-clicking on Terminal.
Now, copy and paste the below command and hit enter/return.
sudo periodic daily weekly monthly
It will ask for your user password. Enter it and then hit enter/return again. Note that it won’t show your password while you are typing it for security reasons, so don’t get flustered. Just type the password and hit enter/return. Once you do that, Terminal will run maintenance scripts and you will get a prompt after it’s done.
You can also check when the last maintenance script was run. Again open Terminal, paste the below command, and hit enter/return. It will show you the last time maintenance scripts were run as shown in the picture below.
ls -al /var/log/*.out
How to Clean Your Mac with A Single Click
The above steps show you how you can clean your Mac manually. If you don’t want to spend any dollars, you can use the manual methods to clean your Mac or use the free third-party tools that are mentioned in the article. The reason why I choose CleanMyMac X is that it allows me to do all the cleaning with just one click. CleanMyMac X offers a “Smart Scan” feature that you can run with one-click. The smart scan feature not only finds and remove junk files but it also clears caches, deletes mail attachments, run maintenance programs, finds and deletes malware, and more.
The only things that you have to do manually are the ones that require user input such as app deletion and finding and deleting old and large files. Another reason I use it is that it's part of my SetApp subscription. For the unfamiliar, SetApp is an app subscription service that gives you access to more than 170 apps for a monthly price of $9.99. To me, the subscription is worth it just for getting CleanMyMac X, Ulysses, BetterTouchTool, Rocket Typists, Paste, and MindNode. Ulysses alone costs $4.99/month. Seeing how it’s my favorite writing app and I use it daily to get work done, buying the subscription makes sense to me.
Now, when I need an app to do something, before I search on Mac App Store I search on SetApp, and 90% of the time I find an app that gets the job done. So, I have given you all the options. You can either choose the free tools and manual methods, you can outright buy CleanMyMac X, or you can get it using SetApp. Whatever the path you choose, remember to clean your Mac from time to time to keep running it in top condition.
How to Clean Your Mac: Final Thoughts
I have covered every little thing that you can do to clean your Mac. I have mentioned both the paid apps that make it easier to clean your Mac and the tedious but free methods. Let me know which methods you opted for. If you have any questions, drop them in the comment section below and I will try my best to help you out.