Mac Performance

15 Ways to Free Up Space on a Mac Hard Drive



Running out of storage space on your Mac?


Well, you’re among 80 percent of Mac users who experience the same issue. It’s not for nothing that Apple has recently doubled the storage on some of its newest machines and quadrupled it on others. But don’t start guarding your wallet quite yet. Rather than encouraging you to buy a new Mac, we’ll show you how to clean up the one you have.


Ahead is our comprehensive research on how to free up space on a Mac by removing old media files, app settings, temporary files, and outright junk that does nothing but drag your device down. Follow our advice, and you will enjoy gigabytes of free storage space with an added bonus of better performance.


Before we start


If you’re trying to claw back disk space on your Mac, give MacKeeper a try. As well as clearing out junk and cached files, it will help you to quickly find and remove duplicate data too. It can even find photos that are similar but not identical. Plus it offers real-time antivirus, adblocking, optimization tools, and more.  

First things first: Check the storage on your Mac

You can easily check how much storage your Mac has left, and what’s taking it up.


To check how your storage is being used, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Apple menu and click System Settings
  2. Select General
  3. Now click Storage
  4. Here you can see a bar, the segments of which show how much space is given to Music, Photos, System, Apps, and other large files. Hover over the segments for more details.
Enter System Settings by clickin on the Apple logo from the menu bar and click on corresponding tab.
Step 1. Apple icon > System Settings
Choose Storage tab from the General settings to see its configurations
Step 2. General > Storage
By clicking on each segement is Storage you will be able to see what files and apps take the most of space and delete them.
Step 3. Click each segment for more details

How to free up space on Mac

Before we show you how to clear disk space on your Mac, a word of caution is in order. Hard drive cleaning requires time and, in some cases, expertise. So, when in doubt, use a professional cleaning app.


Now, let’s make some room for the files that truly deserve space on your Mac.

  1. Optimize storage with built-in tools
  2. Save files to the cloud
  3. Remove unused apps and all their leftovers
  4. Find and remove duplicate files
  5. Empty the Trash automatically
  6. Clear browser cache and cookies
  7. Delete unused language files
  8. Clean up your Desktop
  9. Delete mail attachments and junk mail
  10. Delete old iOS backups
  11. Clean up the Downloads folder
  12. Delete old and unwanted media files
  13. Move photos to external storage
  14. Manage large files
  15. Compress and archive data.

1. Optimize storage with built-in tools

No matter how much free storage space you have, you can always use more. Recognizing this simple truth, Apple has come up with storage management tools. To access them, open the Apple menu and click System Settings > General > Storage.


Here, you’ll be able to see what’s using up your hard drive space, sorted into different categories. Click on the i button next to each category to open storage management options.

Information icons in macOS storage settings to see how much space what apps and files on your Mac.

2. Save files to the cloud

The cloud is a handy way to save space on your Mac. Apple’s own iCloud service is a good option, because it’s integrated with macOS, and you get 5GB of online storage for free. If you pay a subscription, you can increase that as much as you need.


Here’s you to use iCloud to save space on your Mac’s hard drive:

  1. Click the Apple icon in your menu bar, and select System Settings
  2. From the sidebar, select General, and click Storage
  3. Next, click Store in iCloud
  4. Make sure both Desktop and Documents, and Photos are selected, then click Store in iCloud. That’s it. Your Mac will now automatically save space by uploading these files to iCloud.
Highlighted Store in iCloud button to start backing up files.
Step 1. Apple > System Settings > Storage > Store in iCloud
A pop up menu asking to select items to store in iCloud bu moving the corresponding tumbler and clicking on Store in iCloud.
Step 2. Select what to store and click Store in iCloud

3. Remove unused apps and all their leftovers

Unused apps can waste a lot of space on your Mac. Thankfully, macOS offers several ways of deleting unused applications.


Let’s start with the simplest one:

  1. Go to Finder and select Applications
  2. Grab a useless app and drag it to the Trash
  3. Empty the Trash.
Opened and highlighted Application folder to see the list of apps installed on your Mac.

You can also delete unused apps via Launchpad:

  1. Open Launchpad
  2. Click and hold an app icon until it starts shaking
  3. Click the X symbol next to the app.
A pop up window in opened Launchpad window to uninstall apps.

By throwing apps to the Trash or removing them via Launchpad, you solve the surface-level issue; that is, the apps themselves. But there are also app leftovers that can use up to 10 percent of your storage space, depending on your Mac usage.


Here’s how to properly delete apps and the system junk they leave using a cleaning utility in MacKeeper:

  1. Open MacKeeper
  2. Select Smart Uninstaller from the left sidebar
  3. Check the boxes next to the apps you want to delete and click Remove Selected
  4. In the window that opens, click Remove to confirm the deletion.
A screenshot showing how to uninstall app using Smart Uninstaller feature in MacKeeper.

4. Find and remove duplicate files

When your Mac’s disk space is reaching its limits, find and delete duplicate files. How come your drive is cluttered with duplicates? Well, it’s a part of the user experience.


We repeatedly download the same app installers or email attachments as well as edit photos and make copies of documents and other files. In short, duplicates inevitably happen. And they can occupy up to 30 percent of your storage space.


Leaving duplicate files on your Mac is a waste of storage space. Removing them manually is a waste of time. That's why many Mac users download a Mac cleaner. MacKeeper’s nifty Duplicate Finder can find identical files and make space on your Mac in a matter of minutes.


It goes like this:

  1. Launch MacKeeper and select Duplicate Finder on the left
  2. Click the Start Scan button
  3. Check the Auto-selection box and click Remove Duplicates.
A screenshot showing how to delete duplicate files using Duplicate Finder feature in MacKeeper.

5. Empty the Trash automatically

Usually, you have to empty the Trash manually. However, you can automate this process. Should you choose to do so, files stored in the Trash for more than 30 days will be permanently deleted.


By enabling this option, you can save up to 30 percent of your hard drive space each month.


Here’s how to do it:

  1. From any Finder window, select Finder > Settings
  2. Make sure Remove items from the Trash after 30 days is selected.
Automatic trash emptying feature with highlighted option called Remove items from the Trash after 30 days

6. Clear browser cache and cookies

If you’re a heavy internet user, your Mac’s drive is likely full of temporary files known as the browser cache. This helps to load previously visited pages faster. At the same time, excessive cache files reduce the available storage space, slowing down your Mac.


By cleaning the cache files in all of your browsers, you can free up several hundred megabytes of free space.


With most browsers, when you clear your cache, you delete cookies at the same time. These are small text files that store information about your website preferences and sign-in details. Deleting them is another way to save a bit of space on your Mac’s hard drive.


To clear Chrome’s cache and cookies:

  1. Open Chrome and click the three-dot icon at the top right
  2. Click More Tools > Clear Browsing Data
  3. Choose a time range to clear the browsing data
  4. Select Browsing history, Cookies and other site data, and Cached images and files
  5. Click Clear data.
A screenshot showing how to delete browsing data in Google Chrome

To clear Safari’s cache and cookies:

  1. Go to Safari > Preferences > Advanced. Then mark the checkbox next to Show Developer menu in the menu bar
  2. Click Develop in the top menu
  3. Click Empty caches
  4. Next, from the menu bar, select History > Clear History
  5. Select Clear all history, then click Clear History to delete Safari’s cookies.
A screenshot showing how to delete browsing data in Safari browser

To clear Firefox’s cache and cookies:

  1. Go to the menu and choose Settings
  2. Select the Privacy & Security panel
  3. In the Cookies and Site Data section, select Clear Data.
A screenshot showing how to delete browsing data in Firefox from firefox privacy & security tab

7. Delete unused language files

Your Mac comes loaded with over 180 languages. All these linguistic treasures reside in localization files that take up approximately 1.5 GB of hard drive space. How many of the available languages do you actually use? Chances are just a few, while the rest just sit there occupying disk space. Let’s fix it.


Important! Before we remove unused language files to free up hard drive space, note that the deletion will affect your user experience. Namely, your applications will mirror the language of your macOS. To change the language, you will have to reinstall the app. And when it comes to Apple’s default apps, a macOS reinstall will be needed.


Follow these steps to remove unused language files:

  1. Go to the Applications folder
  2. Right-click an app and select Show Package Contents from the drop-down menu
  3. Open the Contents folder and navigate to the Resources folder
  4. Go through the Resources folder and delete all subfolders that end with .lproj, except those you need. Note that localization files for English and Spanish are en.lproj and es.lproj.
  5. Empty the Trash.
Resources folder showing the example of language package contents for removing

Manual removal of language files can take an unsettling amount of time. To speed up the process and optimize storage on your Mac, use MacKeeper. It takes just a few moments to delete localization files and other system junk with this app.

8. Clean up your desktop

Last month’s reports, screenshots, images, and other miscellaneous files are strewn all over the desktop. Sure, you won’t free up gigabytes of storage space by cleaning them. But once you reduce the clutter, your Mac will perk up and start working faster. So let’s get down to it.


Look through your desktop files. Some can be transferred to other folders; others can be deleted to free up space on your hard drive.


To clean up your desktop manually:

  1. Open Finder and click Desktop
  2. Under View, choose as List
  3. Sort the items by size and delete the largest files.
Open the Desktop folder from the Finder to clear desktop manually

If you’re running macOS Mojave or later, click anywhere on your Desktop and select Use Stacks in the window that opens. With just two clicks, you’ll manage to considerably reduce clutter. Now your files are neatly stacked and sorted by categories. If needed, you can delete them all at once, potentially freeing up hundreds of megabytes of storage space.

9. Delete mail attachments and junk mail

You have a busy social and professional life, which doubtlessly involves a lot of email correspondence. Emails on their own don’t cause much trouble storage-wise, but they often come with attachments—documents, pictures, and other files. And once opened, email attachments stay on your Mac forever, keeping gigabytes of useful storage space for themselves. Unless, of course, you delete them:

  1. In the Mail app, go to Preferences
  2. In the General tab, find the Remove unedited downloads option and set it to After Message is Deleted.
A screenshot showing how to delete mail attachments and junk mail from the General tool in Mail app Preferences.

While it’s not recommended to delete regular emails since you might need them one day, you can certainly do without junk mail. You know, those pesky promotional messages that companies regularly send you.


Here’s how to free up storage on Mac by deleting junk mail:

  1. In the Mail app, go to Preferences
  2. In the Accounts tab, find the Erase junk messages option and set it to After one month.
A screenshot showing how to delete mail attachments and junk mail from the General tool in Mail app Preferences.

Another effective way to carve out useful hard drive space for yourself is to store your emails in iCloud.


To set up iCloud mail on your Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Settings
  2. Click your name at the top of the sidebar, and select iCloud
  3. Select iCloud Mail
  4. Click Turn On.
A screenshot showing how to set up iCloud mail on your Mac.

10. Delete old iOS backups

Backing up your iPhone and iPad is an integral part of data protection and simply a good habit to have. That’s being said, iOS backups are supposed to be temporary files rather than permanent residents on your Mac. Guess how much disk space you can reclaim if you help them to go: dozens of gigabytes.


It’s fairly easy to optimize storage by deleting old iOS backups:

  1. Plug your iPhone or iPad into your Mac, and select it from the sidebar
  2. Now click Manage Backups
  3. Select the backups you want to delete, then click Delete Backup
  4. Click Delete to confirm.
A screenshot with highlighted Manage Backups button to start removin iOS backups
Step 1. Plug the Apple device into a Mac and click Manage Backups
On the pop up window, select the needed iOS backup and click on Delete Backup button
Step 2. Select the backup and click Delete Backup
In the next notification window confirm the iOS backup removal by clicking on Delete button.
Step 3. Confirm to Delete

11. Clean up the Downloads folder

Have you ever installed an app? Any app? Of course you have. And now you derive a lot of enjoyment from using it, while the app’s installer just sits in your Downloads folder. It should go. Along with the gigabytes of other files you’ve downloaded.


Dumping old downloads is a tried-and-true way to reduce clutter on your Mac and free up disk space for your vacation photos and other useful files.


Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open Finder
  2. Select Downloads on the left
  3. Right-click the useless files and select the Move to Trash option from the drop-down menu
  4. Empty the Trash.
Clean the Downloads folder by entering the corresponding folder from the Finder, select and move to Trash unneded files.

12. Delete old and unwanted media files

If you have music, movies, or podcasts on your Mac that you no longer want, you should delete it—especially if you can stream or download it again later. This is an easy way to gain back some disk space.


Delete music from your Mac like this:

  1. Open Apple Music, then select Songs or Albums from the sidebar
  2. From the menu bar, select View > Only Downloaded Music
  3. Click the three dots next to an album or song
  4. Select Remove Download.
Open the Albums and Songs tab in Apple Music to start removing items from library
Step 1. Open Albums/Songs in Apple Music
From the menu bar select the View tab and click on Only Downloaded Music to see the list of saved music
Step 2. Click View > Only downloaded music
Click on the three dots next to Album or song next to the item you want to delete.
Step 3. Three dots next to albums and tracks
From the three-dot menu seldrop-down menu select the Remove Download option to start removing tracks.
Step 4. Click Remove Download

Follow these steps to delete movies from your Mac:

  1. Open Apple TV, and then select the Library tab
  2. Select Downloaded from the sidebar
  3. Browse through the results, and use the three dots next to a movie or show, and select Remove Download.
Open the Apple TV app and select Library to see the list of saved movies.
Step 1. Apple TV home screen
In the library folder select the Downloaded tab from the left-side menu
Step 2. Downloaded files section of Apple TV
Click on the three dots next to the item you want to delete and confirm removal by clicking the Remove Download option.
Step 3. Removing a downloaded file from Apple TV

Removing podcasts from your Mac can be done like this:

  1. Open the Podcasts app, and select Downloaded from the sidebar
  2. Choose the podcast you to delete downloads from
  3. To delete a single episode, click its download icon. This is the small down arrow on the right-hand side.
  4. To delete all downloaded episodes for the current podcast, select View > Remove Downloads
  5. Click Remove Downloads to confirm.
Open the Podcasts app and select Downloaded tab from the left-side menu.
Step 1. Home screen of Podcasts app
In the newly opened window you will see the downloaded podcast on your device
Step 2. Downloaded files in Apple Podcasts
By clicking on the Download button you will be able to delete the podcast from your device.
Step 3. Download button in Podcasts
By opening the Remove Downloads option from the View menu you will be able to remove all saved podcasts.
Step 4. Remove all Podcasts downloads
In the newly opened window, click on the Remove Downloads to confirm the removal.
Step 5. Confirm removal of podcast episodes.

13. Move photos to external storage

Keen photographers, take note. While individual photos might not take up a lot of space on your Mac, they can quickly accumulate. The solution is simple: move your photos to an external hard drive and delete them from your Mac.


You’ll need an external storage device for this, formatted in APFS or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format. Although you could use an SD card or a USB flash drive, this is not recommended, as you risk losing your data. Instead, use a good quality USB or Thunderbolt hard drive.


Follow this process to move your photos off your Mac:

  1. If Photos is open, press Cmd + Q to quit it
  2. Navigate to where your Photos library is saved. By default, this is your Pictures folder.
  3. Drag your Photos library to the external drive, then double-click it
  4. Click Switch to confirm that you want to switch your Photo library to this external location
  5. You can now delete your Photo library from your Mac.
Screenshot showing the opened Pictures folder in the Finder
Step 1. Photos library in Finder
Screenshot showing the the Photo library in the external drive opened via Finder
Step 2. Photos library in external drive
In the opened pop up confirm the Photo Libraries Switch
Step 3. Confirm switch of Photos library
To remove the Photo library, right-click on the file select the Move to Bin option
Step 4. Move old Photos library to the trash.

14. Manage large files

Removing big files is one of the quickest ways to save space on your Mac’s hard drive. It’s also easy to do because you can search for and remove these files using built-in tools.


Here’s how to remove large files in macOS:

  1. In System Settings, select General > Storage
  2. Scroll down, and click the i icon next to Documents
  3. Select the Large Files tab
  4. Select what you want to delete, then click Delete
  5. Click Delete to confirm.
Screenshot showing the information button next to Documents in Storage settings to see large files
Step 1. Information button next to Documents in Storage settings
In the opened window you will see the list of files that take the most of the space on your Mac.
Step 2. Large files tab in Storage settings
Select specific files or just all of them to remove the large files from your Mac
Step 3. Selecting large files to delete.
In the pop up that appeared click on the delete button to confirm the removal.
Step 4. Confirm deletion of large files.

15. Compress and archive data

Rather than remove data from your Mac, you can make it smaller. It’ll still take up space, but less than before.


You can do this by using the file compression tool built into macOS. You can compress single or groups of files, creating zip files on your Mac. It won’t delete the original files, though, so if you want to save space, you’ll need to delete them manually after you’ve created your zip file.


To compress data on your Mac, do the following:

  1. Select a file or group of files, then right-click and select Compress
  2. macOS will create a new zip file, which by default will be called
  3. Rename your zip file if you want, and delete the files you just compressed.
Select the group of files right-click on them and select Compress option from the appeared menu.
Step 1. Compressing a group of files
Screenshot showing the created Archive from the previously grouped files.
Step 2. Select new archive file
Move to Trash files that you have previously moved to Archive.
Step 3. Moving original files to trash

If you double-click the zip file, your Mac will create a new folder with the uncompressed files in it. The zip file will stay where it is too. That means you’ll have two copies of your files. For this reason, compression is best used when you’re archiving files that you won’t access very often.

Parting thoughts

Unless you own a high-end model with terabytes of storage, freeing up space on a Mac is something you will have to do every now and then. If the prospect of regularly wasting time on this doesn’t seem exciting, consider using a professional cleaning utility with a built-in app uninstaller for Mac.


Without email attachments, temporary files, system junk, and other cumbersome data, your Mac will reward you with better performance and more space to store your valuable files and precious memories.


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