How to clean up and optimize your Mac: 14 powerful tips

10 min read

You may be wondering why your Mac is running slower than usual. There's probably nothing wrong with it – you likely just need to clean its file system up! In this article, we explain how to clean up Mac and optimize its performance so you can do more every day. 

Why is it important to clean up Mac?  

Without routine maintenance, your digital life can get as cluttered and confusing as the real world. Files get tucked into odd folders, you download files multiple times thinking you forgot them, and apps do odd things that can slow your Mac down. We'll show you how to run some Mac cleaning software to get your computer working great again.

What does optimizing your Mac mean? 

Storage cleaning is an important — if not the most important — part of Mac optimization. But optimization doesn’t end at cleaning. For your Mac to maintain peak performance, you need to take care of graphics and display settings, track CPU usage to prevent Mac slowing down, scan your Mac for malware, keep macOS and the apps you use updated, and more.

How to clean and optimize your Mac in one click

Before we go through the tips, we should mention that CleanMyMac X can do everything we’ll talk about, automatically. It’s a full-featured cleaning and optimization assistant that removes clutter, uninstalls unneeded apps, suggests optimization tasks, and can even detect malware. One Smart Scan with this app will help you clean up Mac, free up a huge amount of space, and speed up your Mac. Give it a try with a free 7-day trial on Setapp. 

Clean your mac

How to clean up Mac manually

One of the main reasons we see for a slow Mac is the storage is getting full. Your Mac has a lot of memory space, but it can fill up quickly if you don't maintain it. When your Mac starts telling you it's out of memory, it's time for a Mac computer cleanup.

The most troubling files taking up space on your Mac are old or duplicate files. Often, we duplicate files to make edits, or download and forget about older documents we no longer want or need. There are also some other areas that likely need your attention.

The following 14 steps will help you clean up and optimize Mac for years of use. 

1. Clean out caches

Your Mac has been designed to make you productive. It has lots of things under the hood, such as cache files, that add up to efficient work. Caches are data stored temporarily on your drive to speed up processes. There are different types of cache such as browser cache, user cache, and system cache.  

The problem with caches is that they tend to create lots of clutter that later sits in your system. For example, every time you edit a photo, the app creates user caches that don’t go anywhere, even if you delete the photo. This is why cleaning up caches is a great optimization method.  

Here’s how to remove cache files: 

  1. Open Finder > Go > Go to folder
  2. Type ~/Library/Caches and clean the contents of the folders that you find in there (make sure you delete the contents and not the folders)
  3. Empty the Bin. 
Clean out caches mac

Read more about clearing cache on Mac here

2. Clean up your Mac's desktop

Start cleaning up Macbook at the beginning – your desktop. While the task might feel tedious, you have a few automated options. First, you’ve got Apple’s built-in Stacks feature that allows you to arrange your randomly dropped files and folders all over your desktop onto a structured grid, and stack the files of the same file type onto one another in piles. 

Just tap with two fingers on your desktop and click Use Stacks: 

Stacks mac

Next, automatically sort files with Spotless. Drag and drop your files onto the app and create a filter for this file type instantly. You can also create automated tasks to tidy up your files and folders and set a schedule and rules for arranging your files. It’s a great solution if you want to set up the rules once, and enjoy a seamless auto-tidy process forever.  

If you’re more of a “right-here-right-now” type of person, you’ll like Unclutter. It’s like a temporary shelf to store notes and files on your desktop. While it remains hidden and doesn’t clutter your drive, you keep your desktop tidy at all times. What’s more, Unclutter can save your clipboard contents so you never lose anything you copy.  

Unclutter mac

3. Free up your Mac's hard drive

Your Mac has more files in its memory than you know of, and a lot of them are purposely kept away from you. This isn't a nefarious plot by Apple; it just doesn't want you to delete necessary files on accident.

A great way to get a holistic view of your Mac's memory is with CleanMyMac X’s Space Lens feature. It scans your entire system and shows you exactly which folders are taking up the most memory on your Mac. You can click on those folders to see the files inside, and select which you'd like to delete, or if you'd rather just clear out entire folders.

Clean mac memory

For duplicate files, there's no better app than Gemini. It's an app focused on finding duplicate files on your Mac, and giving you the freedom to delete them as you like. All you have to do is open Gemini on your Mac, drag a folder onto the app window, and Gemini will scan it automatically, and tell you where your duplicate files are. 

To keep your Mac clean long-term, use Gemini’s Duplicates Monitor, advanced real-time monitoring of your selected folders. You can choose to monitor the Downloads folder, so whenever a new duplicate pops up in there, Gemini will alert you. 

gemini cleaner mac

Many files on your Mac are hidden purposefully, making it difficult to clean up Mac hard drive and memory space thoroughly. To get a complete look at your file system, take the following steps:

  1. Open Finder on your Mac
  2. Highlight 'Macintosh HD' or your user name under "Favorites"
  3. Press Command-Shift-period 

This will surface all of the hidden folders and files on your Mac. The reason these folders remain hidden is they typically don't need to be accessed, and this is a good reason, you should be careful before deleting files or folders in any of those 'hidden' folders.

4. Reduce the number of startup and login items

When you start your Mac, some applications spin up. Many of these applications are necessary; a few may not be. This can slow your Mac down, so it's worth looking into. To check which apps are triggering on startup, do the following: 

  1. Go to the Apple menu 
  2. Click Preferences > Users & Groups
  3. Select Login Items

This shows you which items launch on startup, and allows you to toggle them on or off. Keep in mind this doesn't delete apps, it just stops them from activating when your Mac turns on. A better way is to use CleanMyMac X's Optimization tool, which shows you everything running at launch. It makes it really simple to disable or remove them, too.

5. Delete browser caches

The more you go online, the larger your browser cache will be. Each browser has its own method for deleting its cache; in Safari, you have to have the "Develop" menu active first, where you'll see an "Empty Cache" option. In Chrome, clearing the cache is tucked in the menu. From the menu go to Settings > Privacy and security > Clear browsing data, then select "cached images and files."

6. Use maintenance scripts

Maintenance scripts are tools that require a touch of coding know-how to master, which is why most users don't bother. Casual Mac users with slow computers don't want to bother learning UNIX commands!

Instead, we suggest CleanMyMac X. CleanMyMac X has a "Maintenance" module that runs a few major scripts for you, all of which are focused on helping your Mac run faster and smoother. All you have to do is select "Maintenance" and "Run," then CleanMyMac X takes care of the rest.

maintenance scripts mac cleaner

7. Clean out the Downloads folder

Important part of Mac disc cleanup is deleting unneeded files from Downloads. Even if you think you don’t download much, believe us, it’s super cluttered. The thing is, even when you download an app and move it to Applications, it leaves an installer file in your Downloads. If you use CleanMyMac X, it will clean up Downloads automatically. Otherwise, go to Finder > Downloads and delete files manually.   

8. Remove old iOS backups 

Backups are great, but when you try to understand how to clean up MacBook Pro or Air, you might as well realize that deleting all the backups you’ve created over time might fix the problem. Here’s how to do it: 

  1. In the Apple menu, choose About This Mac
  2. Navigate to Storage > Manage
  3. Click iOS Files in the left tab 
  4. Delete the backups. 

If you use Time Machine to create backups, you might need to consider an alternative that creates fewer backup copies. A good option is ChronoSync Express, a sync and backup tool that can save backups to any connected drive, without cluttering your Mac. 

9. Repair disk permissions 

Disk permissions serve to protect your system files from any third-party interference. Repairing broken permissions can help make certain apps run faster or, if you have trouble deleting files, this could fix it as well. macOS versions released after El Capitan have System Integrity Protection (SIP), which is the feature that repairs disk permissions automatically. 

However, SIP might not always work properly. Plus, with older operating systems, you have to repair permissions manually through Disk Utility, which is a lot of trouble. It’s much faster to use CleanMyMac X > Maintenance > Repair Disk Permissions > Run. 

Repair disk permissions

10. Delete unused apps

How to clean storage on Mac? Delete as many apps as possible? Well, this is clearly a myth, because usually system files occupy much more space on a drive than apps. Still, if you have the apps that you don’t use, getting rid of them is a smart thing to do. 

The problem is, if you just move an app to the Bin, it will leave lots of traces behind. To get rid of the app leftovers, you need to open Finder > Go > Go to folder > ~/Library/Application Support/Your app name, and delete the contents of the folder. Repeat the same in ~/Library/Caches/Your app name. Then, go to ~/Library/Preferences, type the name of your app, and delete app Preferences. 

As you can see, the whole process is pretty cumbersome and there’s no guarantee you’ll get rid of all the leftovers. This is why we recommend to completely uninstall apps with CleanMyMac X. The app has a dedicated app Uninstaller that solves the task. 

11. Reduce clutter

Apple has a native optimization feature that helps with Mac disk cleaning. If you want to learn how to clean Mac manually, this is a good place to start. Choose About This Mac in the Apple menu > Storage > Manage. Click Review Files next to the Reduce Clutter option. Delete particularly large files that take too much space. 

Reduce clutter mac

12. Clean the Bin 

Not the best way to clean up Mac, but definitely the fastest. The files you delete then go to the Bin and continue eating up space. To remove them from the Bin, click and hold the Bin icon > Empty Bin. That’s it! 

13. Find out which apps exhaust your Mac

If you’re reading this because you want to fix slow Mac, here’s a great tip: install App Tamer app so you always know which apps take too much CPU. This will allow you quit or completely uninstall those apps and speed up your Mac. The app can also do background taming of some apps, so your performance will definitely improve. 

App Tamer mac

14. Run Apple Diagnostics 

If you’ve followed all the tips on “clean up hard drive Mac” and optimized perfromance with CleanMyMac X, but your Mac is still really slow, you should run Apple Diagnstics. This is a native hardware test you can run on Apple computers to investigate different types of misbehavior. You can read everything about Apple Diagnostics here


Keeping your Mac running in optimal condition is key, and many of us may not have considered it takes a bit of work. We like to think our Mac will optimize itself, and that's not always true.

This is why we suggest CleanMyMac X, Spotless, Unclutter, App Tamer, ChronoSync Express, and Gemini. They all do a wonderful job of optimizing your Mac well beyond what Apple enabled for users. Each of these apps is also available for free during the seven-day trial period of Setapp, the world's leading suite of productivity apps. Retaining unlimited access to Setapp's 200-app strong suite is only $9.99 per month once the trial ends. A great bargain, and one you should take advantage of today!


How to clean Mac junk files?

The easiest and most thorough cleanup is a CleanMyMac X cleanup. Open the app, choose System Junk, click Scan, then remove the junk files once CleanMyMac X is done scanning. Avoid deleting system files manually because it can result in irreversible changes that might affect your Mac’s performance. 

How to clean files on Mac?

You can use the native storage optimization utility (About This Mac > Storage > Manage). It has some automatic settings you can use, such as removing all the movies you’ve already watched or storing files in iCloud. It also breaks your storage into categories — apps, documents, etc. — so you can declutter your files more easily. 

CleanMyMac X has an automatic cleaner setting embedded into Smart Scan, which lets you delete redundant files automatically. If you need a time saver, that’s our recommendation. 

Why are my photos not optimizing storage on Mac?

First of all, check if the optimization setting is enabled. Go to Photos > Preferences > iCloud and make sure the “Optimize Mac Storage” option is selected. If it still seems like it’s not working, note that full-resolution photos will only be replaced with “lighter” versions if your Mac is running low on space. Otherwise, there’s no need to do that. So it could be the reason why your photos are not optimizing.

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