How to delete Time Machine backups on your Mac

8 min read

Keeping your Mac tidy not only keeps it fast and performant, but it may also be necessary. Older Macs – and Macs without a ton of memory or storage – benefit from fewer files and folders kept in its memory.

What’s stored on your Mac has various forms and formats. Apps, files, and folders are the general categories, but it’s important to understand everything stored on your Mac takes up a bit of the storage on your device. Even if you store items in iCloud, your Mac needs to reserve a bit of space to read those files.

One of the major ways users lose storage space on their Macs is via Time Machine. The backup manager for Mac does a decent job of removing older backups that occupy valuable storage space, but you can do far better. 

In this article we’ll tell you how to delete backups from Time Machine, why you should delete old Time Machine backups regularly, how deleting old Time Machine backups speed your Mac up, and which apps are better than Time Machine for managing backups.

What is Time Machine for Mac

Time Machine is Apple’s method for managing backups on your Mac. Each Mac comes with Time Machine built into macOS.

Time Machine is a simple, effective way for all Mac owners to create and manage backups on their machine. Behind the scenes, Time Machine creates a “snapshot” of your Mac’s entire system at various points in time. The reasoning for this is simple: with regular backups, you’re less likely to lose valuable files and folders. 

Think of Time Machine like insurance for your digital life. If you’re working on an important file, a Time Machine backup will save the work you’ve completed at the point the backup (or snapshot, if you prefer) is created. Should your Mac encounter issues, or the app you’re using lose the file entirely, accessing the backup with that saved file can help. 

By accessing an old backup, you may discover the file you need, and can pick up right where you left off. This is also handy if you deleted an app that’s no longer visible in the Mac App Store, or accidentally delete a file you end up needing.

A core issue with Time Machine is understanding how to delete Time Machine backups is difficult. Time Machine wants to manage backups for you, so figuring out how to delete old backups from Time Machine is not a process many can figure out on their own. You can save files to an external drive to save storage space on your Mac, though this may still require management of the external drive.

You may not want to back everything up, either. Most allow Time Machine to back their Mac up routinely to avoid losing photos or important files stored in specific locations on the Mac, which is why knowing how to delete old Time Machine backups is important. But there’s a better way!

Get Backup Pro via Setapp gives you far more control over your backups than Time Machine. With Get Backup Pro, you can back files and folders up on a schedule of your choosing, to a location you prefer. Rather than hope Time Machine does its job, make sure your files are backed up with Get Backup Pro.

You can customize the schedule for your backups, and create several unique schedules for specific purposes. You may want to back work files up daily at the end of your work day, and back your photos folder(s) up weekly. Perhaps you’d like a full backup of your Mac done weekly – or daily. Whatever you want, Get Backup Pro has you covered.

All backups created with Get Backup Pro can be compressed, saving you up to 60 percent storage compared to unzipped backups.

We love the ability to control backups on a deep, granular level, and the ability to automatically delete backups after a set duration. With a few seconds work, you can create a backup schedule that happens weekly with backups over a month old deleted forever. Compress those backups and they take up virtually no space on your Mac! 

backup mac get backup pro

Time Machine is known to lose files from time to time, too. Keep in mind files aren’t lost forever, it’s just that your Mac can’t locate them in a backup. Consider this: you were working on an important file you’re positive was included in a Time Machine backup, but your Mac can’t seem to locate the file so you can continue working on it. You don’t want to revert everything back to that Time Machine backup – but you need that file!

This is where Disk Drill comes in handy. Disk Drill helps you find and recover lost or deleted files of all sizes and formats. Simply run a quick scan of your Mac to find files you thought were lost forever.

Disk Drill filters recoverable files, too. It tells you how many photo, video, audio, and document files are able to be retrieved. You’re also able to filter by file size and a timeframe for when files were modified. If the file you’re looking to recover is over 5MB and was edited in the past week, filtering for those results will help Disk Drill find it in a matter of seconds!

Best of all, you can search specific locations with Disk Drill – like a Time Machine backup. All searches within Disk Drill are saved as “sessions,” so you can always return to Disk Drill and find exactly what you’re searching for quickly. 

find losе files mac disk drill

Why would you want to delete Time Machine backups

It may seem a bit counterintuitive to delete backups, but there are some great reasons to manage old Time Machine backups:

You need to save space

If your Mac is running out of storage space, deleting Time Machine backups is a simple way to free up space on your Mac. Saving files locally to your Mac keeps them readily available for use anywhere, but old Time Machine backups can get in the way if you’re low on space.

Manage an external drive

Some Time Machine backups are stored on external drives; this may keep your Mac’s memory more open, but you can still eat up plenty of space on an external drive. Time Machine manages backups based on available storage, so the more space you give it, the more backups it will store.

In that sense, the size of an external drive doesn’t matter if Time Machine is just going to eat available space up with backups! It’s especially frustrating if you’re using the same disk to store backups of specific files and Time Machine is reducing space for other things.

Deleting Time Machine backups on an external drive allows you to manage the available storage on your external drive so you can save everything you want, where you want, when you want.

Nuke files forever

There are times when you want to get rid of a file forever. If you’re positive a file really never needs to be accessed again, deleting a Time Machine backup where it may be housed is a quick and simple way to delete the file forever.

Get rid of disruptive apps

When apps stop working properly, they can wreak havoc on your Mac. Reverting to an older Time Machine backup may resurface the app on your Mac, causing issues all over again. Deleting an older Time Machine backup eliminates access to the troublesome app, giving you peace of mind.

Should you delete old Time Machine backups?

One thing to note is you don’t have to manage Time Machine backups manually. Your Mac deletes the oldest Time Machine backup automatically. If you’re not running low on space, it’s fine to let your Mac manage backups accordingly. 

Understand your Mac doesn’t understand why you may want or need additional space. If you’re running powerful apps or gaming, it may be advantageous to manage storage space on your own. Similarly, if you’re just not keen to let your Mac manage its own internal storage, deleting old Time Machine backups yourself is a simple way to manage available storage.

Keep in mind deleting Time Machine backups will remove files associated with that snapshot forever, so proceed with caution.

How to delete backups from Time Machine

Time Machine can store files in two locations: locally on your internal storage, and on an external drive. We’ll show you how to delete old Time Machine backups from both locations.

First consider why you want to delete backups, though. If you’re just looking to free up space, there’s a better way to understand why you have limited space on your Mac with CleanMyMac X.

CleanMyMac X’s Space Lens feature gives you an impressive overview of your Mac’s internal storage, including which folders and files are taking up the most space. The Large and Old Files module discovers large files by the date they were last accessed. It’s the best way to view which files are taking up unnecessary space on your Mac, and CleanMyMac X allows you to quickly delete several files at once if you want to free up storage in a snap. 

remove large files mac cleanmymac x

Deleting files stored on an external drive using Time Machine

There are two ways to manage Time Machine backups on external drives: via Finder and heading into Time Machine directly. First, we’ll show you how it’s done with Time Machine:

  1. Open Time Machine on your Mac
  2. Scroll through the Time Machine backups and find the snapshot you’d like to delete
  3. Click the ellipsis icon in the snapshot Finder view
  4. Choose “delete backup”

Time Machine is great for backing up a single Mac. Those with multiple Macs, especially in an office setting, may find it necessary to sync files across devices. When a Time Machine backup is deleted, you may delete an app someone else needed access to. Rather than risk disaster, get ChronoSync Express.

ChronoSync Express helps you create automatic file syncing schedules for multiple devices. So long as ChronoSync Express is loaded on every Mac, iPhone, or iPad you want to sync files with, devices will have the latest versions of all synced files saved locally. 

You can create customized sync schedules that suit your needs. After you create a backup of your folder with Get Backup Pro, you can sync those folders to all of your machines! It’s the perfect combination. 

sync files mac chronosync express

Deleting files stored on an external drive with the help of Finder

To remove backups via Finder, follow these steps:

  1. Open Finder on your Mac
  2. Click on the external drive where backups are stored (Note: All locations are found on the left side of the app window

    find time machine backup finder

  3. Select the location in the external drive where your backups are stored
  4. Choose the Time Machine snapshot you’d like to delete
  5. Right-click the file and select “Move to Trash” 

    delete time machine backup finder trash

  6. Right click the Trash icon in your Mac’s dock
  7. Select “Empty Trash”

Conclusion

Deleting old backups created by Time Machine is a quick, easy way to manage storage space on your Mac or an external drive. It’s also a good way to lose files you may need to access later on. Time Machine doesn’t provide a view into snapshots, so there’s no real way to know what you’re deleting or which skeletons you may be digging up!

These are all reasons CleanMyMac X, ChronoSync, Disk Drill, and Get Backup Pro are safer, better alternatives. You’re able to back up the specific files and folders you want, discover which files may be the real reason your Mac is operating so slowly, or its storage is limited, sync files across multiple devices, and create backups that are precisely what you want them to be. These apps provide ultimate control over your Mac!

Best of all, these four – along with over 200 others – are available for free via a seven-day trial of Setapp for Mac. With a free trial of Setapp, you’ll have unlimited access to the entire catalog of productivity apps for your Mac, all free to use and peruse during your week-long trial.

And when the trial period is over, continued access to the massive (and growing!) suite of apps within Setapp is only $9.99 per month. An incredible bargain for so many apps, so don’t wait. Get Setapp and start managing your backups now!

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