How to hide icons on Mac

6 min read

Since the release of the graphical user interface (GUI) on the first Mac, the desktop has been playing a prominent role in our everyday computer interactions. After all, it’s the most convenient and visible spot for our files.

It’s likely that you save most of the content you download from the web on the desktop and if you ever need not to forget about something important you put it there too. There are even various get things done (GTD) wallpapers that turn your desktop into a task checklist! 

The problem, however, is that the desktop tends to get cluttered fairly quickly and no one has the time to constantly clean it up. So what do you do when you need your Mac to look presentable? 

Why Hide Desktop Icons Mac Is Displaying? 

Sometimes you need to remove icon from desktop Mac temporarily. You might be about to give a presentation or you might simply want to take a screenshot without any distractions. In both cases, moving icons into other folders would unnecessarily take too much time. Especially once you know how to hide icons on Mac with ease. 

Here are a few options to remove icon from desktop Mac. 

How to hide desktop icons Mac Terminal

You probably know that Terminal is one of the most powerful apps on your Mac. In fact, you can control any aspect of your Mac via Terminal commands. For many, though, Terminal could seem confusing and unapproachable, so it’s better to learn it one command at a time. 

To hide your Mac desktop icons, for example: 

  1. Launch Terminal from Applications ➙ Utilities
  2. Type defaults write CreateDesktop false
  3. Press Enter
  4. Now restart Finder by typing killall Finder and hitting Enter once again

Hide icons using Terminal

The icons are gone! Now you can do whatever is on your mind and once you want the icons to return, simply type defaults write CreateDesktop true and then killall Finder again.

How to remove icon from desktop Mac Finder

If you’d rather not get into the weeds with Terminal and want a simpler solution for hiding desktop icons, you can also use Finder preferences. Note that this will not hide all the icons, but just those that associate with external devices and tend to appear automatically: hard disks, external disks, CDs, DVDs, iPods, and connected servers. 

Here’s how to hide icons with Finder: 

  1. While on your desktop, go to the menu bar and choose Finder ➙ Preferences (⌘ + ,) 
  2. Switch to the General tab
  3. Uncheck all the items

Hide external devices' icons from desktop

Now your desktop should look much cleaner. But is there a quicker way to remove icon from desktop Macs?

How to hide desktop icons for presentations

Most of the time, when you need to remove desktop icons quickly, it’s because you have to present something on your Mac. But it’s not only icons you have to worry about — you can get easily distracted by push notifications and active apps. 

PliimPRO is a unique presentation solution to rule over any distractions. This utility lives in your menu bar and, with just one click, hides your desktop icons, disables notifications, removes active apps, mutes speakers, and even changes your wallpaper to something more neutral. So once you go into a presentation mode using a simple toggle in PliimPRO, you can be certain that there would be no surprises ahead. 

Presentation mode

How to remove icons to take a screenshot

The second most popular use case for hiding your desktop icons is taking a screenshot — when you’re trying to show something specific on your Mac, no one needs to know what kind of files are gathering dust on your wallpaper. You could, of course, manually move your files and then use a screen-grabbing tool, but why not combine all in one? 

CleanShot X is one of the most powerful tools out there for taking screenshots and recording your Mac screen. Capture a given area, an app window, or all of your screen. This utility can even take a long scrolling picture of a website or be put on a timer. Finally, it can record your screen at any time and automatically upload the results to the cloud. Even more impressive is that all this functionality fits neatly into a single menu bar icon. And to hide desktop icons, just select Hide Desktop Icons at any time! 

Hide and show desktop icons with CleanShot X app

How to hide all desktop icons with one click

If you don’t tend to present that often and the default Mac screenshot is enough for your needs, you might just want a straightforward button to click for all the desktop icons to disappear. 

One Switch is exactly the solution you need. This lightweight app stays in your menu bar and brings all the most popular but hard to find features right up to your fingertips. You can click to hide icons, connect to your favorite Bluetooth device, turn on Dark Mode, keep your Mac awake indefinitely, and much more — One Switch accomplishes it all seamlessly. 

Hide desktop icons with One Switch app

Bonus: How to clean up your Mac desktop

As we all know, figuring out how to hide icons on Mac doesn’t actually solve the problem of having a cluttered desktop. Sooner or later, the number of icons will become unmanageable and force us to clean it all up. But what are some faster ways to do so? 

The most basic way of organizing your desktop is by using Stacks — a feature that goes back as far as Mac OS X Leopard. Stacks essentially groups your desktop icons either by kind, data added, date modified, tags, etc. And if another file would match your grouping later on, it will be automatically added to the stack, helping keep everything clean. 

To use Stacks, simply right-click anywhere on your desktop and select Use Stacks. To undo, repeat the action. 

organize desktop icons by using Stacks

If you find Stacks a bit limited in its functionality, there are more advanced apps out there to help keep you organized. 

Spotless takes the idea for Stacks further by letting you sort your files via rules. For example, you can create a rule to place all your PNG files with the word “screenshot” in them into their own folder. Now every time you drag and drop a selection of files onto the app’s pop-up drawer in the Menu bar, your files get organized and placed into their designated folder. You can also schedule tidying up tasks, automating your desktop management.


But what if you could not only organize icons but also your thoughts at the same time? 

Unclutter is a brilliant utility that acts as a temporary storage for your files, clipboard data, and any random notes you need to remember. As you activate Unclutter from your menu bar, it slides down from the top of your desktop and offers you to hide any files you want or jot down a note for later reference. It can even sync your files across multiple Macs via Dropbox, including anything you’ve copied to your clipboard!

Unclutter app

As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways to keep your desktop clean, which also means there’s no excuse not to! If you present often, arm yourself with PliimPRO; if you take screenshots, get CleanShot X; for one-click icon hiding, download One Switch. And if that isn’t enough, automate your desktop with Spotless and always keep your files handy with Unclutter. 

Best of all, PliimPRO, CleanShot X, One Switch, Spotless, and Unclutter are all available to you for free during a seven-day trial of Setapp, a platform with more than 200 outstanding Mac apps for every use case you can imagine. Try them all today at no cost and make your Mac routines truly unstoppable.

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