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How to hide icons on Mac

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9 min read
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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 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

Another handy tool to hide your macOS desktop icons is Almighty. The app lives in your menu bar, and all you have to do to hide or show your desktop items is click the app icon in your menu bar and find the respective menu option:

almighty

In the screenshot, the setting is set to show desktop icons. In order to hide them, just toggle the setting off. Since this setting is off by default, you’ll likely need to toggle it on and back to off to get your desktop icons to actually hide after you use this tool on your first install of Almighty.

And while we are on the topic — Almighty is actually a powerful Mac configurator that helps you adjust much more than just the way your desktop looks. The app has handy switchers for a number of Mac features. From clearing out your clipboard contents to scheduling a shutdown, Almighty really is as mighty as the name might suggest. So you might start using it to remove icons from desktop and end up configuring dozens more Mac settings with it!

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 com.apple.finder 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 com.apple.finder CreateDesktop true and then killall Finder again.

Hide with a period

Now that you know how to get rid of icons on your Mac desktop, you can also use Terminal to hide them in Finder. Here is a simple set of commands that stops your files from showing up automatically in Finder:

  1. Launch Terminal from Applications > Utilities.
  2. Go to the folder where your file is located by typing in Terminal the cd command followed by the path to it, e.g. cd Downloads. Hit Enter.
  3. Type mv [name of your file] .[name of your file], e.g. mv file .file. Remember to include the file extension. Hit Enter. To reverse the change, type in mv .[name of your file] [name of your file].

This will work for your items in Finder, but also for desktop. So if you are wondering how to hide folders or files on Mac desktop, this way can be one of your go-to solutions for individual icons.

As for how to remove icons from desktop Mac in bulk, you’ll need a more efficient solution — like one of the tools we are recommending a little later in this guide.

And if you want to know how to hide apps on Mac desktop, rejoice as this method works for apps as well, just add .app at the end of your app name.

Set the hidden flag

One more way to manually hide your files or folders on a Mac is with the hidden flag.

  1. Launch Terminal from Applications > Utilities.
  2. Type in chflags hidden . (Yes, that’s a space at the end, remember to include it or the command won’t work.)
  3. Drag and drop the item you want to hide into Terminal, which results in the exact file or folder path appearing in your command line. Hit Enter. To undo, type in chflags nohidden [filepath]. (Omit the square brackets.)

This will help you hide and unhide files, folders, and apps.

Change the visibility attribute to invisible

Another way to hide an icon on your Mac is by changing its visibility attribute with the help of Terminal commands.

  1. Launch Terminal from Applications > Utilities.
  2. Type in setfile -a V (also a space at the end), then drag and drop your item onto Terminal to get the full file path. Hit Enter.

Note that setfile command requires developer tools, so if you haven’t used them on your Mac yet, the download can take a while.

To undo, use setfile -a v  command.

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 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 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

Hide your information in System Folders

Now, this one is a little weird, but you can actually hide files in system folders.

  1. Open Finder > Go.
  2. Press Option key to reveal hidden Library menu option in your dropdown and click on it.
  3. Once in Library, just create a new folder for your items and save them there.

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.

Spotless

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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