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How To Clear System Storage On Mac

7 min read

Storage space on your Mac is important, and can be an issue when you run out. Modern Macs come with Solid State Drives (SSD) that are really fast and durable, but with increased cost. That means many more users have Macs with lower onboard storage these days since the added cost of a MacBook is not affordable to some.

Managing your Mac storage is typically pretty simple – until you encounter system storage. We’ll show you what Mac system storage is, how to manage it, answer that burning question “how do i clear my system storage,” and why it’s a good idea to keep a close tab on your mac’s setting and storage space.

What is “System” Storage

Let’s first examine your Mac’s overall storage. Your Mac or MacBook system storage can be found here, too:

  1. On your Mac, click the Apple logo on the top left corner of the menu bar
  2. Select “About This Mac” from the drop down menu
  3. Select “Storage” in the popup window
  4. Select “Manage”

mac system storage

At the bottom of the window you’ll see two storage options you can’t touch: Other, and System. The “system” listed is system storage – but what is it?

In system storage Mac saves a lot of seemingly random things. There are drivers for apps and services, fonts, desktop pictures – all kinds of things. Mac system taking up space, when put into context, is totally understandable. These files are often necessary, and deleting them can wreak havoc elsewhere in your system if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Why does this storage take up huge disk space on a Mac?

Simply put, these are files your Mac deems necessary, and wants to keep you from accessing and deleting. Let’s be honest: if you took a look at these files, you likely wouldn’t know what many of them were, and would be compelled to delete them.

So, Apple tucks them in a partition named ‘system’ that prevents you from directly accessing system storage on your Mac so you don’t mistakenly delete important files.

How to clear system storage on Mac

Now that you know what system storage is, you’re likely still asking yourself “how do I clear my system storage?” We’ve got you covered.

Remove Time Machine Backups

We know, you think Time MAchine backups are stored on an external drive – and you’re right! Yor Mac also keeps a copy of some backups on your machine in case your external drive isn’t available, or is corrupted. This is a safety feature meant to enable backups in almost any circumstance.

While Time Machine backups are meant to be deleted automatically, your Mac doesn’t always do a great job of this. If you really want to delete them yourself, you’ll have to dig into Terminal. Here’s how you can delete Time Machine backups yourself on the Mac:

  1. Launch the Terminal app on your MacWhen Terminal appears, type this command: tmutil listlocalsnapshotdates
  2. Press ‘return’ on your Mac’s keyboard (Note: You’ll see a list of Time Machine backups by date populate in Terminal after step three.)
  3. Type this command into Terminal: tmutil deletelocalsnapshots [DATE] (Note: Instead of typing [DATE] use the date of the Time Machine backup you want to delete as it’s shown in Terminal.)
  4. Press ‘return’ on your Mac’s keyboard

You can repeat these steps for as many backups as you like. 

Get Backup Pro may be better suited for your backup needs. It allows you to automate backups, just like Time Machine, but gives you more control over what’s backed up, how often, and to where. It also doesn’t keep a backup stored locally on your Mac, giving you more storage space for things that matter more.

Creating a backup with Get Backup Pro is also really simple. Here’s how to create a full backup of your Mac using the app:

  1. Open Get Backup Pro on your Mac
  2. Select the ‘plus’ icon on the bottom left corner of the window
  3. Name your ‘project’ (Note: A ‘project’ in Get Backup Pro is a backup. You can choose to have multiple types of backups. As an example, you may want to backup your photos library daily, but your entire Mac weekly.)
  4. Under “Backup destination” select “Disk Image” from the first menu
  5. Select the location you want to save your backup in the second menu
  6. Select “OK”

With system taking up disk Mac computers don’t do a great job of managing the space when your storage runs low, but having your own backup system is how to reduce system storage on Mac.

get backup pro

Optimize your storage

Okay, let’s get back into our storage section. Follow these instructions again:

  1. On your Mac, click the Apple logo on the top left corner of the menu bar
  2. Select “About This Mac” from the drop down menu
  3. Select “Storage” in the popup window
  4. Select “Manage”

At the top of the window you’ll see a section named “Recommendations.” These are Apple’s preferred methods for earning you more onboard storage space – but what does it all mean?

The first suggestion is for you to move your files and folders to iCloud, which places your stuff in the cloud rather than hosting it on your Mac. Other options have an “Optimize” button, which is a means to keep only the most current and relevant pieces of data on your machine.

As an example, we ‘optimized’ Apple TV, and it offered to remove any shows that have been watched from the Mac. A great way to tidy up lingering files you no longer need, certainly.

optimize mac storage mac

How to clean system storage on Mac with ease?

Remember that system storage holds important files, so don’t delete something just because you don’t understand what it is or why it’s on your Mac. 

When you’re ready to start clearing your system storage, CleanMyMac X is the absolute best app you can have on your Mac. This ultra powerful app has a ton of features, and can clean your Mac up on a scheduled basis, fleeting unnecessary files and emptying the trash – it even monitors your Mac for malware, and makes critical speed improvements via its Smart Scan feature.

System storage can be managed with CleanMyMac X, too. In the Space Lens module, you’ll see your system storage represented as a folder. Here’s how to access it:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X on your Mac
  2. Select “Space Lens” from the left side of the window
  3. Select “Run” at the bottom of the window

When the app is done running, you’ll see a folder named “System.” This is your system storage, and you can look through it to see what’s in there. Most of it will likely be unavailable for deletion, but it’s a way to view files in system storage, too.

optimize mac

The best way to monitor your system

Monitoring your Mac is key to success, too, and there’s no better app for this than iStat Menus. The app lives in your menu bar, and provides quick-look access to your Mac’s performance, including CPU usage and memory availability. If you think your Mac may be filling up, iStat Menus can show you exactly how much storage space you have, including how it’s being occupied by folders of system settings. It has additional menus that display details about your memory in pie charts or graphs, including a real time view of how your memory is being used by your Mac.

istat menus mac


System storage is largely inaccessible, but you can manage your memory in other ways. Deleting backups is the clearest path toward reducing your system storage capacity, and a massive help when you need to free up space. It’s also a great idea to monitor and manage your Mac memory routinely.

Happily, the three best apps for backing up, managing, and monitoring your Mac – Get Backup Pro, CleanMyMac X, and iStat Menus – are all available for free during a seven day trial of Setapp, an incredible suite of nearly 200 productivity apps for your Mac. After your trial ends, access to the full Setapp suite of apps is only $9.99 per month.

It’s an incredible deal, so why wait? Give Setapp a try today!

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