How to free up space on a Mac

12 min read

These days, modern Macs come equipped with powerful and fast SSDs (solid state drives), but compared to the older HDDs (hard disk drives), there's no denying they can be limited in capacity. Even if you get a Mac with 2TB of storage, unfortunately, it is finite, and there is no way to expand it. Therefore, to avoid getting uncomfortable with a slow and clogged Mac, it is better to start freeing up some disk space before you see the annoying "disk is almost full" message.

If your Mac is struggling to install new macOS updates or perform simple tasks, it's time to take some action. We'll show you how to check what's weighing your Mac down and share 10 great, easy-to-follow tricks for freeing up space and optimizing your device for smooth performance. So, let's dive in.

How to check and manage storage on a Mac

We know you're eager to get to the juicy tips on how to clear disk space on Mac, but before we do, you first need to know how to check your available storage and identify what is consuming all the space on your Mac — then you can use the tips most relevant to you to free up space.

So, here's a quick reminder of how to check your storage space:

  • From the main Apple menu, go to System Settings > General > Storage tab.
  • Alternatively, click Apple Menu > About This Mac > More Info > Storage Settings.

The colorful graph gives you an overview of your used and available storage space. Simply move your pointer across the different colors to see how much space each category uses. The light gray color indicates free, available storage space.

System Preferences - Storage

How much free space should I have?

Good question. MacBooks start showing signs of slow performance when around 85% of your storage space is in use. Experts recommend a minimum of 10% of the overall storage free to allow your Mac to run correctly, but the more you can free up, the better it is in general for your Mac's performance.

Before you clear disk space on your Mac, now might be a good time to back up your data, just in case you remove something accidentally. Then, when you're ready to start, head below for some useful tips.

How to free up storage space on Mac

1. Utilize Apple's built-in tools

Top of the how to clear storage on Mac list is to enable and utilize Apple's built-in storage management recommendations. Now, this will not solve all your storage troubles, but it's a great place to start, and when it comes to storage space, every little bit helps.

How to access Apple's storage management tool:

  • Once again, check storage from the main Apple menu following the steps outlined above. 
  • Under the storage overview — a colored bar with a breakdown of categories of what's occupying your disk space — take a look at the Recommendations section.
  • Here, you can enable various options to optimize your storage.

Store in iCloud: When enabled, this will store your files, videos, messages, and photos currently saved on your Desktop and Documents folder to your iCloud Drive. 

Optimize Storage: When enabled, this will automatically remove watched Apple TV movies and shows. And only keep recent email attachments.

Empty Bin Automatically: When enabled, this will automatically delete any items stored in your Trash bin for more than 30 days.

2. Check your Downloads folder

Has your Downloads folder become a dumping ground for random folders or a forgotten large files graveyard? Out of sight, out of mind, right? When people ask how to clear up space on Mac, they don't always automatically think of checking their Downloads folder. But it's surprising what you can find — hoards of useless DMG files, ZIP archives, and unnecessary large files. Take some time to sort through yours. Here's how:

  • Open Finder > Downloads.
  • Sort by Size to see all the files, starting with the largest files at the top.
  • Select the items you no longer require and send them to your Trash or Bin. As always, empty Trash when you're finished.

Downloads folder

3. Remove all your system junk

You can quickly free up space on Mac by removing all your bloated system junk. Think of things like cache files, system logs, temporary files, unused folders, or broken items and apps. This is the kind of stuff that easily builds up and consumes tons of gigabytes of precious storage space.

The problem with removing system junk manually is that this kind of clutter isn't located all in one simple place — it takes some detective work to hunt it all down, and many Mac users just don't have the time or patience to do it.

Thankfully, there are some really great purpose-built, third-party tools like CleanMyMac X — an Apple notarized application.

Its powerful System Junk module can perform an instant, in-depth system scan, unearthing all your clutter from all the hard-to-reach places in just a few clicks of your mouse. The results are instant — not only will you reclaim a serious amount of space, but you will also optimize your Mac and boost its performance all in one go. Here's how to get rid of junk files and reclaim more space:

  • Open the app or try the free version here.
  • From the sidebar, click System Junk.
  • Click Scan, wait for a moment, and when complete, click Clean.

CleanMyMac X - System junk scan complete

How much system junk did you find?

4. Consider external storage

If you have a large photo or video library on your Mac, moving these media files to an external storage device is another relatively simple way to free up space on a Mac. Here's how:

  • Make sure the external device has enough space and is correctly connected to your MacBook.
  • Ensure the Photos app is completely closed.
  • Open Finder, and from the top menu, select Go > Home > Pictures — by default, your Photos library is stored here.
  • Now, drag your Photos library to your external storage device while pressing the Command key. This will ensure your files are moved, not copied. 
  • Once the transfer is complete, open the Photos library on your external device to view it. If, for some reason, the Photo Library still remains on your Mac, drag it to your Trash, then empty it.

How to consider external storage on Mac

It's also worth mentioning here that if you use iCloud Photos, you will need to indicate this new location as the new system Photo library. Check out this article from Apple on how to do that.

5. Remove unused applications

Another simple way to clear up space on a Mac is by uninstalling any applications you no longer use. Here's one of the quickest ways to remove apps manually, including all of their temporary files, hidden leftover files, and folders:

  1. Open a Finder window and find Applications in the sidebar.
  2. Locate here the app you want to remove and drag it to your Trash or Bin.
  3. Finally, empty your Trash.

How to remove unused applications on Mac

Many people think once you've deleted an app, it's gone, but that is not the case. This method doesn't ensure all traces of the app have left your device — hidden app leftovers will still be lingering on your Mac, and it is precisely this kind of digital waste that takes up space. How to search app leftovers and remove them, freeing up a few gigabytes of space:

  • In a new Finder window from the top menu, select Go while holding down the Option key.
  • Select Library from the list.
  • Locate the search bar top right and input the name of the application you just deleted. To ensure your device searches in the correct location, select the Library folder.
  • Locate all the related files and move them to your Trash, emptying it afterward.

Application library on Mac

This will ensure every single app leftover is removed from your device, saving substantial disk space. 

6. Remove old and large Mail attachments

If you've been using Apple's native Mail application for a long time, chances are that old and large mail attachments are consuming gigabytes worth of space on your Mac.

How to manually remove mail attachments:

  1. Open the Mail application, select a folder where you want to locate mail attachments and proceed with removing email attachments.

  2. From the top menu, select View > Sort By > Size.

  3. The biggest messages will now be located at the top.

  4. Sort through your mail, and when you find an attachment you want to delete, from the top menu, select Message > Remove Attachments.

  5. Repeat.

How to remove old and large Mail attachments

Note: The attachments you remove following the steps above will be deleted from the server, meaning you cannot access them again if needed. It is true for both IMAP and POP. However, with IMAP, you can set the Mail app in a way to keep attachments that you have saved. Read more here.

To save space in the future, you can adjust your Mail settings to not automatically download attachments, which will help save space. Here's how:

  1. Open the Mail app, and from the top menu, select Mail > Settings > Accounts.

  2. Select your Mail account in the sidebar, then press Account Settings.

  3. Next to Download attachments, select either Recent or None from the dropdown.

Mail account Settings

You could use the CleanMyMac X app that we mentioned in tip 3 to clear up email attachments automatically. It has a smart Mail Attachments module, which could do this for you in no time at all. Here's how to use it:

  • Open the app and select Mail Attachments.
  • Click Scan.
  • Once complete, click Clean.

CleanMyMac X - Mail Attachments module

Well, there you go. That's another simple tip if you wonder how to free disk space on Mac, but don't worry, we're not finished yet. Here are some other great tips.

7. Delete your old iPhone and iPad backups

Another straightforward way to answer how to make space on Mac is by removing old, unnecessary iPhone and iPad backups. These files notoriously consume significant disk space, as they include weighty items like movies, music, and images. Luckily, it's simple to remove them; let's take a look. How to locate and delete old iOS device backups:

  • Select the main Apple menu (little Apple icon in the menu bar) > System Settings > General > Storage.
  • Under the Recommendations section, locate iOS Files in the list.
  • Select the small information icon to the right to see a list of all your device backups stored on your Mac.
  • Select all the backup files and click Delete.

    How to locate and delete old iOS device backups

    If you'd rather see what's stored in these folders before you remove them, here's another method that allows you to review the content first.

    • Open Finder, and from the top menu, select Go > Go To Folder.
    • Type in the below text:
      ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup
    • Review content before sending items to your Trash or Bin.

    8. Review the contents of your Desktop

    If you use Stacks, you might be alarmed to discover what kind of clutter has accumulated in those nice tidy piles. Here's how to check:

    • Right-click anywhere on your Desktop and click Use Stacks.
    • Once your Desktop contents have been revealed, take time to sort through your files and folders, moving any items you no longer need to your Trash or Bin. Empty it afterward.
    • Enable Stacks again by repeating step 1.

      9. Find and delete duplicate files

      One more tip for how to free up storage on Mac is to locate all your duplicate files and folders.

      It's possible that over time, you've unintentionally created copies of documents or downloaded the same file more than once and simply forgotten about it. 

      This can be a tricky process, which does require some patience, but unnecessary duplicates will take up valuable space, so it's worth taking the time to locate and remove them.

      Let's start with the easy bit, removing duplicate video and music files:

      1. Open the Music app.

      2. From the main menu, select File > Library.

      3. Now, click the Option key and press Show Exact Duplicate Items.

      If you have duplicates, you'll see them in a list, and you can simply delete any you find.

      Unfortunately, for all other file types, it's not that simple; it's a bit of a time-consuming process, but let's take a look:

      • Open Finder, and from the top menu, click File > New Smart Folder.
      • From the top right corner, click the "+" icon.
      • From the first dropdown box, select Kind. Then in the next one, select your file type. For this example, we are using PDF.
      • Now, select List View and sort your items by name — this way, you can easily see duplicate files.
      • When you find duplicates, simply send them to your Trash or Bin.

      How to find and duplicate files on Mac

      You'll need to repeat this process multiple times, depending on the various different file types you want to search for. It's a bit long-winded, but as you can see from the image above, it's worth it.

      When deleting duplicates using this method, it's also worth checking the Date Created column to ensure they are true duplicates. 

      10. Remove unnecessary language files

      The apps we download and install come with varying extra language files, many of which most of us would never use. A good example of this is Spotify coming with over 50 language files. These files consume valuable disk space, so if you're not planning on using them, it's a good idea to remove them. How to locate and remove unnecessary application language files:

      1. Open Finder > Applications and select an app. In this example, we'll use Spotify.
      2. Right-click and select from the list Show Package Contents.
      3. Now, press Contents > Resources folder.
      4. Language files end with the ".lproj" extension, and the two letters at the start represent the language, for example: 
        en — English 
        es — Spanish 
        de — German
      5. Send any unrequired language files to your Trash or Bin. As always, ensure you empty Trash afterward and repeat this process for all your apps.

      How to remove unnecessary language files

      Note: Hunting down all of the unnecessary language files may require too much effort since you will have to check Package Contents for all apps. If you do not want to do it manually, you can use CleanMyMac X's System Junk module we described above — among all the various types of system junk it detects, CleanMyMac X also removes language files you do not need. 

      Well, we've reached the end. Now, you know exactly how to free up disk space on a Mac. Without all the extra weight from temporary files, system junk, cache files, useless language resources, and old email attachments, your Mac should feel lighter and perform way better. Be sure to check back soon for more tricks, tips, and how-to guides for all things Mac.

      Frequently Asked Questions 

      1. What are the most common space eaters on Mac? 

      Usually, these are system junk files (including user cache), unused applications, and old iOS backups. You'd be surprised to find out that they can occupy up to 30 GB of space — sometimes even more. 

      2. How to quickly reclaim space on Mac? 

      The fastest way to free up space on Mac is to clear out the Downloads folder, delete apps you do not need or use, and move unnecessary files to external storage. 

      3. How to safely free up space on Mac? 

      The key here is to double-check everything you send to Trash or Bin, especially if you remove files from the Library and delete other system data.

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