How to free up RAM on Mac: 8 top tips to try

4 min read

If you're plagued by the "Your system has run out of application memory" message or your Mac is suddenly acting slow and sluggish, you might be wondering how to check the memory on your Mac? Luckily, we can do plenty to resolve this issue and get your Mac running smoothly again. So, let's jump in and look at how to reduce memory usage on your Mac. 

What is RAM?

RAM (Random Access Memory) is essentially your Mac's short-term memory. It temporarily stores everything currently running in real time on your device. RAM storage is considered volatile memory — when there's no power or every time you restart your Mac, it gets cleared.

Signs of excessive RAM usage on Mac

When your Mac is using the majority of your available RAM, you might experience these issues:

  • Spinning beachball 

  • Applications crashing

  • Low on memory message

  • Slow loading times

Read on to find out how to check and clear your Mac's memory.

Check your Mac memory usage

To check your RAM usage:

  1. Open a Finder window and go to Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor.

  2. Now, select the Memory tab.

Check RAM usage on Mac

Activity Monitor shows all of your processes and how much memory each one is taking up. 

At the bottom is a little graphical representation and totals, but what does this all mean?

  • App memory:  Memory being used by apps.
  • Wired memory: Memory used by the system to operate.
  • Compressed: Memory that has been compressed to make more RAM available.
  • Cached files: Memory you can really use.
  • Swap used: Memory used by macOS.

If the graph under memory pressure shows a lot of red and yellow, your Mac is struggling for free memory. We'll show you how to clear memory on your Mac in the next section.

How to lower RAM usage on Mac

Knowing how to clean up memory on Mac is essential. Here are a few tips to keep your Mac optimized.

1. Flush RAM quickly

There are many ways to free up RAM, but if you want an instant solution, try this. CleanMyMac X has a one-button RAM flusher. You can use it anytime, whenever your Mac has a memory overload.

  1. Download CleanMyMac X here.
  2. Once installed, click the small iMac icon in the upper menu bar.

Open CleanMyMac X from the menu bar

In the Dashboard that appears, find the Memory tab and click Free Up. That's it!


2. Restart your Mac

Sounds obvious, but since RAM is temporary memory, when your Mac restarts, it will empty the RAM and any disk caches, so this is actually a pretty quick and easy way of cleaning up memory.

Restart your Mac

3. Check Activity Monitor

Check Activity Monitor and quit applications that are using a lot of RAM. Here's how:

  1. Open a Finder window, then Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor > Memory.

  2. From the list, select any process or app that is hogging memory and click the "X" to quit it.

Use Activity Monitor to reduce RAM usage

4. Tidy your desktop

The more icons you have lying around on your desktop, the more memory is used. Take a look at what's sitting on your desktop right now and have a tidy-up.

We love using stacks to keep desktop in order. The Stacks feature categorizes items and puts them together in neat little piles. Right-click anywhere on your desktop and choose Use Stacks from the menu.

Use stacks to reduce RAM usage

5. Clear up System Junk

To optimize the available RAM you do have, it's a good idea to clean up your system junk, like temporary files, cache, incomplete downloads, or old logs. You can spend hours trawling through folders or you can use a dedicated tool like CleanMyMac X to do all the hard work for you with just a few clicks. Bonus points for this app being notarized by Apple.

Here's how to clean your system junk with CleanMyMac X:

  1. Open the app — download the free version here.

  2. Go to System Junk from the left sidebar.

  3. Click Scan and then Clean.

CleanMyMac X - System junk scan complete

6. Disable login items

Login items are another common source of memory usage. Unknowingly, we can often have several installed that we rarely use, but they hog memory. Here's how to check and remove:

  1. Go to Apple Menu > System Settings > General > Login Items.

  2. Remove any applications you no longer want to launch when your Mac starts: select them in the list and click the "-" button. 

  3. Look through the background apps and disable those you don't need running. 

System Preferences - Login Items

Tip: While in System Settings > General, check the Storage tab. Not having enough space is another reason why your Mac is slow. If you see that you're running out of space, check out this article on how to free up disk space.

7. Update your macOS 

Sometimes, your Mac may use too much RAM because it is running an older macOS version. The thing is that each new macOS comes with not only new features but also performance improvements, so it may be better optimized. Therefore, make sure to update your macOS to the latest version compatible with your Mac. Here's how to do it: 

  1. From the main Apple menu, go to System Settings > General > Software. 
  2. Click Update Now or Restart Now if an update is available. Enabling Automatic updates is also a good idea. 

System Preferences - Software Update

8. Check CPU usage

Finally, you can quit CPU-intensive apps to free up some more RAM. Here's how: 

  1. Once again, open Activity Monitor from Applications > Utilities. 
  2. This time, click CPU and quit apps at the top of the list if you don't use them.

Use Activity Monitor to quit CPU-intensive apps

There we are. Now you know how to check the memory on your Mac and how to clear it manually or using a Mac memory cleaner. See you back here soon for more great tips. 

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