11 Handy Tips and Tools to Keep Your Mac Clean

Last Updated: December 10, 2015

People say that cleanliness is next to godliness, and most of us would agree with that. But from the working-of-a-computer perspective, cleanliness is also next to speediness and more-storage-spaciness (yes, I made that last word up). There are third-party applications made to help you keep your Mac clean, but first let’s look at several cleaning tips without using external tools.

Look Ma, No External Tools!

Some say that the rule of thumb to keep your system running smoothly is to let at least 15% of your storage free. So, the first things to do is to delete unused files and folders. You can do this by dragging and dropping them into the trash.

However, this is just half of the battle. The other half is regularly emptying up the trash since your Mac won’t clean up the trash unless you told it to. This second step is implemented to make sure that users can recover accidentally deleted files from the trash.

1. Shortcuts to the Trash

You can speed up these deleting and emptying process by using keyboard shortcuts:

  • After selecting the files and folders that you want to delete, use Command + Delete to send them to the Trash.
  • Then use Command + Shift + Delete to empty the Trash.

But please be careful in using the combination. The protection is there for a reason. After using these keyboard shortcuts for some time, you might get used to it so much that there’s no stopping you from accidentally delete items that you still need.

2. Tidy Up the Desktop

Aside from the obvious Documents and Download folders, another target that you should regularly clean is the Desktop. As a convenient place to save everything, Desktop can be cluttered in no time. Move the files to more proper locations, and delete the unused ones. Cleaner and tidier desktop equals faster system.

3. Slim Down the Start Up

And while we’re at it, why don’t we also clean the start up items? The more entries your system have to load at start up, the more time it needs to complete the process. Go to System Preferences – Users & Groups, choose the users and click the Login Items tab. Select Applications that don’t need to start at login and remove them with the Minus button.

Clean Mac 01 - Users & Groups Login Items

4. Better Back Up than Sorry

The next step is to use external tools to help us keep our Mac clean. But to be on the safe side, be sure to back up your system before using non-Apple applications. Connect an external hard drive, open System Preferences – Time Machine, turn it on, and select the drive as the backup location.

Clean Mac 02 - Time Machine

Tools Of The Trade

5. Locate the Hogs

Where have all the available storage space gone? Without you knowing, there might be applications and files that hog your storage. To find them, we can use:

Disk Inventory X

Clean Mac 03d - Disk Inventory X

Grand Perspective

Clean Mac 03c - Grand Perspective

or OmniDiskSweeper.

Clean Mac 03b - Omni Disk Sweeper 2

All of them are free and work similarly: after scanning the drive, they will show you files sorted by their sizes. You can then select, preview, (and remove) the culprits. Words of advice: be very cautious before you decide to delete anything.

6. Clean The Drive and More

One of the most useful system maintenance utilities for Mac is OnyX. Other than doing system manintenance and cleaning, the app can also turn on system hidden functions and customize other applications.

The first time you use this app, it will ask for your permission to verify the disk. Then it will present you with literary hundreds of options. The Cleaning section alone has seven tabs for System, User, Internet, Fonts, Logs, Misc., and Trash; with numerous options for each.

Clean Mac 04d - OnyX 3 Cleaning

To clean your system, go through the options and pick the ones that you want, or just use the default choices. Click Execute when you are ready.

You can also try another free tool called Dr. Cleaner. It’s available in Mac App Store. Aside from the system cleaning, two other features that make this app worth trying are its ability to monitor system memory and to find duplicate files.

Clean Mac 04e - Dr. Cleaner 5

7. Uninstall Unused Apps

How many installed applications you have in your system that you use regularly? How many applications you tried once and forgot? The problem with computer users today is that they have way too many unused apps.

While Mac OS X allows you to select an app and delete it without harming your system, the correct way to remove an application is to use an uninstaller. One that I recommend is the free AppCleaner. You can drag and drop applications that you want to remove to AppCleaner, or you can search and choose from the app list.

Clean Mac 05 - AppCleaner

AppCleaner will find all system files related to the application and let you select what you want to keep and remove. It can also watch your Trash to offer similar process if you send an app directly to trash.

8. Remove Other Languages

To cater to the needs of all of its users from all corners of the world, Mac OS X comes with over a hundred world languages. But how many languages will an ordinary person use? You can save huge storage space by removing all other languages that you don’t need. Monolingual can help you do that.

Clean Mac 06 - Monolingual

It will also help you eliminate other system architectures that your computer don’t use. If your Mac already uses Intel 64-bit, why should you keep ARM and PowerPC system? A quick check markings and pressing Remove will free your storage even more.

9. Keep (External) Drives Clean

If you work with multiple computers with different platforms, you will notice that each operating system has its unique system files that it attaches to a drive. Compatibility issue might arise when you have to connect the drive to a different operating system.

CleanMyDrive 2 can help you clean these kinds of junk files. You can also use its menubar icon to check the remaining storage space, copy files to a drive, and eject multiple drives.

Clean Mac 09 - CleanMyDrive 2b 2

10. All-In-One Alternative

Sometimes there’s a price for convenience. MacPaw’s US $39.95 CleanMyMac 3 is an all-in-one tool that will do most of the standalone cleaners’ job. It will clean system junk, photo junk, mail attachments, iTunes junk, and trash bin. You can also delete large and old files, uninstall unused applications, do system maintenance, remove browsing history along with traces of online and offline activities, remove widgets and application plugins, safely erase sensitive data; and the list goes on.

Clean Mac 10d - CleanMyMac

And as bonus points, CleanMyMac doesn’t require users to dig deep into the options if they don’t want to, and the interface is also pleasing to the eyes.

Clean Mac 10a - CleanMyMac 3

11. Automate Files and Folders Management

When it comes to automatic files and folders management, nothing can beat Hazel. It’s like a more advanced IFTTT for local files and folders. When certain conditions happen, Hazel will do pre-set actions. For example, you can set Hazel to watch Download folder and automatically move every downloaded PDF file Documents/PDF folder.

You can also set it to do more complicated series of tasks such as: automatically extract compressed files, sort the content into relevant folders, delete the original compressed files, and then process the distributed files using appropriate applications.

Clean Mac 11 - Hazel

This one is a real life example of a simple Hazel rule that I use: after editing a screenshot, I always export the image to a “To Be Processed” folder. Then Hazel takes over; it will open the images using application A to make sure if the image format and pixel size meet my requirement, then it will compress the image using application B and move it to a folder according to the project it belongs to. Then I can open the project folder to find the ready-to-use image.

The hidden power of Hazel comes out when you combine several rules into one workflow. Add the ability to handle scripts to that, and your imagination is the limit. You can use it to keep your Desktop clean, keep the Music folder organized, collect bills into one place, keep records of your mortgage payment, etc.

SEE ALSO: 15 Great Accessories For Your Macbook Pro

Do you clean your Mac regularly? What are your favorite Mac cleaning tips and tools? Please share them using the comment below.


Jeffry Thurana is a creative writer living in Indonesia. He's on a quest of learning the art of storytelling, believing that how you tell a story is as important as the story itself. He is also an architect and a designer, and loves traveling and playing classical guitar.