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Put the zip back into your Mac by giving it a thorough clean up

You may pride yourself on having a clean and tidy home, but look closer and you’ll spot useless stuff, dust, and dirt that have built up in your cupboards and the farthest reaches of your home. That’s why many of us have established spring cleaning routines.

Our Macs are no different. Simply by using our Macs, countless data builds up that can slow down our devices. And if we don’t do anything about it, it’ll sap its speed and may also cause some resources to fail.

Read on to learn how to declutter and speed up your Mac.

What happens if your Mac’s memory is too full?

Maybe you chose a Mac because you know it doesn’t actually require a lot of care and maintenance — and that it’s also less susceptible to malware infections.

However, you should be aware that you also need to clear out your Mac on a regular basis so that the memory isn’t overloaded and your device’s performance isn’t impacted.

And that’s not all: If your Mac’s memory is too full, this could cause your favorite apps to stop working correctly and you being unable to save data. As such, it’s important not to let things get that far in the first place.

Which files eat up the most disk space?

Simply by using your Mac, a number of temporary files, app leftovers as well as system and cache files accumulate without you having to do anything else. These files can slow down your computer while taking up large amounts of valuable disk space.

For example, did you know that when you edit a photo or video, which is usually quite a data-hungry task, a copy of the original file is created automatically? That’s not to mention the times you just go and edit a photo you’ve already taken from different angles, saved in iTunes, or sent.

Some of the most common types of junk file, such as files in the Trash, are easy to find and delete, while others are stored in hidden system folders and involve more effort to root out.

You should take a look at which files — sorted by size — are eating up the most storage space on your Mac. These can include:

  • Large and outdated files, such as user guides, defunct contracts, or other PDFs
  • Duplicate files, such as photos, audio files, or videos
  • System junk and app leftovers
  • iTunes junk files
  • Trash folders
  • Email attachments, including of photos and videos you’ve sent that are still stored on the hard drive or in iTunes.

It’s clear that the more free disk space your Mac has, the faster and better it can perform. The rule of thumb that’s stood the test of time is that you should always keep at least 20 percent of your hard drive space free. However, if you often work with data-hungry graphics or video files, this percentage of free space should be even higher.

How to clean up your Mac

Now let’s move on to how to clean up your Mac, free up storage space, and speed up your device.

To avoid suffering a serious loss of speed or shortage of resources in the first place, it’s another good reason to make our Mac clean-up tips part of your regular spring clean routine.

Back up your Mac before you clean it up

Before you follow our instructions and start cleaning up your Mac, you should definitely back it up. That way, you at least have a copy of your latest data should you need it.

If you use Time Machine, the built-in back-up tool, to back up your Mac, you can automatically back up your personal data such as applications, music, photos, emails, and documents and restore them if necessary:

  1. Plug in an external storage device, such as a USB or Thunderbolt drive.
  2. Open the Time Machine menu in the menu bar and then click Open Time Machine Preferences. Alternatively, choose System Preferences… from the Apple menu, and then click Time Machine.
  3. Now choose Select Backup Disk… 
  4. Select the name of the disk (drive) and click Use Disk. Time Machine will then start creating regular backups right away — all automatically and without you having to do anything else.
  1. As you’ll want to create a manual backup at this point though, click the Back Up Now option in the Time Machine menu in the menu bar and choose where you want to save this backup (in case you have an external storage drive you want to use).

Clear your Mac’s system or hardware cache

The term “cache” has its roots in the French language and means something like “a hidden store of things”. It’s a term you’ve probably heard before, as you’ve likely been advised to delete your browser cache from time to time.

However, your Mac stores at least as much information in what’s known as the system or hardware cache — something that’s designed to take the strain off the processor, which is why your Mac comes with automated maintenance routines for this purpose. However, it’s worthwhile clearing the system or hardware cache on a regular basis yourself. Here’s how:

  1. First, in Finder choose Go and then Go to Folder…
  2. Now enter /Library/Caches in the text field, then click Go or press the Enter key.
  3. You’ll now be in the Caches folder, where you’ll see the various folders whose contents can be deleted. 
  4. Go through each folder in turn, secondary-click the files in them, and then select Move to Bin from the context menu to delete them. However, be sure to keep the folders and only empty the data in them.
  5. Finally, to really clear your Mac’s system or hardware cache, delete any files in the Trash.

Clear out your Mac’s user or software cache too

The user or software cache is where the temporary data generated when using programs or apps is stored. Keeping temporary files can slow down your Mac significantly over time. So, once again, deleting files manually on a regular basis is a good idea.

  1. To delete the user or software cache, in Finder choose Go and then Go to Folder….
  2. There, type /Library/Caches in the text box, then click Go and delete the contents of the ~/Library/Caches and /Library/Caches folders. Remember not to delete the folders themselves, otherwise the individual applications can’t buffer your data properly.
  3. Complete this deletion process by emptying the Trash.

However, you can easily reduce this manual effort involved in clearing the cache by using an app specifically designed for this purpose. For example, the optimizer software Avira Free Optimizer can help you clear accumulated junk files from the user cache — and clean up the memory, browser cache, and your Mac’s hard drive in the process.

Avira Free Optimizer for Mac
Use Avira Free Optimizer to clean up your Mac and remove junk files.

Free up storage space by deleting large and old files

We’ve already mentioned that photos, videos as well as PDFs and audio files are real storage hogs, which is why you should pay close attention to them. There are bound to be some files on your device that you no longer need. One option is, of course, to go through each folder in turn and delete the outdated files you’ve flagged as old.

As you’d expect, Apple offers some support features to take care of this task for you when decluttering macOS, giving you an overview of how much of your Mac’s storage capacity is being eaten up by what:

  1. Go to the Apple menu.
  2. Choose About This Mac and click Storage to see how much free disk space is available on your Mac.
  3. Click Manage… for tips on how to free up space on your Mac.
  4. Click Review Files to analyze applications, documents, and other files stored on your Mac.

You can then use the sidebar to view how much disk space each category of file is consuming, and sort the files by categories on the left.

You can then spot large files such as PDFs, apps, books, films, old backups, and other files quickly and delete them straight away.

Apple offers additional tips:

  • Files from the Applications, Music, TV, or News categories are listed separately. To delete an item, select the file and click Delete….
  • If you choose to delete an item you purchased from the iTunes Store, the App Store, or Apple Books using your Apple ID, that item remains in your iCloud account so you can download it again whenever you want.
  • All files stored on your Mac are displayed under Documents. You can quickly get an overview of which files or downloads are particularly large by clicking the Large Files button. You can sort the list of files by clicking Name, Kind, Last Accessed, or Size in the upper part of the window.
  • By clicking File Browser, you’ll see the contents of the folders in your file system, including the storage space used.

Find and delete duplicate files

If you now want to find and delete any duplicate files, you can also do this with macOS’s built-in tool using Finder again:

  1. Open Finder on your Mac, then open a location of your choice. The next step is to create a temporary smart folder, such as Desktop, Documents, or something else.
  2. Do this by selecting File -> New Smart Folder from the top left menu, and click the + icon on the top right.
  3. Choose a category from the drop-down menu that you want to use to sort your files: For example, if you know the filename of the duplicate files, you can type the name and Finder will instantly show you all the files with the exact same name.
  4. You can also sort and display all files by file type in Finder. For example, if you select Kind in the chosen category and further specify Music, Finder will show you a list of all the audio files stored on your Mac. Make sure you’re viewing all items in a list instead of as icons, then click Name. All files will be sorted alphabetically, making it a lot easier to identify and delete any duplicates.

This process is also quite time-consuming, which is why your best option really is to use a tool to remove duplicate files.

We therefore recommend Avira Free Optimizer for this step too. This free optimizer tool for your Mac can help you free up more disk space and memory, and find duplicate files — fast.

Avira Free Optimizer for Mac
Find duplicate files as part of your Mac clean-up routine with Avira Free Optimizer.

Remove unwanted apps from your Mac

Many of us keep installing applications on our Macs only to find that we don’t use them. It goes without saying that these unused apps end up sapping a lot of precious disk space and can slow down your Mac over time.

So why not also delete these unwanted apps as part of your Mac clean-up routine? To do so, in Finder, go to the Applications folder and simply secondary-click the app’s icon and select Move to Bin in the context menu. Once again, don’t forget to empty the Trash to ensure the associated components are actually deleted.

However, be aware that even after deleting an app and emptying the Trash, registry entries still remain in various directories on your Mac — which can eat up a lot of storage space.

You therefore also need to delete these entries, which can be quite time-consuming. To give you an idea of how complex this step is, take a look at the list of possible locations where individual components of deleted apps can be found:

  • Cache files remain in /Library/Caches/ and ~/Library/Caches, among other locations.
  • App preferences remain in ~/Library/Preferences/.
  • Additional app files are often kept in ~/Library/Application.
  • You’ll find plug-ins in ~/Library/Internet Plug-Ins/.
  • Binary files and dock icons are located in /Applications/.
  • Library files are stored in ~/Library/.
  • Any crash logs are stored in ~/Library/Application Support/CrashReporter/.
  • Status files are located in ~/Library/Saved Application State/.

And this list doesn’t even include all the hidden files. There are also many more that you can’t access because macOS doesn’t allow it.

You may still want to use this list to manually uninstall apps you no longer need, but be careful! Only delete app files or folders if you know exactly what they are — if you accidentally delete the wrong (system) files, this can be disastrous!

We believe it’s easier and safer to use a tool to fully delete apps you no longer need, including all remaining components. Among other tools out there, you can use Avira Free Optimizer to uninstall unwanted apps the right way.

Empty the Trash

In the Mac clean-up steps above, we repeatedly mention that you need to empty the Trash to actually ensure all files and components are truly deleted for good.

If you don’t, the deleted files will still take up a lot of disk space as long as they remain in the Trash. This final step takes no time at all, and you probably know it already:

  • Click and hold the Trash icon in the Dock.
  • Then click Empty Trash, and confirm this choice in the window that appears.

An optimizer tool can help you clean up your Mac

Much of what we’ve presented above to help you clean up your Mac and free up space is much easier to do if you use the right tools to give your Mac a thorough clean.

For this, we recommend Avira Free Optimizer again. With this app, you equip yourself with a comprehensive, tried-and-tested optimization tool. Avira Free Optimizer is available for iMacs and MacBooks running macOS 10.12 and higher.

Upgrade to the Pro version or choose Avira Prime and you’ll get to enjoy over 30 tools to optimize your Mac’s performance and security as well as your online privacy. With the powerful Pro app, you can clean up your Mac as well as strengthen your protection against a large number of cyberthreats. Avira Prime also includes tools for this — for multiple devices too.

Avira Prime
Clean up your Mac while improving its performance, security, and your online privacy with Avira Prime.

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Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.