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how to clear system storage on mac

How to Clear System Storage on Mac: Tips and Tricks

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It's easy to accumulate a lot of unnecessary files on your Mac. This can lead to slow system performance and storage space issues, which is why it's important to clear out the clutter. Here are some tips on how to clear system storage on mac and save valuable Mac storage space.

What is System Storage On A Mac?

System Storage is the term used by Apple to refer to the storage space on a Mac computer that's designated for storing system and application files. This System Storage section can grow over time due to an unnecessary build-up of junk files, caches, data logs, and more.

To find up how much System Storage that your Macintosh computer has:

  1. Click on the Apple icon on the menu bar in the top left corner
  2. Choose the ‘About This Mac'
  3. Click on the ‘Storage' tab
  4. Press the ‘Manage' button in the bottom right
  5. Wait a minute or two and the ‘System Storage' amount will populate in the left column (2nd from the bottom).
System Storage MacOS

In our case, our 16″ MacBook Pro has flagged 23.96 GB as system storage. However, we've seen cases where this number is can rise dramatically higher (in upwards of 100GB) and can cause your system to be bogged down with a lot of junk from the operating system files.

What Files Are Included in System Storage on Mac?

By definition, System Storage is classified by Apple as anything related to the operation of MacOS as well as crucial native applications used by your machine.

The specifics of what is included within your particular Mac's system storage will vary depending on your machine. A lot of these files will consist of random things that you'd never access yourself like system fonts, extensions, desktop pictures, drivers, language packs, data logs, and more.

If you are tech-savvy enough to manually check out your system folder on your Mac, you can do so via the finder window. This folder will be located under Macintosh HD > System.

For those who might not be comfortable diving into this folder manually, you may want to look into a helpful tool that we are going to be discussing within this article called CleanMyMac X.

CleanMyMac X is perfect for this kind of analysis. The new “Space Lens” feature is free to use. It allows you to scan your Macintosh HD and then show you an in-depth overview of what’s taking up disk space broken down by system category.

Here's a Space Lens look at my hard disk drive from a bird's eye view:

Space Lens System Folder

As you can see, the Users folder is the most data-heavy folder (as expected) coming in at 203 GB of storage followed by the Applications folder at 56.99 and the System folder at 16.1 GB.

Why Is My System Storage So High On Mac?

As stated earlier, high use of system storage on your Mac can have a lot of causes and it will all depend on the applications and usage of your individual machine.

However, there are some common culprits that may be causing an excessive amount of disk storage and a lack of free disk space on your Apple machine.

These trouble areas are often:

  • Time Machine backups
  • iOS device backups
  • Unused disk images
  • Files within your File Vault
  • Full ‘Trash' Bin
  • App Caches and system logs

If you are finding yourself in this situation and are trying to determine how to go about cleaning up your system storage and rid your Mac of junk, check out the next section where we will cover ways to accomplish this.

How to Clear System Storage On Mac?

The idea of clearing out the system storage on Mac is a daunting task for many and frankly, that feeling is justified. In many cases, the bulk of this data in these folders is deemed critical for the machine to operate successfully. This means any deletion or removal of the wrong files can potentially disrupt the functionality of your Mac and lead to a headache of troubles.

Although it is entirely possible to clear out unnecessary files manually, many people prefer to use an automated tool like CleanMyMac X because of the time-saving and security benefits. It will take care of things automatically under most circumstances so there won't be any need for manual labor or potential mistakes.

Solution #1: Removing Unnecessary Time Machine Backups

Time Machine backups are meant to be automatically deleted automatically, however, sometimes this doesn't happen as planned. Additionally, even if you choose to store your Time Machine Backups on another storage solution such as an external drive or cloud storage, macOS will often still keep a copy of your Time Machine backup on your primary internal drive so you can restore data when you are on the go.

Time Machine backups tend to be the folders with the largest file size out of all the existing data on your Mac system as it is duplicating all your personal files including large and old files. The process to remove Time Machine backups that you no longer need is an easy way for you to get rid of large and old files that are bogging down your machine.

Manual: Delete Time Machine Backups Via Terminal Commands

If you are tech-savvy enough to be using the Time Machine functionality then you might be suited for this process using the Terminal. If you have never used the Terminal before then you may want to skip this step or go with the automated process below as it can be harmful if done incorrectly.

  1. Visit your Applications > Utilities and open up the Terminal
  2. Once your Terminal window opens, type: tmutil listlocalsnapshotdates
  3. Press Return (Enter).

At this point, you should see a list (by date) of all your stored Time Machine backups:

  1. From here, enter in tmutil deletelocalsnapshots ‘backupname' (‘backupname' should be the name of one of the listed backups)
  2. Type: tmutil deletelocalsnapshots ‘backupname'
  3. Press Return (Enter)
  4. Repeat steps 1 and 2 to remove as many backups that you wish
  5. You can check the Storage tab in the ‘About this Mac' panel to see how much space you may have regained after you remove time machine backups

Automated: Thin Your Time Machine Snapshots Using CleanMyMac X

CleanMyMac X has a built-in utility to ‘thin' Time Machine snapshots. This doesn't actually delete the Time Machine snapshots, but it optimizes them so that they are less data-heavy. They will still maintain their data quality and have all the necessary files for backup, just

Under the Speed > Maintenance menu on the left side of the CleanMyMac X user interface, there is a dedicated section for Time Machine Snapshot Thinning. Once you click on it, you'll be able to process the existing Snapshots and thin them while still maintaining the integrity of the Time Machine backup.

Time Machine Snapshop Thinning 1

Solution #2: Delete System Junk

Regardless of whether you need to purge some of your system storage, regular Mac maintenance for deleting unnecessary or temporary junk data is something that you should be doing. Over time, your system will get loaded up on things like data logs and cache files.

Manual: Delete Temporary Data Files Individually

If you are skilled enough, you can locate the various logs, cache files, and temporary data to be removed manually. Once you open finder, here are some shortcuts to help you discover locations where the files stored (most will be in the library folder):

User Caches: ~/Library/Caches

System Log Files: /var/log

User Log Files: ~/Library/Logs

Please remember: If you are not that tech-savvy then I'd highly recommend you don't do this task manually as you can seriously mess up your Mac's operating system if you delete or remove the wrong system files and data.

Automated: Remove Temporary Data & System Junk Using CleanMyMac X

As you'd have guessed, CleanMyMac X has built-in functionality for cleaning up system junk. This feature allows you to pick and choose exactly which temporary files that you will get rid of and an overview of how much Mac storage space you can regain by purging each section.

You'll gain a lot of potential free space here with CleanMyMac X scanning the usual spots on your file system for junk (user cache, system cache, user log, system log, etc.) as well as other files like broken downloads, iTunes junk, universal binaries, old iOS backups, unused language files, unused disk images and more.

All it tasks to run this task is a few clicks under the ‘Cleanup' > ‘System Junk' section of the CleanMyMac interface and it will automatically scan, locate and flag your system junk of which then you'll just need to press the Clean button to purge this unnecessary data.

System Junk Tool

Solution #3: Delete duplicate files

Depending on how you utilize your computer and organize your Mac storage, you may find your machine getting bogged down by duplicate files. This can be a major problem for those that may have large files with many duplicates. Removing the correct duplicates to ensure that you have only one copy stored locally on your machine is your best bet.

Manual: Remove Duplicates Individually

There isn't really a streamlined approach to removing duplicates on your Mac manually so it would be very time-consuming and potentially risky unless you 100% know what you are doing. For this reason, I'd probably not recommend that you attempt to remove duplicate files without the use of a dedicated tool that can safely identify and delete them.

Automated: Remove Duplicates Via Gemini 2

This is not an instance where CleanMyMac X can help and the reason for this is because MacPaw has a separate software dedicated specifically for this called Gemini 2.

Gemini 2: The Duplicate Finder scans your Mac for duplicate files and allows you to delete them safely with just a few clicks. Gemini 2 keeps your original copies safe and helps you easily retrieve deleted files deleted by accident.

Depending on if you have a lot of photos, videos, or music stored on your Mac then you can potentially regain a lot more storage space by scanning for duplicate media. Media files such as those in your photo library are often huge files that take up the most space on your Mac's native data storage.

Gemini 2

Solution #4: Empty Your Trash Bin

The Trash feature on a Mac is equivalent to the Recycle Bin on Windows. Rather than permanently deleting files from within the Finder, they are sent to your Trash. To completely remove these files and free up the disk space they occupy, you’ll have to go through the empty trash process.

Macs can actually have multiple trash cans, so you may need to empty several. If you use iPhoto to manage your pictures and delete them in iPhoto, you'll have to clear the iPhoto trash to remove them.

This can be done manually by opening up your Trash Can and clicking ‘Empty' at the top right. CleanMyMac X has built-in functionality to scan and empty trash throughout your Mac file system, but it is easy enough to delete unneeded files sitting in your trash manually without a dedicated tool.

Empty Trash Can on Mac 1

Speeding Up System Storage Cleanup On Mac With CleanMyMac X

As we've mentioned earlier in this article, we think CleanMyMac X is the easiest way to solve most issues of Mac OS bloat and reduce system storage levels and gain more space on your Apple computer.

While doing it manually is entirely possible with enough patience and tech knowledge, spending a couple of bucks on a reliable Mac cleaner is almost always going to be worth the cost.

CleanMyMac X comes with an annual license fee of $39.95 for one Apple system with the price rising to $79.90 for two licenses or a steep $199.75 for licensing up to 5 Mac users.

Test Driving MacPaw's Cleaning Apps Without Paying For A License

For those who want to learn how to clear system storage on Mac using CleanMyMac X without buying a license, there are two easy and entirely legal ways to do this.

Utilize MacPaw's Free Trial (500MB Cleaning Limit)

MacPaw knows that getting your hands dirty on the tool ahead of time is a big deal before spending money on any kind of software, especially for a Mac cleaning application.

Due to this, they allow you to download a free version of CleanMyMac X and utilize the basic cleaning functionality to scan your file system and clear system storage on Mac for up to 500MB.

If you want to clean delete files and reduce system storage that exceeds the 500MB limit then you'll need to purchase a license or try out the next step mentioned after this.

Sign Up For A Free Trial of Setapp

For those of you that aren't aware, Setapp is MacPaw's subscription service where you pay a single monthly fee and get access to the full version of hundreds of paid Mac applications.

While there is a lot of value within this subscription for the nominal monthly fee of $9.99/month, there is a free 7-day trial. This opportunity allows you to download and install the full versions of the included applications within the Setapp membership to use an unlimited amount of times within a week period.

Setapp Maintenance Apps scaled

This includes the full and unrestricted version of CleanMyMac X (not the free version which is limited to 500MB) as well as their Gemini 2 application so this gives you the ability to clean up your Mac system storage in a safe and convenient factor without spending any money.

We hope that after reading this article, you feel more confident about the steps to take in order to clear system storage on your Mac. It is a tedious process that can be frustrating at times, but maintaining your machine over time and purging all the temporary data (cache files, backup files, etc.) that it can build up over time is a necessary task to maintain a well-functioning system.