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How to clear system storage on Mac

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Written by Jonathan Cole, content producer, on behalf of Promodo Inc

When your Mac starts running slow, the first thing you need to do is to clean its memory — either manually or with the help of specialised software.

However, sometimes it might be tricky to reach certain parts of your hard drive, especially if we are talking about System Storage. Except for Apple developers, no one knows for sure which types of files are saved there and how do they end up there.

But thanks to some guesswork, experience exchange and dedicated software we can clean a considerable part of System Storage so that our Macs become quick and smart once again.

What is System Storage

First, let’s check how large this folder is. In the top left corner of the screen, click on the Apple logo and proceed to the Storage section of About This Mac.

There, you’ll discover a graph displaying the ratio of each type of content in the device’s memory. You might be surprised to see that around 200 GB or more might be occupied by the so-called System Storage items. If you push the Manage button to check which kind of content it is, you’ll realise that it is greyed out and thus not accessible.

Obviously, the developers prevent users from reaching System Storage because they might accidentally erase items that are crucial for the system’s functioning. Yet there are means to bypass the prohibition and free some space in this large folder.

What kind of contents is kept in the System Storage

Relying on users’ discussions all over the Internet, the mysterious folder might contain the following types of items:

  • iTunes backup files
  • TimeMachine backup files
  • App cache files
  • File Vault files
  • Unused disk images

When files are erased, most of the storage space that the device uses to accomplish system-related tasks should be cleared. But sometimes it doesn’t happen and plenty of unwanted items keep stored in the System category.

How to handle Time Machine backups

When you create a backup that will be stored on a cloud or a physical drive, your computer saves a copy of it. These copies should be automatically erased once the device runs out of space — but you might not be eager to wait that long.

So please carry out the following procedure:

  1. Launch Terminal
  2. Introduce the “tmutil listlocalsnapshotdates” command and push Return
  3. Check the inventory of Time Machine backups, sorted by date, and decide which ones you are ready to dispose of
  4. Introduce the “tmutil deletelocalsnapshots ZZZ” command — but instead of ZZZ insert the name of an unwanted backup
  5. Push Return

Repeat this procedure for all the backups that you would like to eliminate.

How to clean the System Storage manually

Since you can’t access the problematic folder directly, try to erase its contents in circumvention. For instance, you can eliminate the bulkiest items from the Finder by following the subsequent steps:

  1. Launch Finder
  2. Proceed to the Size column of the Recents section
  3. Sort all the contents by size so that the largest items are displayed on top of the list

In case the Size column fails to show up, push on the Settings icon and opt for Arrange By > Size.

Most likely, the bulkiest items would be movies. You can either remove or relocate them. For relocation, feel free to select between two options: cloud storage or an external physical hard drive.

Also, you can erase duplicate items. Stick to this algorithm:

  1. Launch Finder
  2. Proceed to the New Smart Folder section in File
  3. Push the “+” button in the top right corner
  4. Order the contents by name

Then, your task is to manually detect duplicate files and send them to the trash.

After doing that, your System Storage should slightly reduce in size. However, most of its content would remain unaffected because you can hardly reach it manually.

Instead, you should resort to dedicated software that will help you quickly and effortlessly eliminate excessive items from System Storage.

How to clean your Mac’s storage automatically

Software that cleans Mac’s disk space will help you to get rid of unwanted content not only in the System Storage but in the other parts of Mac system as well. All you need to do is to install any Mac cleaning software and opt for the disk clean up option.

The app will scan all the hard drive and compile an inventory of items that you might want to get rid of:

  • Duplicates
  • Temporary files
  • Junk items
  • Old updates
  • Broken preferences files
  • System cache files
  • Translation files in apps
  • Etc

Neither of those will be erased without your approval. You’ll be able to remove either all of these items or select just some of them. Once the items are sent to the trash bin, you won’t need to empty it manually.

Many modern apps of this sort also double as antiviruses and ad blocks. They prevent third-party trackers from spying on you and offer other useful functions.

Additional tips on optimising your Mac’s memory

Proceed to the About This Mac section in the Apple menu, then to the Storage tab. Push Manage. There, the Store in iCloud option will enable you to relocate your files to a cloud and free some memory on the hard drive.

In the same folder, you can enable the Empty Bin Automatically function. Think twice whether you need this because once it’s enabled, you won’t be able to restore in just a couple of clicks those items that you deleted accidentally.


Cleaning the System Storage might be tricky because Apple won’t let you see its contents. But thanks to the above-listed recommendations, you’ll be able to reduce the size of this folder and boost the productivity of your computer.

It would be hardly possible to manage without specialised software but purchasing it is a worthy investment that should quickly pay off.

Dedicated apps will help you to get rid of junk and duplicate items almost in one click, leaving all the necessary contents untouched — plus, you’ll be able to enjoy their additional useful functions.

[Image – Photo by Dmitry Chernyshov on Unsplash]