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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Three culprits that were eating up my Mac’s disk space

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

I spend a lot of day working on my iMac, and since I store a lot of files on here–including archived GarageBand files for many of the podcasts that I edit–I often end up running kind of close to my disk’s storage limit.

Thanks to apps like DaisyDisk, it’s pretty easy to track down where all your disk space is going, but if you also happen to be running close to full, here are a few culprits that I’ve found might be flying under the radar.

iOS device backups: If you’ve ever backed up an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to iTunes, it can take up a lot of disk space. In general, though, you probably don’t need to keep a ton of these backups–especially if you’re also backing up to iCloud.

iOS device backups

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get rid of any old, unwanted backups. In iTunes’s Preferences, click on Devices and you’ll see a list of backups, along with the dates they were made. Leave your most recent one (or two or three, depending on how far back you want to go), but select the older ones and click Delete Backup. Gigs of free space, in an instant.

Caches: Ah, the old “clean the caches” trick; it’s been around since time immemorial. Caches are where your computer stores copies of frequently accessed information, so that the operating system (or other software) can quickly look up that data. But those caches can take up a lot of room over time, so if you’re running low on storage, flushing them is one way to reclaim some much-needed space. (The OS will simply rebuild the caches, so there’s no ill effect.) You can clear OS X’s caches manually, but I’ve always found apps like Maintain’s Cocktail pretty handy for that sort of thing.

Cocktail is a quick and easy app for clearing your Mac’s caches, among other maintenance tasks.

iOS apps: I don’t sync my iOS devices with my computer, but I discovered recently that iTunes on my Mac was still storing local copies of many of the iOS apps I use on my iPad and iPhone.1

If you are actively syncing an iOS device with your Mac, you’ll probably want to keep the apps–the same goes for if you’re planning on restoring an iOS device from a local backup. (Restoring from iCloud, by comparison, will redownload all the apps, which can take a long time.)

But if neither of those cases applies to you and iTunes seems to be storing a lot of iOS apps, this can be a great way to reclaim some disk space. Just go into iTunes, click the Apps tab, then click My Apps, then select all the apps and hit delete. You’ll be asked to confirm that you really want to delete those apps and move them to the Trash. Bye bye, apps. Hello, space!

There are probably more than a few other places where you could free up some extra space, but just those three have reclaimed 20GB or so from my hard drive. That should hold me for at least a couple weeks.

  1. I’m still not sure whether they were left over from a sync or backup a long time ago, or whether they were some vestige of iTunes automatically downloading apps I installed on my devices. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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