Running out of hard drive space on your Mac? Here's how to fix it!

How to find out what's eating up storage space on your Mac's hard drive

Running out of hard drive space is incredibly annoying. OS X needs a good amount of free space to function properly so as things get full not only will you be unable to download or transfer large files, you'll start to get panicked warnings from the operating system. While hard drives keep getting bigger and cheaper, solid state drives do not. If you have a 2TB HD in your machine you'll be okay for longer. If you have a 128, 256, or even 512GB SSD, however, things can get full and fast. So what do you do? If you can't or simply don't want to upgrade your HD or SSD drive to something bigger, the first step is identifying what's causing the problem, then figuring out what you get rid of to free back up that precious empty space!

How to find out what's taking up the most space on your Mac's hard drive

The best way to find out what's eating up space on your Mac is to download a third party program that can analyze and break down what's using the most space. There are several tools that can do this, both in and out of the Mac App Store.

disk diag for mac

The first two options I'd recommend trying are Mac App Store offerings. Disk Diag is a dead simple utility that shows you what's eating space and how much. It also estimates how much space you can free up. If you just need a few gigs or aren't in desperate need, it should be passable. Just don't expect to clear out hundreds of gigs with it.

daisydisk for mac

DaisyDisk is more advanced and offers a much better breakdown. Not only can you analyze your entire hard drive, DaisyDisk tells you exactly what's eating the most space whether that's photos, applications, or something else. It's perfect for people who don't necessarily know what is eating space on their hard drive and have no idea where to begin.

Download folder

The first place I always look when trying to clear out my hard drive is my downloads folder. They're not always as large as media files but they're often much less important to you as well. I always find tons of disk images, large graphics files, and tons of other crap I don't need anymore. For most people the downloads folder is a temporary dumping ground for things. After you've got it cleared out, try and make a habit of cleaning it out regularly. (And yes, once you move things to the trash, empty it. Your disk isn't really cleaned up until you've take then trash out!)

Movie, TV, music, and app files

The most common offenders when it comes to eating up storage space are media files. Large videos like movies, multiple smaller videos like TV shows or home movies, or even massive amounts of tiny files like music and apps can all add up. One HD movie can take up 4-6GB. A single HD TV show can take up 1GB or more (that can be 10-20+GB a season!). iOS game files can be 1-2GB as well in some cases.

If you've downloaded movies or TV shows from iTunes in the past and you're done watching them, you can also get back tons of space by removing the physical copies. You can either transfer them up to an external drive for safe keeping or, if you're not adverse to it, simply trust in Apple's iCloud service. That lets you stream content to your Apple TV or re-download it to your iOS devices or iTunes on your Mac whenever you want. (Sometimes studios pull their movies or shows from iTunes, so it's a risk, but it doesn't happen often and they usually return. If in doubt, however, move them to an external drive instead!)

Old iOS device backups and software updates

If you've ever backed up or updated an iOS device to iTunes, these two can save you gigabytes of space all on their own.

Mail attachments

If you use Apple's Mail app or another third party app, your Mac is saving email attachments and message archives unless you've told it not to or route attachments elsewhere, like to Dropbox. If you don't do any of that, pay attention to how much data is stored in Mail.app and see if you can do some house cleaning there as well. Sort by attachments and delete all those old, joke PPT files chuck full of images and movies you never wanted your friends or family to email you anyway!

Cache files

Sometimes apps you frequently use and web browsers save data in order to load things faster. They do it to speed things up and make for a better, faster experience when you go back to those sites again. While it never hurts to delete them, and they will be rebuilt, they're nowhere nearly as big as some of the other offenders and the system does a pretty good job at managing them nowadays.

How do you clear space out on your Mac?

Have you ever run out of storage space on your Mac? If so, how did you remedy the problem? Let me know in the comments!

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

Running out of hard drive space on your Mac? Here's how to fix it!

14 Comments

No worries. I've used ccleaner and cocktail in the past. I think most hard drive maintenance programs offer this feature.

I use Daisy Disk and is is well worth the $10. You can delete files form its views and I find much easier to find large files using its graphical / hierarchical display of disk use.

I use CleanMyMac 2 to delete iPhoto cash and other files, It's my best choice for me.
also I use OnyX (Free) to clean the system and user cash, this app gives my macbook pro a fresh air :)

I use DiskWave (Free!) to point out the largest files, and then I go through them in the Finder and delete the ones I don't need.

I downloaded disk diag the other day but I forgot I also had disk doctor that does pretty much the same. I'm also becoming a download folder neat freak and I also recommend people to empty the trash often, because it can get pretty loaded like mine went to 14GB after deleting hundreds of images the other day :p

Sure, it's good to clear out the big disk hogs. However, lots of little things can add up too. That's why I like CleansMyMac2. It finds the duplicates, trash, languages, and all undesireable files, big and small.

If you use Google Chrome, be aware that when it updates itself it doesn't delete the old version. You can end up with dozens of old versions, and they take up 150MB each. To get rid of them, go to the Applications folder, right click on Google Chrome, choose, "Show Package Contents", open the Contents folder, open the Versions folder, and there they are. Just delete all but the most recent one. Then email Google and ask them what game they think they're playing.