A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Downloads Folder

A typical problem new Mac users have is a Downloads folder that quickly fills with lots of files taking up a large amount of hard drive space. The Downloads folder is the default location for web downloads and it can be easy to forget to maintain it. It is accessible like any other Finder folder and you can easily sort it and delete or move items from it to keep it clean.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Downloads Folder.

Now if you're new to Mac you may not fully understand how the Downloads Folder works. The Downloads Folder is a special folder on your Mac that's used as the default location for all sorts of downloads from all sorts of different apps. Typically when you download something from Safari it may end up in the Downloads Folder.

Now let's look at this image here on NASA's website and let's say we want to download it. Now sometimes a website will have a download button. You click it and it automatically starts to download. You don't get the choice of where it goes. In this case there is no automatic download button but if I Control click on the image you can see that one of the options I've got is Download Linked File As. This allows me to select a location. So I'm bypassing the Downloads Folder.

But if I select Download Linked File it's not going to ask. It's just going to do it. When it does it you'll see the downloads button in the Toolbar show me the progress of what's going on. That's in the upper right hand corner. So it's right up here and you see the download happening. You also see the item leap from the page into the Downloads Folder which is in the Dock here and it's going to change to show its content. So in this case its got the item in there. I can click on it and depending upon how you've got your Dock setup it may show you the items in there. In this case I've got that one image.

I can click here to open in Finder to get to the Downloads Folder. In Safari I can also click this button here and it will show me a list of recent downloads. It will allow me to clear these downloads here and that does not change what's in the Downloads Folder. That's just the list of downloads in Safari. So that button was representing what was local to Safari but the Downloads Folder is a normal folder in the Finder.

So if I were to click here and open in the Finder I would see my Downloads Folder has got that one image I've downloaded. Now I can move this somewhere else and I probably should. If you want to keep something it's best to move it out of the Downloads Folder. A big problem a lot of people have is they keep stuff in the Downloads Folder. Maybe they take a look at the image and they say that's nice and they move on. Then a few months later they find they've got 400 items in the Downloads Folder.

So you want to kind of maintain your Downloads Folder. Get rid of things you don't need anymore. Move things out of there to a folder that you've created in your Documents folder or somewhere if you want to keep them. Try to keep things pretty clean.

You can also get to the Downloads Folder in the Finder by creating a new Finder window. Then you may find it in the left sidebar under Favorites or you can always say Go and then it's listed here Downloads and there's even Option Command L to get there. Or you can look in your Home folder and then it's one of the main folders in your Home folder as well as Music, Documents, Pictures, etc.

Any way you get to it a handy way to look at the items there is the List View here. The List View will show you all these headings. You can alter these by going to View, Show View Options and add Date Last Opened, Date Added. Now you'll see these here as options where you can Sort. You can see which items are the most recent ones that you've used, which recent ones you've added to your Mac. That kind of thing. You can also sort by size. Just click any of these headings here to sort by those.

So it will help you manage and keep things pretty clean in there. It's useful to try to go those every once in a while. Keep your Downloads Folder clean. A lot of times when people run out of hard drive space maybe they've gone, it could be years, with downloading things and the Downloads Folder is just stuffed with lots of large files that they don't need anymore. I try to make it the rule that if I'm going to use it I move out of the Downloads Folder and if not I delete it immediately and keep my Downloads Folder clean.

Comments: 10 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Downloads Folder”

    1 year ago

    Another way that is easier is to change the Safari Preference> General> File download location: to Desktop. That way you can’t forget to use the download or get rid of it and any DMG or Zip files too.

    Jan Franklin
    1 year ago

    We have found that double clicking the listing in the Downloads log/list will also commence the download without having to resort to the Downloads folder…then of course on successful installation, delete the entry from the latter folder to keep it clean…unless you are given the opportunity to delete the installer after successfully installing (in High Sierra, maybe Sierra too?)

    Chris Thornton
    1 year ago

    When i have downloaded a photo and it is in the photo section.Can I delete it in the download folder?

    1 year ago

    Chris: Do you mean you have download a photo, and then imported it into your Photos library in the Photos app? Yes, you can now delete the original file in the Download folder. The only exception would be if you are using a non-default option in Photos to not import the photos files.

    1 year ago

    how do I delete things out of the downloads folder?

    1 year ago

    Carol: The same way you delete any file: move it to the trash.

    1 year ago

    That was very informative; I thought the Download Folder was just a repository. Thanks to you, I’ve been cleaning up the Download Folder. However, I have a lot of “.dmg” files–Silverlight, Flip4Mac, Adobe Flash, etc. Is it permissible to delete these files? Please HELP!!!!

    1 year ago

    Mireille: Those that you listed sound like installers. Installers are often left over in the Downloads folder when you are done installing. You can delete them. You can always re-download them (more recent versions too) if you need them again.

    Mary Neal
    1 year ago

    Is it safe to delete music files if they are subsequently opened in iTunes by default?

    1 year ago

    Mary: Have you imported the file into your iTunes library? If so, then the one in your Downloads folder would be a duplicate now.

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