MacMost Now 722: Do You Need a Mac Cleaning Program?

Mac cleaning apps are being advertised heavily across the Internet. But do you need these programs? Some of what they do is already being done by OS X. And most of the rest is simply an effort to remove a small number of files from your drive and give you more drive space. But you can do better by archiving projects and keeping your documents tidy on your own.

Video Transcript
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let's talk about whether or not you need Mac cleaning programs.

So, I get asked this a lot. People see all these advertisements all over the internet for programs that claim to clean your Mac and give you better performance. There is a ton of them out there. So the question is, "Do you need these?"

Now I feel very passionate about this. I have been a Mac user for more than twenty-five years. I'm a power user. I've got all sorts of different Macs. I use them with all sorts of applications all day long. I don't use any of these cleaning programs and never have.

Let's look at what they claim to do and why you really don't need them. So I went through all the different web sites for all the different cleaning programs and they all list almost exactly the same things that they do. Here is a quick list of some of the items. Clear caches, clear logs, remove trash, remove universal binaries, remove languages, remove apps, remove left over app files. So what is the common theme here. The common theme is that files you supposedly don't need any more it will go find them and remove them from your hard drive.

So how can removing files from your hard drive improve performance. Well in theory you are using empty hard drive space as a memory cache. So you use the memory on your Mac when you run applications, and then you are using empty hard drive space to kind of expand that memory. So things that you need all the time when you are running applications are in memory and things you don't need as often are stored in the hard drive. So it is basically the sharing between the hard drive and the memory to get things done on your Mac. The more empty hard drive space the better your performance would be theoretically. Now beyond a certain point you don't need that much. So for instance if you have a 500 GB hard drive, a pretty modest hard drive, you might have say a 100 gigs free. Well for virtual memory you might only use 10-20 gigs of that even if you are using an intense application. So adding more empty space to your hard drive isn't going to necessarily increase performance.

Now if you have those files sitting around is it going to decrease performance? The truth is you have tons of files for your Mac. The system has tons of files. You probably have lots of different documents, you have photos, all sorts of different things on there. Getting rid of these files is not going to increase performance unless you are kinda of at a borderline. Like maybe if you have a 500 gig drive and you only have about 20-30 gigs free so you would use this and maybe free up another 2 or 3 gigs of space and maybe you will see a little bit of improvement there. But you shouldn't see any improvement if say you have 100 gigs of space and now you have 104 gigs of space because you did a cleaning.

If you wanted to you can get a lot of this stuff yourself. You don't really need a cleaning program to do it. So for instance option Go and go to your library for Caches and you can kind of look through caches to see if there is anything you don't need. What you can do is do it by List, bring up the Calculate All Sizes and sort by size and see. Say Safari has a large cache which of course it should and you want to look and maybe there is an App you don't use any more and you've uninstalled and it has a big cache in there so in the Cache file you can select it and delete it and you've cleared up that space.

If you really want to clean up hard drive space you are probably better off looking at your own files, at your own say iMovie projects, seeing which ones are old that you can get off there, archive them and remove them from your drive. Look at what music or applications you are no longer using and just uninstall them. That will probably save you a lot more space on your hard drive than a cleaning program that is going to look at little things like log files and little cache files and things like that.

Any files that are left over, little things that these cleaning programs would get probably are not really worth it. Think about this. Think about how you can get better gas mileage from your car if you have less weight in your car. So do you take the time to actually look in your car to see what you don't need, maybe an old pair of gloves, maybe a beach chair, maybe a few kids toys in there, take them out and by taking out a few pounds from your car you get better gas mileage. Now you are probably not really going to notice the difference in your gas mileage if you take a few small items out just like you are not going to really notice the difference in performance by cleaning out cache files.

Actually the best bang for your buck for clearing out hard drive space is to simply get a bigger hard drive. Now for a lot of us this may not actually mean getting a better hard drive for your Mac. It may mean simply taking the $30 you would have spent on a cleaning program and put that away towards your next Mac and when you get your next Mac realize that the 500 GB drive wasn't enough so let's make sure to get a bigger hard drive that's more appropriate for what I do and put that money towards that. That is actually going to get you a lot more per dollar than actually using a cleaning program that can take a few gigs of space off your hard drive.

Other things a cleaning program claims to do is look for duplicate files which you can do on your own and you probably should and also uninstall applications you no longer need which, I don't know how they determine which ones you no longer need. They probably give you a list of applications and allow you to uninstall them. You can do that on your own. App store or Launch Pad to do that or just go to your applications folder and run uninstall the programs you no longer use and remember in the future to be a little bit more frugal in installing applications. Know that they are going to take up hard drive space and will decrease performance by a little bit because of the space they are using on your hard drive.

What about system maintenance tasks. People ask this a lot. It runs these regular maintenance tasks that will clean up things on your Mac and make it run better. Well they no longer list these on most of the web sites because Mac OS10 does it automatically and has done it for many versions. This is kind of an old fashioned thing from the 90's, the last decade, where operating systems weren't very good at running their own little maintenance tests to clean things out. So you are coming from old windows systems or old Mac systems and know there were these little mysterious tasks that you could run that would optimize performance. It is not something you need to worry about now with Snow Leopard or Lion because they do that automatically.

Another thing these programs claim to do is to clean out languages and universal binaries. So universal binary is if you have a very old application that has a universal binary and a binary for intel processor. It will pull a piece of that program out saving a tiny bit of hard drive space again and the same thing for languages. It might pull out languages that are not English or whatever language you use and save a tiny bit of hard drive space. It is just not worth it to go in a tinker with these applications, tinker with your operating system just to save a tiny bit here or a tiny bit there. You're spending money, you're taking time, and now you have another operation you are running on your Mac that could actually be slowing it down and presenting you with different tasks and things to do all the time. It is better just to leave it and not to install these cleaning programs at all.

I know this is not a popular opinion. I know if you go to a lot of other Mac websites they not only recommend these things but actually have articles about where to go to get them, which ones are the best, and all that. There is a lot of advertising there. These cleaning programs advertise on different sites, including MacMost, and they also have affiliate programs where maybe the different sites get money for each sale that they make. So there is a lot of that going on too which may make it look like these programs are more required than they are. But my recommendation stands that you don't need any of these cleaning programs, I don't use any of these cleaning programs. You are better off investing in the future in a better hard drive if you are running out of space and just staying away from these things and saving your money.

I hope you found this useful. Until next time this is Gary with MacMost Now.

Comments: 47 Responses to “MacMost Now 722: Do You Need a Mac Cleaning Program?”

    Scott Z
    6/15/12 @ 9:13 am

    Thanks for giving it to us straight weather popular or not. Good job Gary.

      6/15/12 @ 9:28 am

      Thanks. I expect this video will generate some controversy. And I may lose some ads. But I think it is important for me to give honest advice.

        6/15/12 @ 8:43 pm

        Ballsy of you to speak with such candor, considering you might lose some of your advertisers. However, we appreciate your honesty and someone who gives it to us straight, rather than blowing smoke up our butts, will earn our loyalty and respect. Thanks for being a straight-shooter.

    6/15/12 @ 11:38 am

    Who knew? Amazes me that Apple has never really given guidance in this area – but all the ‘buy this app to clean’ folks have. But, after running MacKeeper it certainly is a good feeling to know you did something to clean up the Mac. On a recent troubleshoot call to Apple, the attendant ran me through a procedure to locate and clean every cache file on my mac. She said they do this everyday at Apple and I should do the same. ??? Thank you for your light and easy to understand tutorials Gary!

    6/15/12 @ 1:29 pm

    Very good video! I’ve always had some doubts as for those cleaning apps. By the way…do you know if there is a certain amount of free space that should be left on the iPad to keep it always fast reacting?

      6/15/12 @ 1:40 pm

      I don’t think the iPad uses empty space in that way. Or at least much of it. I’ve run mine at nearly 100% at times and hadn’t noticed a difference.

        6/21/12 @ 11:19 am

        I remember reading something early on (like iOS 3) that it was a good idea to keep about 100-500MB free as your iPad/iPhone would cache things, which is why some apps seem to load faster sometimes as opposed to if you haven’t used them in awhile. Same with Safari keeping a page, as opposed to a reload when visiting. I usually try to keep around 500MB-1GB available nowadays with multitasking and such and if I do run really low, I do notice a little longer load times on apps, not too much, but just noticeable.

    6/15/12 @ 4:03 pm

    Thanks for this Gary. I’m with you on this, only I tried Ccleaner and cleanmymac… no difference in speed whatsoever…mainly because I have a 300gb internal drive with 250gb free! (I keep my non-programs on an external USB drive), so that 250gb free is VERY ample to keep my mac fast. Don’t have ‘defrag’ or antivirus either, my mac runs a lot faster without that crap running in the background! :-)

    6/16/12 @ 3:37 am

    what do think about antivirus do we need them now because of the new virus releasing. i think Microsoft is under control of mac virus.

      6/16/12 @ 5:50 am

      I think if you want antivirus Faizan you download a free antivirus program like Avast or Sophos, but this thread is about mac cleaning apps, you will probably find an antivirus topic under a different thread

      6/16/12 @ 8:47 am

      There are no “new viruses” — there are really no old ones either, at least not for OS X. Perhaps you are referring to the recent trojans? These are all stopped by an updated OS X itself, no need for any additional software. See

    6/16/12 @ 1:59 pm

    What a timely podcast… I was just running one of the programs and it cleared up about 2.75GB of stuff – not enough to make a difference from what I see. I just ordered one of the new Air’s and was cleaning up some of my files so I can switch over when the new one comes next week. I was planning to use superduper to make a clone and restore on the new air. Is this the best approach? I currently have a 11″ Air / 256GB. I run VM on the air as one of the programs that I use does not have a Mac version.

      6/16/12 @ 5:13 pm

      Cloning is a bad idea. You’d then be putting you entire system, which meant or your own MacBook, on the new one. Different hardware, though.
      Use Migration Assistant instead. That’s exactly what it is meant for. Take your Time Machine backup (not the clone) and use it to bring over all of your stuff using Migration Assistant.

        6/16/12 @ 7:30 pm

        Thanks Garry. Will use the Migration Assistant and my Time Machine.

    6/17/12 @ 3:48 am

    Always thank you!

    Ben Singer
    6/17/12 @ 4:41 am

    Do you recommend emptying the caches in your web browser? If so how often and what is the best method?

      6/17/12 @ 8:32 am

      Why do you want to empty the cache? A cache help speed up web surfing by storing recent items locally. Clearing it out will free a little space, but the cache will be full again very quickly anyway. All browsers have options in the menus/preferences to clear their caches, but they are usually for developers who need to do that to test pages in development.

    Ben Singer
    6/17/12 @ 9:41 am

    Thanks, I never empty them. I wanted to get your opinion.

    6/21/12 @ 2:42 am

    Thank Heavens for telling it straight to me, I have always been confused about it. You are a star Gary, what would we do without you ;)

    Lloyd in Summerfield, Fl
    6/21/12 @ 6:27 am

    Maybe you remember Jack Webb, as Sargent Joe Friday, from the television series Dragnet and his old saying: “Just the Facts, Ma’am.”

    Its refreshing to hear Just the facts, Sir! Great job, and keep those facts coming.

    Mac C.
    6/21/12 @ 8:13 am

    Good job, Gary! Well done. As another 25+ year “Mac” veteran, I concur with your comments on these “clean-up” programs.

    Mr Anthony Cotton
    6/21/12 @ 9:28 am

    I do the same has you Gary. I have never had one of these Mac cleaner`s. The one thats tempting is the Mac Keeeper,and it is all over the internet. If i deleted some of the applications i do not use,Example Automator would this effect the running of the computer. I have never used it,and i think it`s got something to do with the workflow. Others are iChat,iWeb,Mail. It`s an old Mac Mini 2007,and its not my main computer,so i am not bothered. I just want to know would it effect the running of the computer Gary

      6/21/12 @ 9:59 am

      Deleting those wouldn’t help you much. They would give you a little hard drive space back, but not enough to make a difference. I would not advise trying to remove them.

    Freddie from Puerto Rico
    6/21/12 @ 10:36 am

    This is great honest advice Gary. I suspected the same when I started seeing these ads all over the web. I wanted to thank you for this information as I am kind of “NEW” to the Mac and had some questions about this. You answered them ALL in this video.
    Again THANKS A MILLION!!!!

    6/21/12 @ 10:59 am

    Great video. I love the straight talk and this backs up what I’ve always hoped was true.

    6/21/12 @ 11:15 am

    Thanks a ton for this video Gary! In our store we always tell people “Don’t install any maintenance or anti-virus programs! Just do your software updates.” We’ve also been amazed by how often people come in with problems with their Macs, especially speed issues, and have a particular highly-advertised ‘keeper’ program on their machines that after uninstalled, their machine runs fine. Keep up all the amazing (unbiased) work!

    6/21/12 @ 1:56 pm

    Add my thanks to the growing list of appreciative Apple users, Gary; way to go.
    You mentioned that cleaning up duplicate files is something “you can do on your own”. I shot five thousand pics (of grizzly bears) on a trip to Alaska and wound up with about two-and-a-half downloads of the same pics… a real self-generated mess on my Mac and MBP. How do I find and manage dupes?
    Thanks again,

      6/21/12 @ 4:13 pm

      Maybe try sorting them in different ways (name, date, size, etc) and see if there is some easy way to select the ones you want to keep. Hard to give specifics as I’m not sure what you’ve got (in iPhoto? in Finder?) Are they all in the same folder? All with the same name (can’t be, so there must be some difference, etc).

    Michael A.
    6/21/12 @ 3:51 pm

    I too must jump in and say thank you for giving us the straight story on all the hard drive cleaning hype that is out there about what you should be doing as an enduser for your system.

    Jeremy S
    6/21/12 @ 8:04 pm

    Gary, I concur with you. I worked for Apple and always manually removed the small amount of files only if needed. OSX does most of the work for you and honestly the effort needed to buy, install and use cleaning software is simply not worth the time for the small if noticeable gain. Thanks for your great video and opinions.

    6/22/12 @ 11:46 am

    The free C-Cleaner took care of 10 false positives that showed up in Sophos. After deleting them, the Sophos scan shows up clear once again. I would never have found these on my own.

    Sahaja S
    7/3/12 @ 8:39 pm

    After buying a copy of Mackeeper (off this site) it worked ok with Snow Leapord but when I changed to Lion my battery ran down within 2 hours (Macbook Pro). After reading this I took it off and no more battery problems. I too thank you Gary but am wondering if you could put a heavier disclaimer on that program if you are to allow it on your page. Thanks for your invaluable info.

      7/4/12 @ 12:23 am

      Clarification: I don’t sell MacKeeper “at this site” — I’m guessing that you clicked on a Google ad for that product. If I were to manually approve and disapprove ads on this site it would take hours per week (there are 1000s of ads, changing all the time). That’s not how most web sites work. Even those with a large staff don’t do that. Like newspapers and TV, ads are ads, not endorsements.

        Sahaja S
        7/7/12 @ 2:51 am

        Got it – I should be more savvy but as I respect what you offer I took it to mean an endorsement so I will know next time…..always learning…thanks again.

    7/11/12 @ 4:35 am

    Good on you Gary for being up front and telling the truth, does not seem to happen that often.
    I appreciate you.

    Thanks again Brad

    8/27/12 @ 2:28 pm

    Hey Gary,
    May I delete everything from my Caches folder? Can this result in any problem?

    And about this Mac cleaners. Every time I delete an app I use them.
    The point is that always come another archives to delete with the app icon (the cleaner find this archives for me).
    How can I deal with this without the app cleaner? If I only move to trash will it leave some files on my MBP?

      8/27/12 @ 2:49 pm

      First, why delete your cache? And which cache are you talking about? What’s your reasoning for doing so?
      Second, if you move an app to the trash, and you have created files using that app, yes, it will leave them behind. But what are those files? Why did you create them? If you created them, do they have value? If so, then why are you trying to delete them? If not, then why did you create them? See what I mean?
      There are a lot of questions to ask and think about. I don’t like processes that do things automatically — they don’t think about these things. And they may not know everything about the app. I’d rather use an official uninstaller when things are complex (like Adobe apps, for instance).
      And how often do you need to uninstall an app? For a typical user, this would be rarely. But if you have some reason to keep installing and uninstalling apps, then perhaps you have even more reason to carefully consider every uninstall and do it properly, rather than having an automatic process do it for you.

        8/27/12 @ 8:58 pm

        As I did a clean install of ML and want to start over. I was thinking to make one single backup of TimeMachine to keep this first settings with me. Then I want this to occupy as little space as possible. Because of this I want to delete the Caches that you told about on this video (~/Library/Caches).
        May I delete everything in this folder?

        No, I didn’t create any files. They just appear with the app icon in the Mac cleaner app and used to be .plist or something like this. Is there any possibility that I keep “Preferences and Configuration” of the app when delete using the default way(dragging to the trash)?
        May you teach me how to search for leaved preference files?

        Thanks a lot Gary and sorry for something.

          8/27/12 @ 9:37 pm

          I definitely recommend against doing a “clean install” of ML. No reason for it. It will likely lead to trouble or you spending lots of time trying to restore data, apps and settings. I get lots of “help me” emails from people that start with “So I did a clean install…”
          I would not worry about plist preference files. They are tiny. No sense spending lots of time to try to get back pennies worth of hard drive space.
          Cache files you can delete in this case, but I strongly advise you against this whole path — don’t do the clean install. Just do a regular install. If this was 1995 with old Mac OS or Windows, sure, but with OS there is no real advantage and the possibility of lots of problems.

    12/12/12 @ 10:02 am

    I was about to buy a new cleanmymac! However after watching this video, thank you so much I will do everything on my own now. Thanks again.

    1/21/13 @ 9:53 am

    Wow, thanks for your helpful post! Now I know not to buy the unnecessary cleaning programs, but I was wondering if you have recommendations for anything a person can do for when a Mac starts running slowly.

    (I have about 100 Gigs of free space on the hard drive, Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26 GHz, 4GB of memory on a fairly new refurbished macbook that has started running a little sluggish for no reason I can detect.)

    Thanks again!

    2/10/13 @ 10:38 am

    There may be additional potential problems with caches beyond just the space which they occupy. Frequently, I have seen the recommendation to clear cache files as a troubleshooting step, particularly in regard to browsers.

    Recently 1Password stopped syncing on one of my iMacs. I went to the menu bar, Help > Troubleshooting and clicked “Clear Cache.” VoilĂ , 1Password was syncing again.

      2/10/13 @ 10:48 am

      In the past this has been true because some programs didn’t maintain their caches well. Tech advice like “clear your cache” live on long after they are needed. As for 1Password, it was probably a coincidence. I don’t see how clearing your browser cache could have any affect.

    2/10/13 @ 4:07 pm

    Not wanting to belabor the point, but I suppose that when the cache is cleared through the 1Password application as I did, it is referring to folders such as “~/Library/Containers/com.agilebits.onepassword-osx/Data/Library/Caches.” Maybe I’m wrong, but my guess is that this is different from the browser caches.

    It appears the 1Password has other caches squirreled away in the Containers folder.

    Appreciate all of your great info and help.

      2/10/13 @ 5:55 pm

      Oh, so it was the 1Password cache. Well, it sounds like a problem with 1Password. It doesn’t mean that a cleaning program would have helped either.

    2/27/13 @ 10:19 am

    I know everyone seems to put the cleaners down, but I have used one called Detox My Mac (recommended on CNET) – and I can honestly see some good results.

Comments Closed.