How to Clear the System and Internet Caches on a Mac

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It’s normal for macOS to use some of your hard drive space for everyday operations. Your web browser constantly downloads new data, which it retains to speed up future browsing sessions. Applications like video editors and iTunes keep a media cache of exported files and album artwork.

It’s amazing just how much free space you can reclaim by deleting junk files, provided you know where to look. There’s also good reason to approach this reclamation of drive space with caution.

Today we’ll look at why and how to clear caches on macOS, as well as a few apps that make it super easy.

What Are Caches and Why Delete Them?

Caches are basically temporary files created by your operating system and the applications you use. They could be temporary internet files like images and HTML documents, created by a web browser like Safari or Chrome.

macOS Cache Folders

If you edit a lot of photos and videos, you’ll find that your editor of choice retains temporary data that hangs around on your drive. Video editors that render clips and effects during editing have to store this data somewhere, but they don’t always remove these files afterwards.

Many applications keep caches that are just too small to worry about. System components like Spotlight, Contacts, and Maps create relatively lightweight caches that won’t net you a lot of free space should you delete them.

macOS Adobe Cache Folders

Which brings us to an important point: you don’t need to delete caches. Unless you’re looking for a quick and easy way to regain some free space and you’re constantly juggling applications and files so that your Mac functions normally, it’s best to leave them be.

Many applications run their own cleanup routines to stop caches ballooning to unmanageable sizes. There are a few other valid reasons you might delete caches beyond a desire for more space:

  • Fix problems with webpages loading outdated assets.
  • Remove personal data stored by websites and applications.
  • Force an app to discard old cached information.

Important: Create a Backup First!

macOS Time Machine Backups

You should already be regularly backing up your Mac, whether that’s with the Apple’s own Time Machine, using a third party backup tool, or even an online backup. When you start poking around in the Library folder, you run the risk of breaking something.

While most applications generally won’t store critical information in the cache, it’s certainly possible that deleting something could lead to unwanted data loss and unforeseen behavior. With a recent backup, you can simply restore the caches folder should something go wrong.

How to Clear the Safari Cache on Mac

clear cache mac - Safari

Clearing your web cache is easy, though if you’re not using Safari as your primary web browser, this won’t be of use to you:

  1. Launch Safari and click on Safari > Preferences at the top of the screen.
  2. Click on Advanced then enable Show Develop menu in menu bar at the bottom.
  3. Close the Preferences window then select Develop at the top of the screen.
  4. From the Develop menu choose Empty Caches.

Note: This is a bit more drastic than simply clearing your history, accessible under Safari > Clear History. Clearing caches in Develop mode will not remove any personal information other than that stored in temporary files (your history, bookmarks, Downloads folder, and so on are unaffected).

How to Clear Mac System Caches

clear cache mac - system

To clear system caches specific to your user account:

  1. Launch Finder then click Go > Go to Folder in the menu bar at the top of the screen.
  2. In the box that appears type ~/Library/Caches and hit OK.
  3. Choose the files and folders you want to delete, and drag them into the Trash.
  4. Regain free space by right-clicking on the Trash in your dock and choosing Empty Trash.

If you want to delete caches associated with another user account, you’ll need to head to that specific user’s cache directory. You can do this by changing the folder location in the second step to /Users/username/Library/Caches—replacing username with the user account in question.

To clear system caches that are shared between user accounts, head to /System/Library/Caches instead.

Apps Can Do All of This for You

You could spend your time manually deleting caches, or you could just get an app to do it for you. The beauty of these apps is that they generally do a lot more, and they’re especially good at freeing up space you didn’t know you had.

OnyX macOS Cache Cleaner

OnyX is one such free tool that provides simple one-click deletion of caches. Download the version specific to your operating system, and launch the app. Let it analyze your startup disk, then head to the Cleaning tab. Flick through the tabs and indicate what should be deleted, then click Delete Caches.

CCleaner Mac Clear Caches

CCleaner is another tool that will kill your caches, though it doesn’t offer as much control as OnyX. Download and install the app, then click Analyze to let CCleaner find as much potential free space as possible (caches included). You can then hit Run Cleaner to tidy up the selected items.

CleanMyMac macOS Cache Cleaner

Finally, CleanMyMac 3 is a $ 40/year premium one-click cleaner. The only reason I routinely use it is because it’s included in the app subscription service SetApp. It’ll blitz your caches, and find other redundant macOS data, outdated backups, and huge files you’d forgotten about in a few clicks.

I’ve never had any trouble clearing caches using any of these apps, but it’s still worth running regular backups for peace of mind.

Reminder: You Don’t Normally Need to Do This

Unless you’re incredibly tight on space or looking to target a specific application by deleting its cache, you should probably leave your Mac’s caches well alone. There are plenty of ways to create free space on macOS without ever touching your caches.

You can move your libraries and device backups elsewhere, delete unnecessary large files, or even add more storage space to your MacBook to give you more room to breathe.

Image Credit: Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos