How to Delete Old Time Machine Backups on Your Mac Featured Image

3 Best Ways to Delete Old Time Machine Backups on Your Mac

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Last updated: August 26, 2023

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Time Machine is one of the most user-friendly backup solutions for Mac users, effortlessly keeping track of your files and system configurations. While it works quietly in the background, safeguarding your data, there’s a flip side: these backups can accumulate, taking up precious storage space.

Deleting old Time Machine backups lets you reclaim disk space and maintain a streamlined backup system. But how exactly do you do it without risking your essential backups? In this guide, I’ve shared the 3 best ways to delete old Time Machine backups on your Mac to suit various technical comfort levels.

Before We Begin

If you want to free up space on your Mac, you don’t need to delete Time Machine backups, as there are other ways to do that. For example, you can use MacKeeper to delete duplicate files on your Mac, which often take up significant space. You can also uninstall unnecessary apps on your Mac using MacKeeper.

Use MacKeeper to Free Up Space on Your Mac

Unused applications can take up valuable space on your hard drive. By removing them, you can create more room for important files, applications, and system updates.

With MacKeeper’s Smart Uninstaller, you can delete unwanted apps in just a few clicks. Follow these steps to uninstall apps on your Mac:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. After installation, launch MacKeeper and click the Smart Uninstaller in the left-hand menu.
click smart uninstaller in the left sidebar 2
  1. Click Start Scan.
click start scan in smart uninstaller 1
  1. Select the applications you want to delete from the list and click Remove Selected.
select the applications you want to remove and click remove selected
  1. Tap the Remove button on the pop-up to confirm the deletion.
click remove on the pop up window in smart uninstaller 2
  1. MacKeeper will uninstall the apps and remove associated files and folders. You will get a Removal Completed notification. If you want to scan your Mac again, click Rescan.
click rescan in smart uninstaller 3

Besides deleting unwanted apps, MacKeeper can also help you remove duplicate files on your hard drive. Here’s how to delete duplicate files on Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. Open MacKeeper on your Mac and click Duplicates Finder in the left sidebar.
click duplicates finder in the left sidebar 1
  1. Click Start Scan.
click start scan in duplicates finder 1
  1. Select a folder in the left menu to review duplicate files before deletion.
click an item in the left sidebar
  1. Alternatively, you can click Check All and tap the Remove Selected button to remove all duplicate files at once.
click check all and tap remove selected 1
  1. Tap the Remove button on the pop-up to confirm the deletion.
click remove on the pop up window in duplicates finder
  1. This will remove the selected files and get a Removal Completed notification. Click Finish to end the process.
click finish to complete the process 1

What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

Besides uninstalling apps and deleting duplicates on your Mac, MacKeeper can free up RAM on your Mac, manage login items, and stop annoying ads. Read my detailed MacKeeper review to learn about its features in detail.

Are Time Machine Backups and Snapshots the Same?

Are Time Machine Backups and Snapshots the Same

Time Machine backups and snapshots are related concepts, but they’re not the same.

Time Machine is designed to back up your entire Mac system, including your files, applications, settings, and the operating system. It allows you to restore your Mac to a previous state, which is particularly useful in case of data loss, system failures, or when you want to revert to an earlier version of your system.

A Time Machine backup creates a copy of your entire system and keeps track of changes over time. It does this by initially backing up the entire system and then only backing up the changes (incremental backups) on subsequent backups. This way, you can have multiple versions of your files and system state, allowing you to return to different points in time.

On the other hand, snapshots are a feature within Time Machine. When Time Machine is enabled on your Mac, it automatically creates snapshots of your file system at regular intervals. Snapshots are essentially point-in-time copies of your file system at specific moments, but they’re not complete backups like the traditional Time Machine backups.

Snapshots are stored on your main startup drive itself, typically in a hidden folder called .MobileBackups. These snapshots provide a quick and easy way to restore files or the entire system to a specific point in time without relying on an external backup disk.

Snapshots are especially useful when your Time Machine backup disk is unavailable, such as when you’re away from your backup drive but still need to recover a file or undo recent changes.

Why Delete Old Time Machine Backups on Your Mac?

Deleting old Time Machine backups is essential to maintaining a healthy and efficient system on your Mac. Here’s why this practice is vital:

  1. 📁 Conserving Disk Space: One of the primary reasons for deleting old Time Machine backups is to conserve disk space. As backups accumulate over time, they consume significant storage space, leaving less room for new files and applications. This overcrowding can also result in slower system performance.
  2. 💯 Enhancing Backup Efficiency: Deleting old backups enhances the efficiency of the backup process. Keeping only necessary backups allows you to experience faster backup times and more accurate recovery points. It also reduces confusion when restoring specific files or system states.
  3. 🧹 Reducing Clutter: Managing multiple backups can be challenging, leading to clutter. However, keeping only the most recent and relevant backups lets you declutter your Mac, improve organization and minimize the risk of accidentally restoring from an outdated backup.
  4. 🗂️ Adapting to Changing Needs: Your backup requirements may change as your system configuration, installed applications, and file management practices evolve. Regularly reviewing and deleting unnecessary backups allows you to stay aligned with your current needs and easily adjust your backup strategy accordingly.
  5. 🔒 Minimizing Risks: Deleting old backups helps minimize risks. Although rare, backups can become corrupted. Removing old backups reduces the potential exposure to corrupted files and ensures you can restore from a reliable and recent backup if needed.

How to Delete Old Time Machine Backups on Your Mac

Time Machine has a useful built-in feature that automatically deletes old backups when the available space runs low. Despite this, there are situations where manual intervention may be necessary. If you are in such a situation, you have three options to consider. Let’s explore them below.

1. Using the Time Machine Menu

By harnessing the power of this built-in feature, you can effortlessly back up, restore, and delete old Time Machine backups on your Mac. Below, I’ll walk you through the simple steps of using the Time Machine menu to delete backups from your external drive, ensuring smooth and efficient storage utilization while keeping your data safe and sound.

Follow these steps to delete your old Time Machine backups using the Time Machine menu:

  1. Connect your external drive to your Mac.
connect external hard drive to mac
  1. Open the Launchpad and type Time Machine in the search bar.
  2. Open the Time Machine app.
select the time machine app
  1. Select the backup you want to delete.
  2. Click the gear icon and choose Delete Backup.
  3. Confirm your decision by entering your admin password.
  4. This will remove the selected backup.

2. From Finder

By navigating through Finder, you can easily locate and delete specific backups, making room for new data while maintaining control over your storage space. Let’s see how you can delete old Time Machine backups on your Mac via Finder:

  1. Connect your external hard drive to your Mac.
external hard drive connected to macbook
  1. Open Finder on your Mac and find the external drive in the left sidebar.
click finder in your dock
  1. In the external drive, locate the Backups.backupdb folder.
  2. In this folder, look for a folder with the same name as your device.
  3. Here, you’ll find all backups created on your Mac with their respective creation dates.
  4. Right-click the backup you want to delete and select Move to Bin.
  5. Next, empty the Trash on your Mac by right-clicking the Bin icon in your Dock and selecting Empty Bin.
right click the bin and select empty bin

3. Using Terminal

If you enjoy using Terminal, you’ll be glad to know you can also use it to remove Time Machine backups. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to delete Time Machine backups using Terminal:

  1. Open the Finder and navigate to Applications > Utilities > Terminal.
launch terminal from utilities 1
  1. Enter the following command in the Terminal and press Enter:
tmutil listbackups
type the tmutil listbackups command
  1. This command will display the available backups organized by date. Take note of the directory path of the backup you wish to delete.
  2. Next, use the following command in the Terminal and press Enter
sudo tmutil delete <backup_path>
type the sudo tmutil delete command

Here, replace <backup_path> with the actual directory path of the backup you want to remove.

  1. Once the command executes, it will delete the specified backup.

How to Delete Time Machine Snapshots Using Terminal

Time Machine is designed to remove snapshots automatically, but this doesn’t always happen as expected. If you prefer manual control over your device’s content and when it gets deleted, you can use Terminal to remove snapshots. Here’s how:

  1. Open Terminal from Launchpad.
open terminal via launchpad
  1. Enter the command and press Enter:
tmutil listlocalsnapshots /
type the tmutil listlocalsnapshots command
  1. Find the snapshot you want to delete and note its name. Snapshots have names like com.apple.TimeMachine.2023-02-25-180515
  2. Type the following command and press Enter:
tmutil deletelocalsnapshots <snapshot-name>
type the tmutil deletelocalsnapshots command

Here, replace <snapshot-name> with the date of the snapshot you wish to remove, for example, 2023-02-25-180515.

You’ll have to repeat this process for each snapshot you want to delete, making it less straightforward and efficient compared to the method mentioned earlier.

Can You Disable Automatic Time Machine Backups?

If you find yourself spending a considerable amount of time manually managing and deleting backups, you might consider turning off the automatic Time Machine backups feature.

Doing so gives you more control over the backup frequency and saves space on your external device. It’s a straightforward process; here’s how:

  1. From the main Apple menu, navigate to System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click General and select Time Machine.
click on time machine
  1. Connect your external hard drive and wait for it to be recognized.
connect an external hard drive with mac
  1. Deselect the option for Automatic Backup.

If you decide to disable automatic backups, do not overlook this essential task. Backups are crucial for data security, so setting up a few calendar reminders can help you stay on track and backup your Mac data regularly.

Delete Old Time Machine Backups to Free Up Space on Your Mac

Managing Time Machine backups is an essential task for every Mac user. Regular management can improve system performance and backup efficiency, so don’t hesitate to share your experiences and explore further resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I recover a deleted Time Machine backup?

    You may be able to recover a deleted Time Machine backup from a local backup or another partition. It often requires specific technical steps or using specialized software. However, recovery may be more challenging or impossible if the backup was overwritten or securely deleted. You can consult an expert if needed.

  2. How often should I delete old Time Machine backups on Mac?

    You typically don’t need to manually delete old Time Machine backups on Mac, as the system manages this. Time Machine automatically deletes the oldest backups to make space for new ones when the backup disk is full. If specific management of backups is needed, consider expert advice or specific tools.

  3. Can I transfer Time Machine backups to another Mac?

    Yes, you can transfer Time Machine backups to another Mac by connecting the backup drive to the new Mac and using the Migration Assistant. This tool will allow you to select the Time Machine backup and choose the information you want to transfer to the new system.

Hashir Ibrahim

Author

I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.

Ojash

Reviewer

Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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