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How to Delete Downloads on Mac to Free Up Space Quickly

Quickly clear downloads on Mac for more storage space.

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Last updated: November 27, 2023

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TL;DR

To delete downloads on Mac and free up space:

  1. Open Finder, navigate to Downloads, select files, move them to Bin, and then empty the Bin.
  2. Clear download history in Safari, Chrome, or Firefox by accessing browser settings and erasing download records.
  3. Use Smart Folders for sorting downloads, and manually organizing by creating folders, renaming files, and setting browser download prompts.

If you’re like me, your Downloads folder is probably a mess. My folder is often full of hundreds of unneeded files. I’ve realized that too many downloads not only hog storage space but also slow down the system. So, I’ve learned some quick ways to clear out downloads on my Mac. In this guide, I’ll share these easy tips to help you tidy up your Downloads folder.

Before We Begin

To free up storage on your Mac, delete unused apps and programs. Download MacKeeper and use its Smart Uninstaller to identify unnecessary apps, plugins, and leftover files and remove them in one click.

How to Find Downloads on Mac

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Before you delete downloads on Mac, you need to track them down. If you’re not sure where are downloads on your Mac, I’ll share the location of your downloaded files in the sections below.

Find the Downloads Folder on Mac

The Downloads folder on Mac is located in the user’s Home directory. To access it, you can follow these steps:

  1. Open the Finder on your Mac.
click finder in your dock
  1. Click the Go menu in the top menu bar and select Home.
click go and select home
  1. You should now see your home directory, which includes a folder named Downloads.
downloads folder in home directory

Alternatively, you can access the Downloads folder directly by clicking the Downloads option in the Favorites section of the Finder window’s left sidebar.

click downloads in the left sidebar in finder

1. In Safari

If you’re using Safari to download files, here’s how to find your downloads folder:

  1. Open Safari, click Safari in the menu bar, and select Settings from the dropdown menu.
click safari in the top menu bar and select settings
  1. Under the General tab, look for the File download location option to see where your downloads are being saved.
tap file download location under the general tab

2. In Google Chrome

If you use Google Chrome to download files, this is how you can find your downloads folder:

  1. Open Chrome and click Chrome in the menu bar at the top of your screen. Then, select Settings from the dropdown menu.
click chrome in the menu bar and select settings
  1. The Settings will open in a new tab. Click Downloads in the left sidebar to see where your downloads are being saved. You can see the download path on the right-hand side.
click downloads in the left sidebar
  1. Click Change if you want to modify the Downloads location. You can also toggle on the Ask where to save each file before downloading option here.
click change to modify the downloads location

3. In Firefox

Here’s how to find the downloads location on Firefox:

  1. Open Firefox on your Mac and click the three horizontal lines in the top-right corner of the browser window to open the Firefox menu.
click the three lines in the top right corner of firefox
  1. From the menu, select Settings. This will open the Firefox Settings window.
click the firefox menu and select settings
  1. In the left sidebar of the Settings window, click General. Scroll down to the Files and Applications section.
  2. Under Files and Applications, you’ll see the Downloads heading and next to it, you will see the current location where Firefox saves your downloaded files.
downloads under files and application in general
  1. If you want to change the downloads location, click the Choose button and select a new folder or location where you want Firefox to save your downloaded files.
click choose to change the downloads location

How to Delete Downloads on Mac Manually

Now that you know where to find downloads on your Mac, follow these steps to delete downloads manually:

  1. Open Finder by clicking its icon in the Dock.
click finder in your dock
  1. Click the Downloads folder in the left sidebar of Finder under the Favourites section.
click downloads in the left sidebar of finder
  1. Select the files or folders you want to delete. You can select multiple items by holding down the Command ⌘ key and clicking each item.
macbook pro command key
  1. Move the items to the Bin by pressing Command ⌘ + Delete on your keyboard or dragging the selected items to the Bin icon in the Dock. You can also right-click the selected files and select Move to Bin from the context menu.
right click the files and select move to bin
  1. To permanently delete the items, empty the Bin. You can do this by right-clicking the Bin icon and selecting Empty Bin or by opening the Bin and clicking the Empty button in the upper-right corner.
right click the bin and select empty bin

Be careful when deleting downloads on your Mac, as they will be permanently deleted once you empty the Bin. If you accidentally delete an important file, try using Time Machine or a data recovery tool to restore the file.

How to Remove Your Browser Download History on Mac

If you want to completely erase all evidence of your downloads on a Mac, simply removing the downloaded files is not enough. You also need to clear your browser history and list of downloads, which retain information on your downloaded files.

Clearing your browsing data will also sign you out of most websites and delete some saved information, such as auto-fill form data. So, you may need to log in again or re-enter some information after clearing your browsing data.

The steps to remove your browser download history on a Mac vary for each browser. Below, I have shared the steps for Safari and Google Chrome:

Remove Download History on Safari

Here are the steps to delete Safari download history on Mac:

  1. Open Safari on your Mac and click Safari in the top menu bar. Click Clear History… in the dropdown menu.
click safari and select clear history
  1. In the pop-up window, select the time range you want to clear the download history for. You can choose from the last hour, today, today and yesterday, or all history.
select a time range to clear the download history
  1. Click Clear History to delete your Safari download history.
click clear history
  1. This will remove all downloaded files from Safari’s history.

Remove Google Chrome Download History on Mac

To remove the download history in Google Chrome on a Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Open Google Chrome on your Mac and click the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of the Chrome window.
click the three horizontal dots in google chrome
  1. Hover your mouse over More Tools and click Clear browsing data… in the left menu.
click more tools and select clear browsing data
  1. In the pop-up window, select the time range you want to clear the download history for. You can choose from the last hour, today, today and yesterday, or all history.
  2. In the Advanced tab, check the box next to Downloads. You can also choose to clear other browsing data if you want to. For example, you can clear your browsing history, cookies, and cached images and files.
  3. Click Clear data to delete your Chrome download history.
select a time range check all options and tap clear data
  1. Next, go to Window in the menu bar and select Downloads.
click window and select downloads
  1. Click the three dots and select Clear all.
click the three dots and select clear all

This will delete all downloaded files from Chrome’s history.

Remove Firefox Download History on Mac

To remove the Firefox download history on your Mac, you can follow these steps:

  1. Open Firefox on your Mac and click the three horizontal lines in the top-right corner of the browser window to open the Firefox menu.
click the three lines in the top right corner of firefox
  1. From the menu, select Settings to open the Firefox Settings window.
click the firefox menu and select settings
  1. In the left sidebar of the Settings window, click Privacy & Security.
click privacy and security
  1. Scroll down to the History section and click the Clear History button.
click the clear history button
  1. In the pop-up window that appears, you can choose the time range for which you want to clear the download history. You can select options like “Last hour,” “Last 2 hours,” “Last 4 hours,” “Today,” or “Everything” to remove the entire history.
  2. Make sure to enable the checkbox next to Downloads to specifically remove the download history.
  3. If you also want to clear other types of browsing history, such as browsing and search history, you can enable the respective checkboxes.
  4. Once you have selected the desired options, click on the Clear Now button.
select a time range check boxes next to items you want to delete and tap clear now

Firefox will then remove the download history based on the selected time range. After clearing the history, the download records will no longer be visible in Firefox.

Clearing the download history will not delete the actual downloaded files from your computer. It only removes the record of the downloads within Firefox. If you also want to delete the downloaded files, you can manually locate and delete them from the Downloads folder on your Mac.

Get Rid of Leftovers on Your Mac With MacKeeper

Even if you delete unnecessary download files from Mac, some leftovers and log files stay hidden in your system’s corners. This takes up valuable disk space and slows down your Mac. With MacKeeper, you can easily remove these leftover files and reclaim your Mac’s storage capacity.

Here are the steps to remove unused and unnecessary apps with leftovers from your Mac using the Smart Uninstaller:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac
  2. Open MacKeeper and click Smart Uninstaller under the Cleaning section.
click smart uninstaller in the left sidebar
  1. Click Start Scan.
click start scan in smart uninstaller
  1. MacKeeper will find unused apps on your Mac. Select the unused apps you want to remove and tap 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
  1. This will remove the selected apps from your Mac, and you’ll get a Removal Completed message on your screen. Click Rescan to run the scan again.
click rescan in smart uninstaller
  1. Click Leftovers in the left sidebar.
click leftovers in the left sidebar
  1. Select the leftover you want to delete and click Remove Selected.
select the leftover files you want to delete and click remove selected
  1. Click Remove on the pop-up.
click remove on the pop up
  1. Now, do the same for Plugins, Widgets, Preference Panes, and Browser Extensions.

What MacKeeper Can Do?

Besides deleting download leftovers on Mac, MacKeeper can clear temp files on your Mac, delete the cache files, and remove duplicate files. To learn more about its features, read my in-depth MacKeeper review.

Manage Downloads on Mac to Avoid Clutter

To avoid clutter in your downloads folder, here are some tips to help you manage your downloads on Mac:

1. Use Smart Folders

Did you know that 30% of working adults have 100+ files on their desktops? But your Mac has a handy feature that can save you from this digital clutter – Smart Folders.

This built-in feature allows you to group files automatically based on certain criteria. So, instead of having hundreds of unneeded files on your desktop or Downloads folder, create a Smart Folder and set up rules to automatically sort your downloads based on file type, date, or other criteria.

Here’s how to create a Smart Folder for your downloads:

  1. Open Finder and go to File > New Smart Folder.
click file and select new smart folder
  1. In the search bar, type Downloads as the search location.
type downloads in the search bar
  1. Click the + icon to add a rule.
click the plus icon to add a rule
  1. Choose the criteria you want to use to sort your downloads. For example, you can select Kind and choose the file types you want to group.
choose the criteria you want to use to sort your downloads
  1. Add additional rules if needed and click Save to create the Smart Folder.
add additional rules and click save
  1. Your Smart Folder will now appear in the sidebar of Finder, and any new downloads matching your criteria will automatically be added to the folder.

2. Organize Your Downloads Manually

Organizing your downloads manually on a Mac can keep it clutter-free and make it easier to locate files when you need them. Here are some steps to help you get started:

  1. 📁 Create a Folder Structure: Create a folder hierarchy to categorize your downloads. To do this, open a new Finder window and go to the Downloads folder. To create a new folder, press Command + Shift + N and rename it. You can create subfolders within these to further categorize your files.
  2. 📝 Rename Files: Rename downloaded files to something descriptive and meaningful, such as Documents, Images, Software, Videos, etc.
  3. ➡️ Move Existing Downloads: Go through your existing Downloads folder and move each file into the appropriate category folder you created. To move a file, click and drag it to the desired folder.
  4. 🌐 Set Your Web Browser to Prompt for Download Locations: Most web browsers download files directly to the Downloads folder. To have better control over where files are saved, change your browser settings to prompt for a download location each time.
  5. 🧹 Regularly Review and Clean Up: Review your Downloads folder and the folder structure you’ve created to delete or move files you no longer need. This will help prevent clutter and make it easier to locate important files.

Common Problems When Deleting Downloads on Mac

While deleting downloads on a Mac, you might encounter issues preventing you from getting rid of the files. Here are the most common problems you may face, along with their solutions:

  • 🚫 Permission Issues: Sometimes, you may not have the necessary permissions to delete a file, especially if it was downloaded from the internet or received from another user. To resolve this issue, try changing the permissions for the file by selecting it and choosing Get Info from the File menu. From there, you can change the permissions to delete the file.
  • 🔄 File in Use: If the file you’re trying to delete is currently being used by another application, you may not be able to delete it. To resolve this, close the application or force quit it. If you’re unsure which application uses the file, log out of your Mac and back in again. This will close all open applications and allow you to delete the file. 
  • 🔒 Locked Files: Some files may be locked, preventing you from deleting them. This is often the case with system files or files critical to your Mac’s operation. You can try restarting your Mac to release any locked files.
  • 💨 Deleted Files Reappearing: Occasionally, you may delete a file only to find it reappears later. This could be due to a backup or syncing system restoring the file automatically. You can disable syncing and turn off backup for a while and try deleting files again.
  • 💥 Corrupt Files: Sometimes, a file may be corrupt or damaged, making it impossible to delete. To resolve this issue, you can repair the file using Disk Utility. To access Disk Utility, go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility. From there, select the file and choose First Aid to repair any issues.
  • 📀 The File is Stored on an External Device: If the file is stored on an external device such as a USB, external hard drive, or SD card, you may encounter issues when trying to delete it. To fix this issue, ensure the external device is properly connected to your Mac. If nothing else works, try formatting the drive to resolve.
  • ❌ File Too Large to Delete: Some files, especially large ones like video files or disk images, can take a long time to delete or may even cause your Mac to freeze up. Try deleting the file in smaller chunks or use a third-party app to delete large files quickly.
  • 🖥️ System File and Cannot be Deleted: Some files on your Mac are critical to the operating system and cannot be deleted without causing problems. If you encounter a system file you can’t delete, it’s best to leave it alone.

Final Thoughts on Deleting Downloads on Mac

Deleting downloads can improve your system performance and free up space on your Mac. Now that you know how to delete downloads on Mac efficiently, you may want to consider other methods to improve your device’s speed and performance. Here are a few tips to get your started:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How can I delete downloads on Mac without emptying the Bin?

    To delete downloads without emptying the Bin, open the Bin folder and select the files or folders you want to delete. Then, right-click and select Delete Immediately, or press Command ⌘ + Option ⌥ + Delete on your keyboard.

  2. How can I delete multiple downloads at once?

    To delete multiple downloads simultaneously, open the Finder application on your Mac and click Downloads in the left sidebar. Select the files or folders you want to delete, press Command ⌘ + Delete on your keyboard, or drag the items to the Bin.

  3. Why should I delete downloads on Mac?

    You should delete downloads on Mac to free up valuable storage space and improve the overall performance of your device. Keeping your downloads folder organized and clutter-free allows you to easily find the files you need and avoid slowing down your Mac.

  4. Can I recover deleted downloads on Mac?

    Yes, you can recover deleted downloads on Mac using a data recovery tool. However, acting quickly is essential because the longer you wait, the less likely you are to recover the files. It’s also good to back up your files regularly to avoid data loss.

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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