Here are Macworld's 17 great tips for making your Mac feel brand new. We start with simple physical and virtual Mac-cleaning tasks, and then move on to some deeper cleaning. All of these tips will help your Mac desktop or Mac laptop zip along. You can do our Mac-cleaning tips all in sequence, or pick out the ones that best suit your needs. None are difficult or time consuming: do them all and your Mac will feel like new. Karl Hodge and Christopher Breen contributed to this story.
If your Mac isn't running as well as it used to, read about how to speed up a slow Mac here.
Clean up your Mac: before you start
We'll start with some simple ways to prepare yourself for any problems when you delve deeper into your Mac. These are good simple things for any Mac user to do, at any time. And if things go wrong you'll be glad you did.
1. Tackle cable clutter
First things first, let's look at physical tidiness. Take a look at the back of your Mac. Trace the cables you find back there and see where they lead. You may discover USB cables connected to nothing whatsoever or to a spare photo printer that you haven't used all year. While you're in rummaging mode, check any power strips to see if they're connected to power supplies that aren't serving a useful purpose. You'll feel a whole lot better. See all Mac productivity software reviews.
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2. Back up
Before you begin faffing with your Mac, make sure you have an up-to-date backup. You can use Time Machine to deal with apps and docs, though we'd recommended having a complete backup to hand. SuperDuper is just the Mac software tool, as it can create a bootable backup that is easy to restore if things go wrong. Using SuperDuper is easy and the free version is fine for manual backups – you can download it from www.shirtpocket.com/superduper. Once installed, open the program and select your local machine from the Copy box. Select your backup drive in the To box. Choose Backup – all files and click Copy Now.
3. Keep a bootable disk
Make sure your Mac Install DVD is stored safely. It can be used for many emergency maintenance jobs. For example, to restore a SuperDuper backup, boot from your Install DVD (insert it and hold down C at startup) then select Disk Utility. Choose Restore and navigate to the backup drive.
4. Create a troubleshooting account
Some Mac problems aren't caused by your machine, but by your user preferences. You can troubleshoot this – and fix issues – by adding a second user account with Admin rights. Go to the Accounts pane in System Preferences and click Unlock. Click the + icon to add a new account.
5. Create a new identity
Choose Administrator from the new account drop-down and give it a short name and long name, like Maintenance Account or Cleanup. Add a password. Click Create Account when you've finished. If you have problems with your main account in future, switch to this one to run diagnostics and fixes. (Read our piece: run Windows applications in OS X.)
Clean up your Mac: improve performance
Now let's look at some simple, incremental ways to speed up your Mac.
6. Take out the Trash
You may think that once something is in the Trash it is gone forever, but you'd be wrong. Items tossed into OS X's Trash can remain there until you remember to choose Empty Trash from the Finder menu (or you click and hold on the Dock's Trash icon and select Empty Trash from the menu that appears). Command-Shift-Delete does the job.
7. Take out *all* the trash
Also some applications maintain Trash of their own that left unemptied can add unwanted bloat. Apple's iPhoto is the first place to look. When you delete pictures and movies, they go into iPhoto's Trash – located in iPhoto's sidebar – where they remain until you Control-click (or right-click) on iPhoto's Trash and choose Empty Trash.
Apple's Mail has Trash too, though by default Mail is configured to dispose of messages after a month. You can get rid of them sooner than this by opening Mail's preferences, clicking the Accounts tab, selecting an account, selecting the Mailbox Behaviors tab, then choosing a different option in the Trash area of the window. To delete all trashed messages immediately, Control-click (or right-click) on the Trash icon in Mail's sidebar and select Erase Deleted Items.
8. Deal with duplicate data
If you've been using the same Mac for a while, it's likely that you have duplicate items cluttering up your computer. Fortunately, some applications have built-in tools for easily dealing with those items.
For example, open Apple's Address Book and choose Card > Look For Duplicates. Address Book will do exactly that and eventually produce a sheet that details the number of duplicate cards and duplicate entries. Click Merge and the information from cards deemed duplicates will be merged into a single card.
9. Clear the Desktop
Many Mac users believe the Desktop is the perfect place to store files. After all, it puts the files you use most often front and centre. The problem is that the Finder treats any folder or file on the Desktop as a window. That window designation is benign if you don't have many items on the Desktop, but clutter it with files and folders, and the Finder will slow significantly. If you've noticed that the Finder has become poky and you have a lot of items on the Desktop, there's your answer – too much clutter. It's time to pick up your junk.
10. Ditch widgets
Helpfully, your Mac is bundled with widgets – but they run in the background, taking up browser threads and processes. Get rid of what you don't want. Go to the Dashboard (hit F4 or F12) and click the + icon in the bottom left corner. In Manage Widgets uncheck widgets to remove them from the Dashboard.
11. Clean the internet
If only you could clean the entire web… but cleaning Safari will do. A periodic clear-out of your cache will help reduce disk thrashing and speed up browsing. Launch Safari and hit Command-Option-E to delete your cache. Go to History > Clear History to delete the list of visited sites that Safari stores.
12. Update software
If you don't reboot too often, you'll miss out on your Mac's periodic software updates. Make sure you regularly check for patches and upgrades by going to the Apple menu and running Software Update. If you install the OS from disc anew, you may have to run it several times to get a full update.
13. Verify your disk
A couple of tips for using Disk Utility. You'll find it in Applications > Utilities, but we keep a shortcut in the Dock. Use the First Aid section to periodically verify discs and repair permissions. It's most important to do this after a major software update, installation or application deletion.
14. Repair permissions
Another handy tool for repairing permissions is IceClean, free from www.macdentro.com. Once it is running, hit Command-F3 to repair permissions on your Mac's active volume. IceClean can also perform other maintenance jobs, including plist verification, which cleans your application preference files.
15. Update prebindings
One tip that is useful for versions of Mac OS X prior to 10.5 is to periodically update prebindings. IceClean has a maintenance entry for that very purpose. Though while it certainly won't do your Mac any harm, in Leopard onwards OS X should take care of that task quite happily on its own.
16. Rebuild LaunchServices
A valuable tip: occasionally, when you use the Open With dialog, you may find multiple entries for single applications, orphan shortcuts to deleted programs or missing links. In IceClean, go to Maintenance > Rebuild LaunchServices or just hit Command-F6. That should fix it.
17. Restart your machine
When you've finished maintenance on your Mac, you should reboot so any changes are applied. It's a good idea to reboot your machine regularly anyway. If you leave your Mac on all the time, it will gradually slow down as improperly closed programs and threads fill up memory and CPU cycles. See also Office for Mac vs Google Docs vs Pages: which is the best word processor for Mac?