How to Delete Time Machine Backups

How to get rid of old Time Machine backups

What to Know

  • Enter Time Machine then find the backup you wish to delete before clicking Delete Backup.
  • It's also possible to use Finder by finding the backup and double clicking it to enter the backup.
  • Use Terminal to delete via command line with tmutil listbackups followed by sudo tmutil delete and the location of the file.

This article teaches you how to delete your old Time Machine backups and what else you need to know about the process.

How Do I Delete Time Machine Backups on My Mac?

Generally, Time Machine automatically deletes old backups. Once your storage device is running low on space, macOS deletes anything unnecessary, such as your oldest Time Machine backups. However, if you need to delete your backup manually, here's what to do.

  1. Open Time Machine by searching through it on Spotlight or by clicking the time Machine icon on the Menu Bar.

  2. Click Enter Time Machine

  3. Scroll through the backups and find the one you wish to delete.

  4. Click the ellipsis above the folder contents.

  5. Click Delete Backup.

  6. Enter your password to confirm the deletion.

How Do I Delete All My Time Machine Backups? 

If you want to delete all your backups, you don't need to do it date by date. Here's how to delete all your Time Machine backups at once.

  1. Open Finder. 

  2. Find the location where your Time Machine backup is stored. 

    This may be on on an external hard drive or on a different internal hard drive.

  3. Navigate to the Backups.backupdb folder to find the files. 

  4. Select them all by tapping Command and A on your keyboard, then tap Command and delete on the keyboard. 

How Do I Delete My Time Machine Backups Via a Network Drive?

If your backups are stored on an external drive which you connect to via Wi-Fi, the process is slightly different as the files are stored as a sparsebundle file. Here's how to access it.

  1. Find the file on the external hard drive.

  2. Double click the sparsebundle file and wait for it to mount onto your Mac.

    TimeMachineBackup folder on a network drive with a sparse bundle highlighted.
  3. Double click the new location under Locations.

  4. Browse the location to find the files you wish to delete. 

    TimeMachineBackup folder open with a date highlighted.
  5. Right-click the file or subfolder of the date you wish to delete, and click Delete.

How Do I Delete My Time Machine Backups Via Terminal?

If you are comfortable using macOS's Terminal app to change things via command line, it's fairly straightforward to see which backups are available. Here's how to delete individual backups using Terminal.

  1. Open Terminal.

  2. Type tmutil listbackups

    Terminal with the command for listing all Time Machine backups entered.

    You may need to grant Full Disk Access in Security & Privacy preferences first.

  3. You can now see a list of backups.

  4. Type sudo tmutil delete followed by the path to the backup. This will change depending on where the file is stored. It's likely to be similar to /Volumes/Time Machine backup volume name/Backups.backupdb/MacintoshHD/YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS where the latter is the date and time of the backup.

    Terminal with the command required to delete a Time Machine backup highlighted.

Is It Okay to Delete Old Time Machine Backups?

Time Machine does a fairly good job of maintaining itself. It automatically deletes the oldest backups whenever the disk becomes full so there's rarely a need for you to delete files individually. To do so, follow one of the above steps. Some methods can 'reset' Time Machine by deleting certain plist files but these can lead to issues or you losing your entire Time Machine backup database by mistake. 

For the most part, it's wise to leave Time Machine alone if your backups are important. 

  • What does Time Machine back up?

    Time Machine backs up the entire contents of your computer. The contents of a Time Machine backup include all of the documents, apps, music, email, and other files that are present at the time you run the backup. It also stores the version of macOS you were running at the time, so Time Machine can help you return to an earlier version of the operating system, even after you upgrade.

  • How do I back up a Mac to an external hard drive without Time Machine?

    Another way to put your Mac's contents on an external drive involves Disk Utility. Connect your hard drive and then restart your Mac while holding Command + R. Open Disk Utility, select the drive, and then go to Edit > Restore. Tell Disk Utility to restore the external drive from your Mac's hard drive, and it will copy everything over to it.

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