Mac Performance Tips: Remove Login Items You Don't Need

Every Startup Item Consumes CPU Power or Memory

Mac Login Items
The Users & Groups preference pane shows the list of Login Items. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Startup items, also know as login items, are apps, utilities, and helpers that run automatically during the startup or login process. In many cases, application installers add login items that an app may need. In other cases, the installers add login items because they assume you want to run their precious app every time you start your Mac.

Regardless of the reason they're installed, if you're not using them, login items take up resources by eating CPU cycles, reserving memory for their use, or running background processes that you may not even use.

Viewing Your Login Items

To see which items are going to run automatically at startup or login, you need to view your user account settings.

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking the System Preferences icon in the Dock, or selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. In the System Preferences window, click the Accounts icon or the Users & Groups icon.
  3. In the Accounts / Users & Groups preference pane, select your account from the list of user accounts resident on your Mac.
  4. Click the Login Items tab.

You will see a list of items that start automatically whenever you log in to your Mac. Most entries, such as iTunesHelper or Macs Fan are self-explanatory. iTunesHelper watches for an iPod/iPhone/iPad to connect to your Mac, and then instructs iTunes to open. If you don't have an iPod/iPhone/iPad, you can remove iTunesHelper. Other entries may be for applications that you want to start when you log in.

For instance, I have Adium and Meteorologist set to start automatically, since I always use these two applications.

Which Items to Remove?

The easiest login items to pick for elimination are ones that belong to applications you no longer need or use. For instance, you may have at one time used a Microsoft Mouse, but have since changed to another brand.

If that's the case, you don't need the MicrosoftMouseHelper application that was installed when you first plugged in your Microsoft Mouse. Likewise, if you no longer use an application, you can remove any helpers associated with it.

One thing to note. Removing an item from the list of Login Items doesn't remove the application from your Mac; it just prevents the application from launching automatically when you log in. This makes it easy to restore a login item should you find out you actually need it.

How to Remove a Login Item

Before you remove a login item, make a note of its name and its location on your Mac. The name is what appears in the item list. You can discover the item's location by placing your mouse cursor over the item name. For instance, if I wanted to delete iTunesHelper:

  1. Write down the name iTunesHelper.
  2. Right-click the iTunesHelper item in the list of login items.
  3. Select Show in Finder from the popup menu.
  4. Make a note of where the items is located in the Finder.
  5. Earlier versions of OS X use to show the login item location in a popup balloon that appeared just by hovering the cursor over the login item name.
  6. Want an easy way to copy a file location, which appears in a balloon window that disappears if you move the mouse? Press command + shift + 3 to take a screen shot.

    To actually remove an item:

    1. Select the item by clicking its name in the Login Items pane.
    2. Click the minus sign (-) in the bottom left corner of the Login Items pane.

    The selected item will be deleted from the Login Items list.

    Restoring a Login Item

    In most cases, you can use the simple method outlined in the Adding Startup Items to Your Mac article to restore a login item.

    Restoring a Login Item Contained in an Application Package

    Sometimes the item you wish to restore is stored within an application package, which is a special type of folder the Finder displays as a single file. It's actually a folder with all kinds of folders stuffed inside it, including the item you want to restore. You can recognize this type of location by looking at the file path of the item you wish to restore. If the pathname contains applicationname.app, then the item located inside an application package.

    For example, the iTunesHelper item is located on the following file path:

    /Applications/iTunes.app/Contents/Resources/iTunesHelper

    Note that the file we want to restore, iTunesHelper, is located within the iTunes.app, and won't be accessible to us.

    When we try to add this item back using the plus (+) button, we can only get as far as the iTunes application. The content contained within the application (the /Contents/Resources/iTunesHelper part of the path) can't be found. The way around this is to use the drag-and-drop method of adding items to the Login Items list.

    Open a Finder window and go to /Applications. Right-click the iTunes application and select 'Show Package Contents' from the pop-up menu. Now you can follow the rest of the file path. Open the Contents folder, then Resources, and then select the iTunesHelper application and drag it to the Login Items list.

    That's it; you can now remove and, just as importantly, restore any login item. You'll be able to confidently prune your list of Login Items to create a better-performing Mac.

    Originally Published: 9/14/2010

    Update history: 1/31/2015, 6/27/2016

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