Remove Application Icons From Your Mac's Dock

Remove unwanted apps and documents from your dock to free up room

The Dock as shown in OS X El Capitan

Coyote Moon, Inc.

Does your Mac's Dock seem a bit crowded, perhaps filled with apps you seldom use? Or have you added so many document files to the Dock that every icon has become way too small, making it difficult to tell one from another? It only takes a few clicks to slim down your dock and keep it efficient and clean.

This article applies to Macs running OS X 10.7 (Lion) and later.

How to Customize the Dock in System Preferences

Before you start removing icons from your Dock, remember that there are some Dock customizations you can perform that may let you put off making decisions about which apps need to go and which can stay.

The Dock Preference Pane contains settings you can use to affect how your Dock looks and acts. Adjusting these options should be your first step because it's easier than deleting programs. Here's how.

  1. Open System Preferences under the Apple menu.

    Mac desktop with the System Preferences option highlighted
  2. Click Dock.

    Mac System Preferences with the Dock section highlighted
  3. The Size slider affects how large icons appear in the Dock. As you move it, the Dock will appear to let you preview the changes.

    The number of apps in the Dock affects the maximum size you can get with this slider.

    Dock settings on a Mac with the Size heading highlighted
  4. Click the checkbox next to Magnification to turn this setting on. When Magnification is activated, app icons will get bigger when you mouse over them, so they'll be easier to see.

    Move the slider to affect the level of magnification.

    Dock settings on a Mac with the Magnification box highlighted
  5. The Position on Screen option lets you decide where the Dock appears. Choose Bottom to fit more icons.

    Dock settings on a Mac with the Position on Screen option highlighted
  6. If the preference pane doesn't give you enough options, you can try an app such as cDock to gain some additional options.

If customizing the Dock doesn’t solve your space problems, it's time to consider removing apps, stacks, and document icons from your Dock.

Removing apps from the dock is not the same as uninstalling apps

The process of removing applications and documents from the Dock has changed a bit over the years. Various versions of OS X and the newer macOS have slightly different methods.

Mac OS X and macOS have a few restrictions in place about which items you can remove. The Finder and the Trash are permanent members of the Dock. There's also a separator (a vertical line or dotted line icon) that marks where apps end and documents, folders, and other items begin in the Dock.

What Happens When You Remove a Dock Icon

The Dock doesn't actually hold an app or document. Instead, the Dock contains aliases, represented by an item's icon. These icons are shortcuts to the actual app or document, which may be located somewhere else within your Mac’s file system. As an example, most apps reside in the /Applications folder. And there's a good chance that any documents in your Dock are taking up residence somewhere within your home folder.

Adding an item to the Dock doesn't move the associated item from its current location in the file system to the Dock; it only creates an alias. Likewise, removing an item from the Dock doesn't delete the original item from its location in your Mac’s file system; it just removes the alias from the Dock. Removing an app or a document doesn't delete them from your Mac; it only removes the icon and alias from the Dock.

How to Remove Apps and Documents from the Dock

No matter which version of OS X you're using, removing a Dock icon is an easy process, though you need to be aware of a subtle difference between OS X versions.

macOS Mojave and Later

Most versions of Mac OS X and macOS let you drag and drop items from the Dock.

  1. Quit the application, if it's currently open.

    If you’re removing a document, you don’t need to close the document first, but it's probably a good idea to do so.

  2. Click and drag the item's icon off the Dock towards the Desktop. As soon as the icon is completely outside of the Dock, you will see a Remove menu pop up.

    Remove Dock icon from macOS Dock
  3. You can then let go of the mouse or trackpad button.

OS X Lion and Earlier

  1. Quit the application, if it's currently open.

    If you’re removing a document, you don’t need to close the document first, but it's probably a good idea to do so.

  2. Click and drag the item's icon off the Dock towards the Desktop. As soon as the icon is completely outside of the Dock, you can let go of the mouse or trackpad button.

  3. The icon will disappear with a puff of smoke.

OS X Mountain Lion to High Sierra

Apple added a small refinement to dragging a Dock icon in OS X Mountain Lion. It's essentially the same process, but Apple introduced a small delay to put an end to Mac users accidentally removing Dock icons.

  1. If an application is running, it’s a good idea to quit the app before proceeding.

  2. Position your cursor over the icon of the Dock item you wish to remove.

  3. Click and drag the icon onto the Desktop.

  4. Wait until you see a small puff of smoke appear within the icon of the item you have dragged off the Dock.

  5. Once you see the smoke within the icon, you can release the mouse or trackpad button.

  6. The Dock item will be gone.

That slight delay, waiting for the puff of smoke, is effective in preventing accidental removal of a Dock icon, which can happen if you accidentally hold down the mouse button as you move the cursor over the Dock. Or, as has happened to us once or twice, accidentally releasing the mouse button while dragging an icon to change its location in the Dock.

An Alternate Way to Remove a Dock Item

You don’t have to click and drag to get rid of a Dock icon; you can also use the Dock menu to remove an item from the Dock.

  1. Place the cursor over the icon of the Dock item you wish to remove, and then either right-click or control-click the icon. A pop-up menu will appear.

  2. Select the Options > Remove from Dock item from the pop-up Dock menu.

    Remove from Dock submenu item macOS
  3. The Dock item will be removed.