Remove Application Icons From Your Mac's Dock

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

Docks in Italy
It's so easy to add applications to the Dock that it can quickly get overcrowded. Courtesy of Pixabay

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? If you answered 'yes' to either question, then it's time to do a bit of house cleaning and declutter the Dock.

Customize Your Dock

Before you start the wholesale removal of 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.

By using the Dock Preference Pane, you can change the Dock's icon size, add or reduce the Dock's magnification, and decide if the Dock should be hidden, as well as a few other Dock adjustments you can make that may let you leave the population of your Dock unchanged. 

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. Don't worry, though. Removing apps from the dock is not the same as uninstalling apps

Removing Dock Icons

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 added their own subtle take on how an app should be deleted from the Dock. But no matter which version of OS you're using, we have the goods on how to get rid of an app, folder, or document you no longer wish to have resident in your Dock.

The Mac’s Dock does have a few restrictions in place about which items can be removed. The Finder icon, usually located on the far left of the Dock (when the Dock is in the default location at the bottom of your display), and the Trash icon, located on the far right, 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. The separator should also be left in the Dock.

What Happens When You Remove a Dock Icon

One of the important concepts to understand about the Dock is that it doesn't actually hold an app or document. Instead, the Dock contains aliases, represented by an item's icon. Dock icons are simply 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.

The point is that adding an item to the Dock doesn't move the associated item from its current location in the Mac’s 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 from the Dock doesn't cause the item to be deleted from your Mac; it only removes the icon and alias from the Dock.

Methods of Removing Icons 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.

Remove Dock Icon: 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.

Remove Dock Icon: OS X Mountain Lion and Later

Apple added a small refinement to dragging a Dock icon in OS X Mountain Lion and later. 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 me 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 simply 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.

  3. The Dock item will be removed.

That about covers the ways to remove an item from your Mac’s Dock. Remember, you can customize your Dock in many ways; the only thing that matters is how well the Dock works for you.