Do I Need to Do Any Mac Maintenance?

Laptop with keyboard removed to show inside of computer, with question mark icon superimposed

This is a question that many Mac owners ask. Sure, Apple computers tend to run a lot more smoothly than their Windows-based brethren, but that doesn’t mean that they will run error-free forever.

The short answer to this question is yes, you do need to do some routine and not-so-routine maintenance to your Mac from time to time. Luckily it’s not too difficult.

Gone are the days that you needed to know how to run Cron jobs and defrag your hard drive. You don’t need to manually clean caches, and unless something is wrong, you don’t even need to run disk repair.

Basically, your Mac will run fine with just a little help from you. The Mac maintenance procedures outlined below aren’t huge, but they’ll sure help you keep your Mac running great for years to come.

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Back Up, Back Up, Back Up

Illustration of blue phone booth with Apple Time Machine icon

First things first: you really need to back up your Mac. Setting up a backup plan takes a little time in the beginning to make sure things are saving correctly, but once it’s running it truly is a “set it and forget it” activity.

Your Mac comes with Time Machine installed, and it really is your best option. The maintenance part of this process is to check your backup drive roughly once a month to make sure it’s functioning correctly. Listen for odd noises and be aware of slow access times. If you notice an issue, take care of it now – instead of when you need a backup restored and your drive is dead.

To see your saved backups, click the Time Machine icon in your menu bar and select Enter Time Machine. This is where you can see all your most recent saves. If everything is working, your maintenance here is done.

Prune Startup Items

The more apps you add to your Mac, the more of them that will want to start up with your Mac. That’s fine for important apps, but ones you’re not using regularly are just slowing you down.

Users & Groups settings on Mac System Preferences window

To see what apps are starting up with your Mac, open System Preferences and click on Users & Groups. Click the lock in the bottom left corner and enter your password to unlock the pane, then click on Login Items.

You should see a list of applications here. These will all start up when you log in, whether the box is checked or not. If you don’t want a specific app starting with your login, select it and click the minus (–) button under the window.

Find My Mac

While this is something that should just be turned on and stay on forever, it’s worth checking from time to time that Find My Mac is turned on so you can locate your Mac in case it’s stolen or lost.

This is an easy one to check. Just open System Preferences and click on iCloud. Scroll to the bottom of the list and make sure Find My Mac is checked, and that it’s your account that is logged in. If so, then you’re all set. If not, get it turned on so you’re prepared in case something bad happens.

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Software Updates

One of the best ways to keep your Mac running smoothly and safely is to keep it as current as possible with software updates. As bugs and glitches are found, Apple releases updates to quash them.

You can check for updates on your Mac by clicking on the App Store icon in your Dock and then clicking on the Updates tab.

OS X Yosemite ad on App Store

This will show you not only updates to apps you’ve purchased in the App Store, but OS X updates as well. It’s a good idea to wait a few days before installing an update to make sure there aren’t any issues with the initial release.

Reclaim Disk Space

If you’re running low on disk space, it’s probably time to do some maintenance on your storage. There are a few options for doing this.

The cheapest, easiest option is to just look through your Downloads and Documents folders to see if there’s anything in them that can be deleted. After deleting, make sure to empty your trash and you should have a nice chunk of storage back.

Disk Doctor app window on Mac OS X

If you want to do some serious storage maintenance, you need an app that can check logs and email downloads for storage that can be freed up.

There are a few out there, but Disk Doctor, available in the App Store, seems to be one of the best. It does cost $3, but once you install it you can quickly clear out application caches, logs, browser data, and even email downloads quickly and easily.

Repair Permissions

While this isn’t something that’s necessary very often (if at all) on a regular basis anymore, there are still situations where a good permissions repair is in order. Basically, this has your Mac look at what permissions the applications and files on your Mac should have, and reassign them accordingly. If you want a little more explanation, check Apple’s page on repairing disk permissions.

Verify Disk Permissions on Utilities window

To repair disk permissions, open up Disk Utility by going to Applications > Utilities and double-clicking the icon. Once that’s loaded, click on your main drive name and choose Verify Disk Permissions. If the application tells you that a repair is in order, click Repair Disk Permissions and let it do its thing.

Depending on the size and speed of your drive, this can take 1 to 5 minutes to verify and up to 15 minutes or longer to repair. Once it’s done, any applications that were causing you issues will be resolved, and OS X should run a little faster.


The best piece of Mac maintenance is also the easiest. Simply restarting your Mac every week or so is a great way to keep it running smoothly. A complete restart can help your Mac clear cached memory and reallocate it as you open apps again after the restart.

Selecting Restart from Apple menu drop-down

Simply click on the Apple logo in your menu bar and choose Restart. Get in the habit of doing this at least once a week, and your Mac will be running at top speed.

Clean Your Mac

The most ignored piece of Mac maintenance is the cleanliness of the physical machine itself. If you have a MacBook it probably goes just about everywhere with you – and picks up a little dirt each place it goes. From a dirty keyboard to a disgusting trackpad, your Mac probably needs to be cleaned.

Don’t jump into it and start wiping with a wet towel, though. Remember that even a little water inside your Mac can be a very bad thing. Apple has outlined tips on cleaning each of its products. Follow theses guidelines and safely get your Mac clean.


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