How to Delete Old Time Machine Backups on Your Mac

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.


The Time Machine tool on macOS is a great way to create backups of your data. Because it’s a native Apple tool, it integrates seamlessly with the operating system. You can set it and forget about it, safe in the knowledge you can restore your system in a few minutes 3 Ways to Restore Data From Time Machine Backups 3 Ways to Restore Data From Time Machine Backups Here are several methods for how to restore your Mac using Time Machine, including what to do about "searching for time machine backups." Read More if something goes awry.

But it’s not always set it and forget about it. Sometimes, you might see an error message that says the backup is too large for the backup disk.

What can you do? You’ll need to delete some of your old Time Machine backups to make space for the new ones. You have two methods to choose from. Keep reading to learn about them both.

Method 1: Use the Time Machine App

The easiest way to remove old backups (and the Apple-approved way) is to manage them through the Time Machine app. To delete old backups using Time Machine, use the following instructions:

  1. Connect your backup drive to your computer.
  2. Click on the Time Machine icon on the Menu Bar.
  3. Scroll through your backups and find the one you want to delete.
  4. Click on the Gear icon.
  5. Select Delete Backup.
  6. Agree with the on-screen confirmation.
  7. Enter your password.

Method 2: Use Finder

You can also delete backups using Finder. It’s just as easy:

  1. Open Finder.
  2. Connect your backup drive and wait for it to appear under Devices in the left-hand panel.
  3. Navigate to Backups.backupdb on the backup drive.
  4. Within Backups.backupdb, find the subfolder with your Mac’s name.
  5. You see a long list of subfolders organized by date.
  6. Delete the folder associated with the Time Machine backup you want to remove.

Note that you shouldn’t delete Time Machine backups via the trash can What to Do When Time Machine Backups Are Stuck in Trash What to Do When Time Machine Backups Are Stuck in Trash Do you have an old Time Machine backup stuck in the Trash on your Mac? Here's how to fix it and properly delete the backup. Read More .

Want more space for your Time Machine backups or other data? Try these tricks to free up space on your Mac How to Free Up Space on Mac: 8 Tips and Tricks You Need to Know How to Free Up Space on Mac: 8 Tips and Tricks You Need to Know Running out of storage space on your Mac? Here are several ways to free up space on Mac and reclaim your drive space! Read More . And remember, you don’t have to use Time Machine to manage your backups. We’ve covered some of the best third-party backup tools for Mac 5 Local Mac Backup Solutions That Aren't Time Machine 5 Local Mac Backup Solutions That Aren't Time Machine There are lots of Mac backup options out there, and many of them have features that Apple's default backup app just can't compete with. Read More elsewhere on the site.

Explore more about: Data Backup, Time Machine, Troubleshooting.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!

Enter your Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Wilson S St. Leroy
    October 24, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    i agree with the last comment it won't remove any data really, it take days to do this and the trash folder is only fiilled with removed backups when the ext. HD is plugged in...

  2. Cobie
    January 6, 2019 at 12:44 pm


    This will not only take days to complete, but is unlikely to even work at all and leave gigabytes of undeletable data in your trash. Always remove old backups via the built-in time machine method or via the terminal if you know how to do that.

    • Peter
      January 20, 2019 at 4:51 pm

      Where is the gear icon supposed to be and what to do if I don't see it ? :-( Thank you

  3. Richard
    November 24, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    Hi - thanks for this. I found Time Machine far too "non-intuitive" to use to delete back-ups (like Carrie I didn't see the "gear icon" and am just presented with multiple windows and no obvious way of selecting or deleting) so opted for the Finder method. Question - why did Time Machine fill up my external HD - it's supposed to delete old back-ups to allow space for the new one isn't it? Anyway, I have back-ups from 2016, 2017 and much of 2018 to delete! 2016 seemed to work and I could empty the trash. 2017 was counting up to over 1m items and is now counting down as it empties. In both cases it pauses every now and then to tell me it can't complete an operation because something is "in use" including Library, System, Macintosh HD, Core Service and - I've just selected Skip each time and let it continue - is this the right thing to do? Hard to operate a computer without using the HD I would have thought!

  4. Carrie
    November 10, 2018 at 4:04 am

    Option 1 does not work. When I enter the time machine app there is no gear icon to select. Why does Apple make it so hard to manage our own storage? Grrrr.

    • Peter
      January 20, 2019 at 4:50 pm

      Hi, did you find it somewhere? I haven't got it either. Unfortunatelly I don't see the backups folder as well, so NONE of those two options work for me :-(

  5. s
    May 3, 2018 at 7:08 am

    I used "method2" and now Finder won't let me empty Trash. I now have 2Tb of backups in Trash and no way to get rid of it...

    • tomas
      February 28, 2019 at 3:30 pm

      hey have you found any solutions for this? I just ran into the same problem.

      • Eric
        September 21, 2019 at 7:28 pm

        Hello Tomas, et al.

        To clarify confusion from this disastrous article's instructions, I will list three important facts .

        1) Time Machine manages a Database. Deleting folders via Finder corrupts this carefully managed Database. Time Machine is designed to deal with system files correctly. Finder is not designed to manage a database or deal with system files. Modifying time machines's database manually with finder can cause many problems.

        2) Time Machine uses "Hard Links." A hard link looks and acts like a separate copy of a file when you examine it in the Finder. However, the hard link means that the file exists uniquely just once on a drive. Every instance of the file you see is really a link to that one unique version. Deleting those old folders manually may delete the only real copy of your file as well.

        3) The Gear is an item located on Finder's Tool Bar. It is titled "Action" and lists available actions for the current folder. If the gear icon or the word "Action" it is not present, then it can be added by right mouse clicking on Finder's Toolbar and choosing the "Customize Toolbar" option. When a previous date is selected within Time Machine, the "Action" menu lists a "Delete Backup" option.

        Thank you for reading this brief clarification.
        Best Regards,