How To Delete Time Machine Backups

Posted by Anna Middleton on July 5, 2019
How to Delete Time Machine Backups

Time Machine is there to bail you out if the disaster strikes. Let’s say you need to delete the boot drive and reinstall macOS from scratch. In that case, the Time Machine backups allow you to preserve all your data and files as if nothing happened.

But if you are diligent with the backups, the old backup files can quickly pile up on your external or network drive. There are a couple of methods to remove old backup files and get some extra space. And if you’re struggling to delete the Time Machine backups from Trash, a simple Terminal command can be of help.

The following sections will provide you with a quick guide on how to utilize all the removal methods.

Deleting Time Machine Backups

You can delete old backups via Time Machine or Finder. Of course, both methods require you to connect to the external/network drive and the following explanations assume you are connected.


Launch Finder and choose Time Machine from the menu on the left, it’s under Devices. Navigate to Backups.backupdb folder to locate the old files. By default, they are sorted from the oldest to the newest.

Select the one you want to delete and right-click to access the pop-up window with more actions. Now, click “Move to Trash” to delete the files.

Do a two-finger tap or right click on Trash, select “Empty Trash”, and voila the old backups are gone for good.

How to Delete Time Machine Backup

Time Machine

Click or tap the Time Machine icon in the Menu bar and browse through the backup files you want to delete. Select one of the old files and click the gear icon in the Menu bar to reveal the drop-down window. There you select “Delete Backup” and you’re all done.

The Terminal Trick

As said, some users might struggle with deleting the backups from Trash. To work around this issue, you can use a simple Terminal command.

Hit Cmd + Space on your keyboard, type ter and press Enter to launch Terminal. Type sudo rm -rf ~/.Trash/ in the command line and press Enter to execute it. The window will prompt you to put in the administrator password. Type it in and press Enter again to confirm.

This command is designed to completely empty the trash can through the Root user; this is why it requires administrative privileges.

Delete Time Machine Backups

Quick Trash Fixes

A reboot or restart is usually enough to regain control over Trash. If this fails, there is also an option to force delete the files. Open Trash and select “Secure Empty Trash”, you can also do it from Finder.

Some users might get the “The operation could not be completed because the item is locked.” error. In this case, it’s best to rename the files/folders with strange names, i. e. those that have special symbols or characters. You can also check the files via the “Get Info” option to see if any of them are locked.

Time Machine Snapshots

When Time Machine wants to make a backup but cannot connect to the designated external drive, it creates snapshots. These are basically backups that save to the hard drive on your Mac until you connect the computer to the external/network drive.

For the most part, these backups are temporary and they delete automatically when connected to the backup drive or after allocated time. You should also know that Time Machine won’t make a snapshot if it would reduce the hard drive capacity to below 20%.

Be it as it may, some users still report that snapshots take up tens of gigabytes, which is why you may need to get rid of them manually. You can do this via Terminal commands and here are the steps.

Step 1

Access Terminal and execute the tmutil listlocalsnapshots / command. This provides you with a list of the snapshots which are named something like this: com.apple.TimeMachine.2018-12-15-002010.

Delete Time Machine Backup

Step 2

To get rid of a specific snapshot you need to use the sudo tmutil deletelocalsnapshots command and add the specific date. The exact command should look something like this:

tmutil deletelocalsnapshots 2018-12-15-002010.

In general, it’s best to copy/paste the specific dates and commands to ensure you don’t miss anything. And after you hit Enter, a “Delete local snapshot + (date)” message appears in the window to confirm successful deletion. It’s worth mentioning that you need to repeat the steps for every snapshot you wish to delete.

Expert Tip: To prevent local snapshots, execute sudo tmutil disablelocal command in Terminal.

Get Inside Time Machine and Delete

When all is said and done, deleting Time Machine backups is pretty straightforward and you shouldn’t hesitate to use Terminal commands. If for some reason you find the methods difficult, there are third-party apps that streamline the entire process.

For example, CleanMyMac X is a free tool that removes the Time Machine snapshots without Terminal.


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