How to Completely Uninstall an App on Mac

Depending on the application and the installation method, you may be able to completely uninstall an application from macOS by simply dragging the .app bundle into the trash. However, that typically leaves behind at least a few preference files. In some cases it can leave behind gigabytes of data.

On macOS, applications generally like to stay inside their .app bundle. Compare this to Windows, where an installer can spew files across the system in dozens of arbitrary locations. Although, this happens with some Mac apps as well, as you’ll see if you try to manually uninstall more complex applications.

If possible, you should always default to using the applications uninstaller, if it has one. Applications with web service components, like Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office 365, should be removed according to the instructions on the developer’s website. If there is no uninstaller application or uninstall procedure, you can remove the application yourself. It just might take a little while, unless you don’t mind paying a few dollars to have it taken care of for you.

Method One: App Cleaner

The easiest way to completely uninstall a game on the Mac is with App Cleaner. It works by searching for files associated with the app bundle and deleting everything together at the same time. You can download and install App Cleaner for free, but it costs $10 to unlock the core file-deletion functionality. With the free version of App Cleaner, you can search for apps but not uninstall them.

If you’re looking for a free option, there is a free, similarly-named program, AppCleaner, that performs similarly but not identically to the paid App Cleaner.

1. Open App Cleaner.

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2. Type the name of the app you want to delete in the search bar at the bottom of the app list.

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3. Check the box next to the application to mark it and its associated files for deletion.

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4. If you want to completely uninstall more than one app, you can search for another app and check it too. Both will be uninstalled in the last step.

5. To delete all selected applications and their associated files, click “Remove.”

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6. Empty the Trash in Finder to remove the files from the disk completely, and you’re done.

Option 2: Manual Uninstall

App Cleaner is useful because not all applications are entirely contained within their app bundles. While some apps can be deleted simply by deleting the .app bundle, not all apps are so well-organized or simplistic.

Many apps, especially powerful apps, can sprawl across your system, depositing files in a variety of “~/Library/” folders. In this way developers have managed to import our least favorite Windows feature: installer vomit.

Finding these files on your own requires knowledge of any names that might be associated with the application. By delving into bundle identifiers and metadata, App Cleaner uses its machine smarts to serve up all the associated files across all the most common system directories. With one click the files can be deleted entirely. If you want to accomplish that task yourself, you’ll have to perform the search manually.

Possible Library Folder Locations

To completely uninstall an app from macOS manually, you’ll need to look for files associated with the application in the following folders. Within each folder, look for the name of the application and the name of the company that created it. For example, if you were trying to uninstall Word manually, you would look for both Word and Microsoft.

  • /Library
  • /Library/Application Support
  • /Library/Preferences
  • /Library/LaunchAgents
  • /Library/LaunchDaemons
  • /Library/PreferencePanes
  • /Library/StartupItems
  • ~/Library/
  • ~/Library/Application Support
  • ~/Library/LaunchAgents
  • ~/Library/Preferences
  • ~/Library/PreferencePanes
  • ~/Library/StartupItems

Additional Locations

You’ll also need to look for any related kernel extensions. Known as “kexts,” kernel extensions are the drivers of the macOS world. A kext extends the communication ability of the kernel, adding new methods of interfacing with the system. You’ll find them installed in “/System/Library/Extensions,” and you’ll need to search thoroughly for anything related to your application. When you’re ready to remove the kexts, you’ll need to use sudo rm.

You may also find files in the “~/Documents/” folder. This is especially true of applications and games that are ported from Windows to macOS. Storing user files in the Documents folder is a standard, and perhaps annoying, behavior on Windows, and that’s easily transferred to macOS.

Other more complex applications can deposit files in less typical locations. If you install a different shell, for example, you’ll find hidden files and folders associated with that shell in your home directory. With Finder foremost, press Command + Shift + . to reveal hidden folders. Delete any associated files or folders from your home directory.

Conclusion

In most cases simply deleting the app bundle is enough to uninstall an app from your Mac. Complete removal is best when the app has large helper files, or you’re attempting to fix some sort of problem by reinstalling the application.

5 comments

  1. You can also download another but free AppCleaner: https://freemacsoft.net/appcleaner/.

  2. What about CleanMyMac 3?

    1. Also a valid option! My personal preference is for App Cleaner, but CMM is a similarly strong candidate.

  3. I recently moved to Mac because of a new job. But I’ve spent my entire professional career running Windows on the desktop. I thought Mac OS was supposed to be this super polished and easy to use OS. I thought people love it because it gets things right that Windows gets wrong. But really, really this is what I have to deal with on a new Mac laptop running Mojave in 2019. I wanted to uninstall an app completely because I needed to rerun the setup wizard which it wouldn’t: good thing I found references on their website to the library folder locations after trying other things unsuccessfully. For most new Windows Apps uninstall is always there and there are no such issues. And yet on the amazing Mac I have to roam around guessing the files by their names (hoping devs didn’t screw it up) or hoping some third party app gets it just right? Pathetic is all I can say…this should not be remotely a user problem on a modern major vendor OS especially one with a reputation of Apple…just pathetic…

    1. You’ll find no argument against that here. It’s absolutely absurd that macOS leaves the user to be the janitor when Steve Jobs specifically hated that idea. The point, originally, was that app bundles should be self-contained folders that could run from any location. Over time, though, developers began requiring more of the system, sprawling out across the user folder. This leads us to today, where major apps like Adobe create something akin to a miniature sub-OS on your system.

      Separately, as much as Windows irritates me, I think the preference is largely based on what you’re used to. I’ve used macOS for years and years now, so I’m intimately acquainted with its ins and outs. Coming from Windows, it was a major culture shock, but I found enough to like that it kept me from quickly switching back. Stick around for a little while, and once you get over the new adoption annoyances, you might find something you like as well.

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