Mac OS X offers no “Uninstall a program” interface like the one available in Windows. You have to uninstall applications by dragging their icons around — but what about applications that don’t have shortcuts, built-in system apps, and other corner cases?
Uninstalling most Mac applications is a simple process. But, for some applications, uninstalling them is much harder than it is on Windows. Thankfully, there aren’t as many ways to uninstall them as there are ways to install applications on a Mac.
The Problem With Uninstalling on OS X: Lots of Junk Gets Left Behind
The problem with OS X is that even when you uninstall applications, a lot of stuff gets left behind, and there’s no built-in way to find all the supporting files and get rid of them. This is a problem that people associate with Windows, but it’s actually a big OS X issue.
Luckily CleanMyMac 3 has a great clean uninstaller feature that will search for all the leftovers and clean them up for you automatically. You can remove applications cleanly with a single click.
Even if you aren’t worried about drive space, this can help solve other issues — for instance, we solved a recurring Skype crash issue by doing a clean uninstall with CleanMyMac 3 and then reinstalling the application. It’s not the only way to do it, of course, and you can manually hunt down the files, but it’s a lot easier to use, and it’s something we actually use here at How-To Geek.
How to Uninstall Most Mac Applications
Most Mac applications are self-contained items that don’t mess with the rest of your system. Uninstalling an application is as simple as opening a Finder window, clicking “Applications” in the sidebar, Control-clicking or right-clicking the application’s icon, and selecting “Move to Trash.”
You can also drag-and-drop an application’s icon to the trash can icon on your dock. Or, open the Launchpad interface and drag-and-drop an application’s icon to the trash can from there.
Most applications will go straight to your trash, and you can then Control-click or right-click the trash can icon on your dock and select “Empty Trash” to get rid of that application and all the other files you’ve deleted.
However, some applications will prompt you for a password when you try to move them to the trash. These applications were installed using the Mac package installer. Uninstalling them will remove whatever system-wide changes they made.
Note that you can’t remove built-in applications by doing this. For example, try to move the Chess app to the trash and you’ll see a message saying, “Chess can’t be modified or deleted because it’s required by OS X.”
Applications That Don’t Appear Here
But what about applications that don’t appear here? For example, install the Flash plug-in for Mac OS X, or the Java runtime and browser plug-in for Mac, and neither will appear in your Applications folder.
On Windows, that’s no problem — the Control Panel shows a list of all your installed programs, even ones without shortcuts. On a Mac, there’s no interface that lists all your installed software so it’s tough to even notice if you have this stuff installed.
Some applications must be removed in other ways, and you’ll generally find instructions by simply performing a web search for “uninstall [program name] mac”. For example, Adobe offers a separate uninstaller app you need to download and run to uninstall Flash on a Mac.
Oracle is even worse and doesn’t provide an easy app that will uninstall Java from Mac OS X for you. Instead, Oracle instructs you to run several terminal commands to uninstall Java after installing it. Here’s how to uninstall the Java runtime and development kit.
Come on, Oracle — at least provide a downloadable uninstaller like Adobe does.
Other software applications may provide their own downloadable uninstallers or uninstallation instructions, so perform a web search if you’re not sure how to uninstall something and you’ll find instructions.
Uninstall Adware and Other Crapware
Macs are now falling prey to the same epidemic of crapware Windows PCs have to deal with. The same free application download websites that serve this junk up to Windows users are serving similar junk to Mac users.
On a Windows PC, most “reputable” adware provides an uninstaller that sits in the Programs and Features list, allowing users to easily uninstall it for legal reasons. On a Mac, adware programs don’t have a similar place to list themselves in. They may want you to download and run an uninstaller app to remove them, if you can even figure out which ones you have installed.
Remove Built-in System Apps
Macs also have no way to uninstall or install operating system features, so there’s no way to easily remove the many applications Apple included with your Mac.
On OS X 10.10 Yosemite and earlier, it was possible to open a terminal window and issue commands to delete these system apps, which are located in the /Applications folder. For example, running the following command in a terminal window would delete the built-in Chess app. Be very careful when typing the following command:
sudo rm -rf /Applications/Chess.app
As of Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan, System Integrity Protection protects these applications and other system files from being modified. This prevents you from deleting them, and it also ensures malware can’t modify these applications and infect them.
If you actually did want to remove any of these built-in apps from your Mac, you’d have to disable System Integrity Protection first. We don’t recommend that. However, you can re-enable SIP after and your Mac won’t mind that you’ve deleted Chess.app and other built-in system apps.
Really, we recommend you don’t do this. Mac OS X may automatically reinstall these applications in the future when you update the system, anyway. They don’t take up much space, and Apple provides no way to get them back beyond reinstalling OS X on your Mac.
This doesn’t actually erase an application’s preferences. Erase an application and it will leave preference files left over in your Library folders. Most of the time, these files will use very little space and won’t cause a problem. The preferences will still be available on your Mac, too — this is convenient if you’re uninstalling an app only to replace it with a newer version of the same app.
Image Credit: Daniel Dudek-Corrigan on Flickr