How To Delete Time Machine Backups

Time Machine is an incredibly powerful and useful tool available to Mac users. It can easily create backups of the Mac system that can be a life-saver in a myriad of different situations. It can help users deal with a serious macOS issue by reverting to a previous point in time, recover from a malware attack by restoring past data, or simply restore files that have been deleted by accident. However, the backups created by Time Machine do take up space on the drive, and in a pinch to free up space users may need to delete them efficiently.

Removing Time Machine backups via the application

  1. Connect the backup drive to the Mac.
  2. Launch Time Machine from the Finder menu bar.
  3. Navigate to the point in time from which you wish to start deleting backups.
  4. Once you have located a backup you wish to delete, right-click on the Finder window or click the gear icon in the Finder window toolbar.
  5. From the available options, select 'Delete all backups of...'
  6. Enter your admin account credentials.

Deleting Time Machine backups via Terminal

While Terminal may seem intimidating at first glance, it remains one of the most powerful tools on a Mac. The Terminal can often achieve the same tasks in just a fraction of the time it would otherwise take. 

  1. Go to your Applications folder, then 'Utilities, and launch Terminal.
  2. Type the tmutil command in the Terminal window to see a list of all backups sorted by date.
  3. Now, to delete a specific backup that you have chose, type sudo tmutil delete followed by the path of the chosen backup displayed in the list. An example of such a path is  /Volumes/TimeMachine/Backups.backupdb/MacintoshHD/YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS/
  4. Press the Return key on your keyboard to delete the selected backup.

Getting rid of Time Machine Snapshots

If Time Machine is unable to reach the dedicated backup drive, it will resort to creating a Snapshot. The created Snapshot is saved on the boot drive and is set to be deleted the next time Time Machine establishes a connection with the backup driver automatically or after a set period has passed. Furthermore, Snapshot shouldn't be created if there is less than 20% free space on the drive. However, sometimes the system may malfunction leading to the Snapshot remaining on the drive and taking unnecessary space. Users can delete them via the same tmutil Terminal command.

  1. Launch Terminal.
  2. Type tmutil listlocalsnapshots/ and hit Return.
  3. You will see a list of snapshots.
  4. To delete a chosen snapshot, type sudo tmutil deletelocalsnapshots followed by the specific date. An example would be tmutil deletelocalsnapshots 2021-07-15-002015
  5. If you see a message stating Delete local snapshot '2021-07-15-002015' then the snapshot has been deleted successfully.

Users also may want to prevent their Macs from ever creating Snapshots. To do this, type the sudo tmutil disablelocal command in Terminal and press Return on your keyboard.