Matt writes: I’ve been a lifelong PC user but I recently switched to the Mac. Windows has a program manager in the Control Panel that lets me uninstall applications, but I can’t find a similar function on my Mac. What’s the best way to remove or uninstall OS X apps, ensuring that both the application binary and its accompanying support files are properly and safely removed?
In general, applications in OS X are packaged into a “.app” bundle that appears to be a single file but is actually a self-contained folder. Unlike Windows, in which an application usually installs a folder that contains the executable and supporting files, most of what an OS X app needs to run is stored within the .app bundle (if you’re curious, right-click on any .app file and select “Show Package Contents” to see what’s inside).
Deleting an application bundle will remove that application’s binary and all the supporting files contained within. Many apps, however, also install additional files in the user’s Library folder, such as application preferences and caches.
To manually remove an OS X app, first make sure the app is closed and that no services associated with it are running. You can check this by looking at the processes listed in the Activity Monitor application (there’s a search filter there to narrow the list down if it’s too long). Select any associated processes and click “Quit Process” to end them.
Next, head to the user’s library folder (in OS X Lion and above, hold down the Option key while selecting the “Go” menu from the Finder’s menu bar and select “Library”). Here, you’ll want to check for references to the application in the Preferences, LaunchAgents, and Application Support folders. Remove any files or folders that you are certain belong to the application you’re trying to uninstall.
You may also want to check the System Library folder by navigating to the top level of your hard drive and opening the /System folder, although most applications will confine their files to the user-specific Library.
Once that’s complete, check to see if the application had a Dock icon. If so, drag it off the dock to remove it or right click on the icon and select Options > Remove from Dock.
To aid in the process of hunting down rogue application support files, use Spotlight in Finder to search, but make sure that Spotlight is configured to display system files in its search results.
Due to sandboxing requirements imposed by Apple, apps obtained from the Mac App Store are even easier to remove. Simply delete two items: the application file itself from the Applications folder and the application-specific folder in User\Library\Containers.
There are many third-party app removal tools for OS X.
Another way to remove OS X apps is to use third-party tools. Applications like AppDelete, AppZapper, AppCleaner, and Hazel all automate the removal of an application and its supporting files, no matter where they reside on your Mac’s drive.
Take note, however, that automated tools can sometimes miss certain files or folders, and users employing these tools should always perform a manual check to ensure that all remnants of the application have indeed been removed.
Finally, some applications such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite have their own uninstaller application. Wherever possible, use the application-specific uninstaller for these applications, which can usually be located on the installation disk, installation image, or in the application’s folder. You may also be able to download certain application-specific uninstallers from a developer’s support site.
An application-specific uninstaller for Adobe's Creative Suite.
Regardless of which method you choose, remember that leaving behind the occasional abandoned preference file is not likely to cause harm or performance issues. In general, removing the app bundle from the Applications folder and a file or two from the user’s library folder is enough to remove the application from the drive and free up disk space.