What happens when force quit doesn’t work on your Mac?

We’ve all seen the spinning beachball appear on our Mac’s screen and grown in frustration as we wait for the application that has hung to respond. Sometimes it doesn’t and we have to resort to force quit to shut it down and start again. But what happens when force quit is not working? We’ll answer that question and show you exactly what to do.

Tip

A quick replacement for Force Quit is found in CleanMyMac X. This program by MacPaw has a tool that switches off your hanging apps (and checks if they take up too much memory). We’ll show you how to use it later in the article. 

Download the free version of CleanMyMac X here (app is notarized by Apple)


Why force quit?

Force quitting an application is a pretty drastic course of action. It tells the app to stop what it’s doing immediately and not to display any of the dialogs it might usually show you before it closes. However, it can be useful, despite the risk of losing data, if the app in question hangs and fails to respond for several minutes, and especially if it causes the rest of your Mac to hang or even just slow down.

How do you force quit?

There are several different ways to force quit an application.

how to force quit on Mac
  • Press Command-Option-Escape, select the app from the box that opens, and press Force Quit.
  • If you can access the Apple menu, click on it, choose Force Quit, select the app and press Force Quit.
  • Right-click or Control-click on the app’s icon in the Dock and choose Force Quit.

Try to force quit it from the Dock

If you hold down Option and click on an app in the Dock, you will see an extra option for Force Quit. See if that one works.


What to do when an application won’t force quit

Sometimes none of the options above works and the app carries on hanging. Don’t worry, there are other things you can try.

Use Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor is designed to allow you to monitor the performance of processes on your Mac. However, it can also quit those processes and so force quit the apps running them.

  1. Go to Applications > Utilities and double-click Activity Monitor to launch it.
  2. Click the CPU column header to order processes according to the CPU cycles they are using.
  3. The process causing the application to hang will probably be at or near the top. Select it then press Quit Process.
  4. The app should now force quit.

Use CleanMyMac X’s Optimization module

CleanMyMac X - login items
  1. If you don’t already have CleanMyMac X installed on your Mac, download it here and install it.
  2. Choose Optimization in the sidebar. Then click View all Items.
  3. Select Hung Applications, then the app you want to quit and press Quit at the bottom of the window.

Disable Launch Agents

Many processes displayed by Force Quit performed by a class of applications called Launch Agents. It could be an automatic app updater that works invisibly in the background. The same tool we’ve just described has a sub-menu called Launch Agents (see the screenshot above). It will force quit the unwanted launch agents — when the regular Force Quit doesn’t work.

Use Terminal

If, for some reason, Activity Monitor doesn’t do the job, or you can’t launch it, try using Terminal instead.

Terminal window
  1. Go to Applications > Utilities and double-click Terminal to launch it.
  2. Type: ps -ax
  3. Press Return.

You will now see a list of running apps and processes in the Terminal window. Locate the application you want to force quit. (Its row will start /Applications/). Now, the quitting part:

  1. Note the number on the far left of the row, that’s the PID.
  2. Type: kill [PID] (replace [PID] with the number you noted down in step 6).
  3. Press Return.

Restart your Mac

If none of the methods we described above works and the application just won’t quit, you may need to restart your Mac. Normally, we’d tell you to click on the Apple menu and choose Restart. But if a misbehaving app won’t force quit, the chances are that it has grabbed most of the resources on your Mac and caused it to beachball, meaning you can’t click on the Apple menu. So here’s what to do.

  • Press and hold the power button (if you have a MacBook with a Touch Bar, it’s the Touch ID button).
  • Wait until you see the Apple logo on the screen.
  • Release the power button and wait for your Mac to restart.

Check for an update to the misbehaving app

The first thing you should do after you restart is try and figure out why the application was misbehaving. And the first step in that process is to check to see if you’re running the latest version.

If the app was downloaded from the App Store, you can check it there. If not, clicking on the [APP NAME] menu will normally display an option to check for updates.

However, there is an even easier way. CleanMyMac X (the app is available for a free download here) allows you, with a couple of clicks, to check multiple apps for updates at the same time, then with another click, update them.

  1. Choose Updater in the sidebar.
  2. Check the box next to the apps you want to update.
  3. Press Update.
CleanMyMac - Updater

It can be very frustrating when an application stops responding or starts beach balling. It’s even worse if the app brings your whole Mac to a standstill. However, force quitting the app usually solves the problem. There are a number of different ways to force quit apps, all of them described above. If you think your Mac’s force quit isn’t working, try a different method. Use the Optimize and Updater modules in CleanMyMac X regularly and you may never need to force quit an app again, and if you do, the methods we’ve described can help identify the culprit and quit it for you.

CleanMyMac X CleanMyMac X
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.