How to free up RAM on Mac (MacBook Pro, Air, iMac) – 7 quick ways

“No matter what I do, my Mac is still slow,” an average tech consultant hears this phrase multiple times a day. Give a person even the most powerful computer, and pretty soon, it will be cluttered with apps, extensions, and things that are too much for it to handle. To reverse it, one has to go back and clean up the mess, removing memory agents one by one. Prepare for a fight — every byte of memory is at stake. So let’s put your Mac on a diet and get it more free RAM to breathe freely.

“Your system has run out of application memory”

How do you know your Mac is low on memory? Floating “rainbow wheels” aside, you may notice your Mac now takes ages to load. You’ll also see many browser applications crashing. You’ll also be thrown warning messages, such as “Your system has run out of application memory.” To help it, you should visit the Activity monitor to see memory usage on Mac.

How to check RAM usage on Mac

Go to Applications and type in Activity Monitor in the search bar. This invokes an excellent old Activity Monitor that should tell how much free memory you’ve got left.

A shortcut to open Activity Monitor: click Command-Space and start typing Activity Monitor in the search bar.

I’ve attached a screenshot from my Mac, and as you can see, my memory usage has almost reached full capacity. Here’s what it all means:

App memory

taken by apps and processes

Wired memoryreserved by apps, can’t be freed up

inactive, can be used by other apps

Swap Usedmemory used by macOS
Cached Files

memory you can really use

Notice the colored graph under Memory Pressure. If your chart is all but red and yellow, your Mac is really gasping for fresh memory. It seems counter-intuitive, but the amount of available memory on your Mac is not that important after all. In fact, it’s a system’s intended behavior to use all memory resources when available. On the contrary, the Memory Pressure graph is much more telling, so grow a habit of checking this graph in the Activity Monitor every now and then.

How to check CPU usage on Mac 

Open the CPU tab in Activity Monitor to keep CPU-heavy processes in check. Usually, an app would be using 0-4% of the CPU. If it takes abnormally more than that, go inside that particular item in the list and press the Quit button.

How to free up memory on Mac 

Tip # 1. Remove Login Items to lower Mac memory usage

Login Items are programs that load automatically upon Mac startup. Some of them covertly add themselves to the list, which is no good. If you’re looking to free up RAM, they are the first candidates for deletion. Don’t worry, you’re not deleting the app itself; you just stop it from auto-launching every time. 

So, to remove Login Items and at the same time reduce your memory usage of your Mac, you need to:

  1. Open System Settings > General.
  2. Look for Open at Login. 
  3. Click programs you don’t want to load as your Mac starts.
  4. Press the “–” sign below.
System Preferences - Login Items

Now, you won’t see these apps pop up the moment you turn on your Mac. 

Tip # 2. Free up disk space if Mac is low on memory

The available space on your Mac’s drive translates into virtual memory. This comes to save you when you’ve run out of physical RAM. So now your computer relies on your hard drive space to keep your apps going.

The classic geek rule of thumb holds that you should keep at least 20% of disk space on your startup drive. Not only this potentially reduces your future spending on iCloud storage but it also keeps your Mac speedier.

What to delete to free up space:

  • Large unused files, like movies
  • Old downloads
  • Rarely used applications
  • System junk

To see how much free space you have available, go to the Apple menu > System Settings > General. Here, click Storage. 

System Preferences - Storage

Your Mac has a few built-in tools for managing disk space. Look under the Storage bar to access them and delete unneeded things here and there.

Extra trick: How to free up RAM on Mac with CleanMyMac X

Freeing up memory can be a one-click task if you choose a dedicated app to do it for you. CleanMyMac X is an Apple-notarized Mac cleaner that helps declutter, optimize and protect your Mac. It has a useful Maintenance module that can solve a lot of memory issues on your machine. Try it next time you see the “Your system has run out of application memory” message.

  1. Download it for free and go to the Maintenance tab.
  2. Click Free Up RAM.
  3. Click Run.

As simple as that!

And you can do it even if you download a free version of the app.

Tip # 3. Clean up your Desktop

This tip always comes at the bottom of instructions and unfairly, so it is pretty effective. Without even looking at your Desktop, I would assume it’s cluttered with mountains of icons. The thing is, your macOS was designed in a way that it treats every Desktop icon as a little active window. The more icons, the heavier memory usage on Mac. So in order to release available memory resources, it’s recommended to keep your Desktop clean.

To clean up the mess, Control-click your Desktop and select Use Stacks. This feature organizes your files and makes it easy to delete things in bulk.

Tip #4. Clear cache files 

Another way to free up RAM on Mac is to clear it of cache files. Of course, it won’t save you gigabytes of space, but deleting cache regularly, you can help your Mac run faster and avoid system issues.

So, to remove cache files on your Mac, you need to:

  1. Open Finder.
  2. From the Go menu, select Go to Folder.
  3. Type ~/Library/Caches in the field and press Go.
  4. In the window that appears, you will see all your cache files. 
  5. Press Command-A to select all files or delete files one by one. 
  6. Enter your username and password to confirm. 

If you find some files still in the folder after you emptied it, maybe you have some windows open on your Mac. Just like that, you can save up some space on your Mac. Don’t forget to empty the bin afterward. 

Tip # 5. Tune up Chrome’s Task Manager

Although Google Chrome is not the one to blame for massive memory usage, it can indeed affect your Mac’s performance. If you use Chrome as your primary browser, you probably have many windows open there. Chrome runs a lot of processes to ensure a fast browsing experience for you. So, it uses your RAM for storing your tabs, plugins, and extensions. Look at how many entries Google Chrome has in Activity Monitor:

The question then arises, “Why does Chrome use so much RAM?” The thing is that each process is responsible for a separate plugin or extension of your browser. For example, when a tab unexpectedly falls, you need to refresh it to continue your work there. If one process were responsible for all tabs and extensions, you would need to restart the whole browser instead. Can you imagine how many times you would do that? That’s the proper answer to why Chrome uses so much RAM. 

I’ve been using Chrome for some years only to discover (recently) that Chrome had a task manager of its own. You can use it to force quit memory-heavy processes in the browser. It’s a handy tool because it lets you see how a page weighs on CPU usage on a Mac. 

  1. Go to Chrome settings (dotted icon in the top right corner).
  2. Click More tools > Task Manager.

To free up even more RAM, close the GPU process. The GPU Process, though helpful in theory to accelerate pages, eats up a considerable amount of memory. Click to end it to free up RAM on your Mac.

Tip # 6. Manage RAM usage with the CleanMyMac X menu

CleanMyMac X has another useful and convenient feature for managing your Mac’s performance and memory usage. As you install CleanMyMac X and start it for the first time, its icon will appear in your menu bar. Click the icon to open the CleanMyMac X menu.

Whenever you feel like your Mac underperforms, open the CleanMyMac X menu to check how much RAM is available and free it up as well. Here’s how to quit apps that eat up a lot of your memory:

  1. Go to CleanMyMac X Menu in your menu bar.
  2. Click Memory.
  3. You'll see your Memory monitor. Click Quit next to any app that's on the Top Consumers list.

That's it! As you see, Menu makes it super easy to control your Memory and CPU loads. 

There are a few tricks that will help you fix your RAM issues. Read on.

Tip # 7. Close Finder windows

Okay, suppose you’re still asking yourself how I clear RAM on my MacBook Pro/MacBook Air. The next trick is as magical (you’ll see for yourself) as it is time-saving. It’s no secret that each window in the Finder eats up RAM. But how many open windows are there? Some of them are collapsed or stacked in some blind spot on your screen. This Finder command merges all your windows into one. See how to do it: 

Click on Finder > Window > Merge All Windows.

Now you can manage Finder windows more effectively and free up memory on MacBook.

What else you can do to minimize memory usage on Mac

I’ve saved the easiest tips for the end, as long as these are self-explanatory.

  • Replace AdBlock (very memory-demanding) with a lighter extension.
  • Keep fewer opened tabs in the browser.
  • Restart your Mac more often to free up RAM.
  • Close all hung-up print queues.

That was my take on how to make your Mac a bit speedier to use. If you’re looking for more guidance, check simple ways to speed up your Mac.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to check application memory on Mac?

To check RAM usage on your Mac, go to Activity Monitor (Applications > Utilities). In the Memory tab, you will see all the active processes that are using your Mac’s RAM. At the end of the window, there is a Memory Used graph, which indicates how much application memory is used.

How to find out whether your Mac needs more RAM?

Your Mac may be using almost all its RAM, but you don’t need more if it’s using it efficiently. Open Activity Monitor and go to the Memory tab. The Memory Pressure graph shows the current condition of your RAM: green color means your Mac’s using RAM effectively, while yellow is a sign that some application or process is using too much of application memory. The red memory pressure signals that your Mac needs more RAM.

How to quickly free up RAM on your MacBook?

To free up RAM on your Mac, firstly, you should find out what app uses so much of your memory. The memory-heavy programs are listed in Activity Monitor, Memory tab. If there is an app you aren’t using at the moment, click it and press the “X” sign to quit it. This will, in turn, free some of the application memory.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.