Here’s what to do if System Preferences is not responding

System Preferences is a crucial part of macOS. It’s where you control everything from your desktop background and screensaver, to how applications access your webcam to how your Mac connects to the outside world. Most of us are accustomed to using it regularly and to it just working when we need it. But what if it doesn’t? What do you do if System Preferences is not responding? Read on to find out. We’ll also show you how to force quit System Preferences.

What are System Preferences?

System Preferences on Mac

System Preferences is where you control how your Mac works and customize it to suit you. From there, you can manage screen resolution and audio devices, connect to devices using Bluetooth, and manage Notifications. That’s not even scratching the surface of what System Preferences can do, of course, which is why we Mac users rely on it so heavily.

System Preferences is organized as a series of ‘panes,’ each represented by an icon and providing options for multiple settings and macOS’s standard panes; some applications and extensions install their own panes to allow you to manage their preferences.

When things are working as they should, you just click on a pane to access the settings, make your selection, and then quit System Preferences. Things don’t always work as they should though.

Tip:

Many problems on your Mac, including those with System Preferences, can be fixed by running maintenance routines, such as repairing disk permissions or freeing up RAM. CleanMyMac X makes it very easy to run those routines. It can also help you pinpoint potential problems and things that might be slowing your Mac down, such as login items and launch agents, and help you remove them.

Free up Mac RAM with CleanMyMacX

What to do if you see ‘System Preferences is busy and can’t be closed’

1. Force quit System Preferences

The first thing is to force quit it and relaunch.

How to force quit an app on Mac
  1. Click and hold on the System Preferences item in the Dock and choose Quit; or
  2. Press Command + Option + Escape, choose System Preferences in the window, and press Force Quit.

2. Restart your Mac in safe mode

If System Preferences still doesn’t work correctly, restart your Mac. If that doesn’t solve the problem, restart your Mac in safe mode and try rerunning System Preferences. Safe mode boots macOS with only the bare minimum of extensions necessary to run. It also runs some repairs and maintenance routines.

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Start it up while holding down Shift.
  3. Release the Shift key when you see the login window.
  4. Type in your password.
  5. You might have to log in a second time. If so, you should see ‘Safe Boot’ at the top of the window.

Check whether System Preferences works in safe mode. If so, restart your Mac normally and try System Preferences. It may now work correctly. If not, disconnect any connected peripherals, except your keyboard and mouse, and try again.

If it’s still having problems, uninstall any apps or login items you don’t use.

3. Reset System Preferences

CleanMyMac X, The app I mentioned before in this article has a handy Uninstaller module that helps reset apps that are acting up. So, if you’re having trouble with System Preferences, restore it to its default state with this app:

  • Then, download the app — the free version is here.
  • Open the app and press Command + Comma to open CleanMyMac X preferences.
  • Go to the Ignore List tab, choose Uninstaller and uncheck the ‘Ignore system applications’ box.
  • Go back to the app and choose Uninstaller.
  • Find System Preferences in the list and click the side arrow to reveal System Preferences files.
  • Check all the files and select Reset.
Safari reset selected in the Uninstaller module in CMMX

4. Reinstall your macOS

If the problems persist and none of the above steps fixes them, you should back up your Mac and reinstall macOS. To do that, boot into Recovery mode by holding down Command + R to install the current version of the most recently installed version of macOS or Option + Command + R to install the latest version of macOS that is compatible with your Mac. Once macOS has been reinstalled, you can copy data from the backup you made back to your Mac.

System Preferences is a valuable and important part of macOS. Most of the time, it works well without a problem. Occasionally, however, it fails to respond. Several different things can cause that, but whatever is causing it, following the guide above should fix it.