How to stop the spinning rainbow wheel on Mac

The rainbow-colored circle is a painful sight to see for Mac users. If you’re lucky, it disappears in a few seconds, but more often, it remains for minutes, leaving you helplessly locked out of the app or your whole Mac. Since it’s not always clear how to deal with the wheeling cursor or what caused it in the first place, let’s break it all down. In this article, we’ll take a look at what is the spinning beach ball, why and when it shows up, and what you can do about it.

What is a spinning color wheel?

Initially, it’s a system indicator. Its official name is the Spinning Wait Cursor; not so official — the Spinning Beach Ball of Death or SBBOD. Other names are rainbow wheel, beach ball, or circle of death. The ball signifies that your Mac cannot handle all the tasks given to it at this moment.

Every app on your Mac has a so-called window server. When an app receives more events than it can process, the window server automatically shows you the spinning ball. It usually takes about 4 seconds for the app to decide that it’s non-responsive.

Why does the Mac spinning wheel of death appear?

Well, the reasons are countless. First, it can be a stand-alone issue with a certain app. Second, it could be faulty hardware or insufficient RAM. We’ll go over each possible issue and see how it can be fixed, depending on the cause. Sometimes, the only way out is getting a new Mac, but most of the cases can be fixed with the right software or system commands.

How to get rid of spinning wheel on Mac?

1. Force quit your apps

In case you just need to unlock one frozen application, that’s a job for Force Quit.

To fix an application stuck with a spinning cursor right now:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the top left corner.
  2. Choose Force Quit (or press Command-Alt-Esc).
  3. Select the app that won’t respond.
  4. Click Force Quit.

Simply shutting down the process is a brutal way of problem-solving, and it doesn’t address the issue that caused the freezing. It could have been an accidental glitch in the program, but if it keeps freezing or spreads further to other software and services, you need to look deeper.

2. Reset or reinstall your apps

What if the application keeps freezing when you open it again? Reset or reinstall the freezing application. Macs don’t have a proper uninstaller, and moving applications to the Trash bin leaves plenty of app leftovers. Some of them could be the reason why the spinning wheel showed up, so if you leave them, the issue will stay.

There are two ways to reset apps. One would be to use the application’s own preferences or settings and look for reset options there. But in case the app won’t let you do that because it keeps freezing, you can turn to third-party solutions, like CleanMyMac X, for instance. It’s a handy app for Mac maintenance and cleaning with plenty of useful tools, including reset and uninstallation.

  1. Download the free version of CleanMyMac X, an app for Mac maintenance.
  2. Open it and click Uninstaller.
  3. Select the app you need to reset from the list.
  4. Click on the small arrow next to the application icon
  5. Click Reset.
Safari reset selected in the Uninstaller module in CMMX

If the beach ball keeps rolling when you use the app again, reinstall it completely by pressing Uninstall instead of Reset. Remember, simply moving the app to the Trash doesn’t do the trick since its leftover files remain on your hard drive.

Important: if you have a license for the paid app, make sure to save the number somewhere.

Sometimes, your whole Mac may become unresponsive. If that is the case, follow the steps below.

3. Reduce your CPU usage

One of the reasons for the wheel to show up could be that your Mac is getting old. You can figure out if that’s the case by checking the CPU usage. To check the CPU usage, turn to the Activity monitor. Find it in the Applications/Utilities folder or run a Spotlight search. 

The bottom table shows System load in percentage. If it’s way above 50% and remains there for long, especially without any specific reason like games or heavy rendering programs, this might be the signal your processor is the bottleneck.

The fix is pretty simple. Just get in the habit of quitting apps when they are not in use. You can also quit apps from Activity Monitor by clicking the X button. Do it for all of those apps that seem to consume abnormally many resources. However, make sure to conduct some background research before quitting processes to avoid quitting a vital system process. Also, choose Safari over Chrome. 

4. Free up some disk space

Another possible reason for seeing the circle of death is low disk space. You don’t even need to have a full startup disk to see the nasty ball. Just a heavily loaded hard drive with lots of large files can already cause trouble with loading.

To fix it, perform a hard drive cleanup. There are several things you can do: 

  1. Uninstall apps you no longer need or use. But make sure to remove leftover files because simply dragging an app to the Trash leaves a lot of residues behind. To find out how to uninstall apps completely and correctly, check out this handy guide
  2. Use Apple’s built-in Optimize storage tool. To access it, go to System Settings > General > Storage and check recommendations below the colored bar.
  3. System Preferences - Storage
  4. Delete unneeded downloads and empty the Trash — these two folders are real space eaters, and a lot of users forget about them.
  5. Hunt down large and old files using the search tool (press Command + F from the Desktop and utilize the File Size tool).
  6. Locate and delete old .DMG files — they are no longer needed after you install an app, but they can occupy a lot of space. 

For more tips on how to free up space, check out this article.

5. Free up RAM

Another possible hardware issue is insufficient Random Access Memory. To figure out if you need more RAM, open the Activity Monitor again. It’s in the Applications/Utilities folder. In the Memory tab, you can see a Memory pressure table with a graph. If the graph is red and your memory is constantly strained under all the running apps, you’ve found the problem.

Note when your Memory Pressure graph begins to turn red. 

To fix it, you can upgrade RAM by buying and installing more of it. It’s usually enough to have 8 GB for most tasks and applications, apart from heavy video rendering and the like. Here’s a detailed guide on how to upgrade RAM on Mac. But this option will work for older Mac models only. 

For newer Macs, you will have to look for another solution. In CleanMyMac X, the app we mentioned above, there is a tool to quickly free up RAM when you need it. It acts like a “knife-switch” and releases RAM resources when you need to unfreeze an app.

  1. Download the free version of CleanMyMac X — this program is notarized by Apple.
  2. Open the Maintenance tool and click Free up RAM.
  3. Hit Run.

This is a temporary solution, but check out other helpful Mac optimization tools in this app.

6. Close background apps 

In addition to quitting unnecessary apps, make sure that you close apps running in the background. They are real resource hoggers, and the worst thing is that you may not know that they are running. Most commonly, apps ask for permission to run in the background when you install them. It may be OK when you first open them, but over time, it may put too much strain on your Mac.

To disable background apps, follow these steps: 

  1. From the main Apple menu, go to System Settings > General > Login Items. 
  2. Check the apps under Allow in the Background and turn off anything you no longer need or want. It is also a good idea to remove any Login Items you do not want to open automatically when you turn on your Mac.
System Preferences - Login Items

7. Restart your Mac

If none of the above helped, it’s time to restart your Mac. Some experts recommend starting with it, but we all know that we do not like closing all tabs and quitting all apps, and it is what happens when we restart our computers. It may also cause losing any unsaved work in apps that were open. However, it is a good idea because it will fix all the minor issues. In Macs with Apple silicon, it will also reset SMC, which may help solve the beach ball problem. 

Just click Restart from the main Apple menu. Make sure to deselect Reopen windows when logging back in.

Annoying as it may be, the circle of death is an issue that can be fixed on your own. Just make sure you follow the steps one by one. That’s really it concerning the spinning beach ball and how to deal with it. We hope this guide has been of help, and you’ll stop the spinning wheel of death on your Mac once and for all.

Frequently asked questions

Why does the beach ball appear? 

It is a system indicator signifying that your Mac cannot handle a software task at the moment. Sometimes, it may appear due to a hardware issue, such as not enough RAM. 

What is the fastest way to stop the spinning wheel on a Mac? 

The fastest way to fix the issue is to restart your Mac. If you do not want to close all windows and applications, you may force quit a frozen app. Either way, you may lose unsaved work.

Is it possible to prevent beach ball on Mac? 

The short answer is no, but making sure that you get rid of everything you do not need on your Mac will significantly reduce the risks of seeing it.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
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