You may have seen ads on the Internet for various Mac apps claiming they can “clear junk” to free up space. Or perhaps you’ve read articles recommending to install these apps to “optimise your Mac” and “improve its performance”. Is this true? Should you download one of these applications to try and improve your Mac’s performance? Read on and we’ll go through what maintenance apps for Macs actually do, whether they’re necessary and why they’re so prominent on the Internet.
The reputation of maintenance software for Macs has been tarnished largely by MacKeeper, a product that’s been pushed using scammy ad tactics since the early 2010s, and whose parent company settled a class-action lawsuit in 2014 after they deceived users into paying to fix non-existent issues on their Macs. MacKeeper is still for sale (although they’ve ditched the robot-man logo), however a quick Google search of the application will reveal many complaints from users who claim it has caused problems on their Mac and is very difficult to uninstall. It goes without saying that you should stay well away from MacKeeper.
Nowadays the most prominent maintenance utility for Macs is CleanMyMac. The app has a very slick shiny interface, a relatively clean reputation and is even listed on the Mac App Store (which MacKeeper certainly is not). Some users have reported that CleanMyMac has caused problems on their Mac, however it’s generally considered to be a legitimate application.
What does CleanMyMac do?
Let’s go through the various modules that CleanMyMac includes, to see what it actually does:
Clean System Junk
So this module claims removing temporary files will improve your Mac’s performance and free up space. The first part of this is just completely untrue. Removing temp files does not improve performance outside of certain extreme circumstances. In-fact it’s more likely to have the opposite effect, as temp files are there for a reason. Caches in applications like web browsers actually speed up your browsing experience because the browser doesn’t have to download all of the content from your frequently visited sites. Some of the static content can be cached to improve loading times.
So what about the second part of the claim? Yes, it’s true that clearing temp files frees up some space. However this shouldn’t be necessary under normal use conditions. If your Mac’s drive is almost completely full and you can’t figure out what’s taking up all the space, then by all means download CleanMyMac and let it try clear the temp files to see how much space you get back. However most of the time you’ll find that temp files only take up a few GB of space at most, so it doesn’t help terribly much if your Mac is running low on space. If you have a Mac with 256GB or 500GB of storage and it’s all filled up, chances are you have some big apps to uninstall or a bunch of media files you should move to an external drive. The issue is unlikely to be temp files.
If you do find yourself in the situation that your Mac is running out of space, check out our article on how to clear space on your Mac for a comprehensive guide.
Remove local copies of Mail attachments
This module removes local copies of email attachments from the Mail app. If you do in-fact use the Mail app and send/receive a lot of attachments this could be useful, however it won’t help you with Outlook or other email clients.
Empty Trash Bins
Again, if you use the Mail app and the built-in Photos app heavily, this may clear some space for you, however if you don’t use these apps then this won’t help.
The Malware Removal module could be useful… except it’s been found to be lacklustre compared to dedicated anti-Malware applications, at least according to MacWorld. That article was written a couple of years ago, so perhaps MacPaw has improved the Malware Removal module in CleanMyMac since then. However if you want Malware protection for your Mac it’d be much safer to go with MalwareBytes, which does one primary thing: Detect and remove Malware. And it does it well, for both Mac & PC.
This module is really grasping at straws. Removing browsing history is something that can be done just as easily from within your web browser as it can via CleanMyMac. And there’s really no benefit to it, unless it’s 2005 and you don’t want your parents to see what sites you’ve been visiting on the family iMac. It seems like MacPaw is stretching here to think of extra features in order to beef CleanMyMac up and make it look like it has more functionality than it actually does.
Again, things like removing Login Items and monitoring resource usage can be done via the System Preferences and built-in Activity Monitor respectively, there’s no real need for a third-party application to do these things.
This module includes a whole bunch of maintenance tasks which can be manually run. Some of them, like the DNS flush, could be pretty helpful as they save you from having to Google up terminal commands. Other tasks, like clearing RAM, are just flat-out wrong and shouldn’t exist in any maintenance application. Modern operating systems do not need RAM to be manually cleared, they don’t need a third party application to do it, RAM being “full” isn’t a problem and manually clearing RAM does not improve system performance. Your Mac’s RAM will often be full (or close to it). This is just because there isn’t any point in clearing it, no other application need the RAM at the time. If an application needs more RAM, macOS will clear some data to make room. Leave RAM alone.
The Uninstaller is probably the most useful module in CleanMyMac. macOS currently has no native “uninstall” function like Windows does, so the only way to uninstall an application is to delete the app itself from the Applications folder. Unfortunately this can leave large directories behind in the Application Support folder and other places, which can waste space and cause issues. The Uninstaller in CleanMyMac can remove all associated files when uninstalling an application, solving this issue. No complaints regarding this module.
This module literally updates your apps from the Mac App Store. This can be done just as easily via the Mac App Store, making this module completely pointless.
The Extensions module allows you to remove browser, Spotlight and System Preferences plugins all in one place. Could be somewhat useful I suppose, but nothing you’d miss.
This module is a pretty nice way to visualise all of the folders and files on your Mac, so you can easily see which ones are taking up lots of space. It’s a similar concept to DaisyDisk, however it’s done in a more simple way. If your Mac is running low on space this sort of feature can be very helpful.
Large & Old Files
This module finds files which are both large and which haven’t been opened in a long time. This would certainly come in handy if you’re trying to clear space on your Mac by removing old media files.
I guess if you’re worried about your computer being seized and forensics being done on the disk, then this module would be useful. Not necessary for normal people though.
So is CleanMyMac worth buying?
CleanMyMac includes some useful features that can come in handy when trying to diagnose certain issues on your Mac. And it also includes some useless features which play on the fact that most people don’t know how computers work. Would it be worth downloading for free? Yes. Would it be worth paying $5 or $10 for? Maybe. Is it worth the $60 per year or the $120 outright that MacPaw are charging? No way. It’s terribly overpriced.
Most of the functions CleanMyMac offers can be done natively in macOS, you just have to Google up how to do them. And for the stuff which you do need a third party app for, like generating a visual map of disk space or removing Malware, there are dedicated apps which do it better such as DaisyDisk and MalwareBytes. There’s no real reason anyone would need to pay the high prices companies like MacPaw charge for general Mac “maintenance” or “cleanup” apps. Unless of course you just want maximum convenience and don’t care about the cost.
Why are maintenance apps like CleanMyMac and MacKeeper so prominent on the Internet?
There’s an endless tsunami of positive reviews for CleanMyMac and similar applications, and countless articles recommend them to solve various issues. Why is this? It’s simple: They all have affiliate programs!
And it’s not like Amazon Associates where the commissions are in the single digits. Because software has little overhead vendors can afford very nice double-digit commissions for their affiliates. CleanMyMac offers 35%, while MacKeeper and MacBooster dish out 70% commissions for first-time sales! Considering these subscriptions cost $50+ per year, pushing Mac maintenance products is very lucrative, which is why you’ll see so many positive articles about them. Many of the sites which publish these articles don’t disclose the affiliation either, which is pretty deceptive.
Share your experience!
What’s your experience been with Mac maintenance software? Have you found it useful? Did it cause problems on your Mac? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.