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Can't delete Time Machine backups on Mac? No gear icon or delete option!

I want to delete one large file and some smaller ones that Time Machine has backed up on my iMac. But for some reason, Time Machine won't let me do this. When I enter Time Machine and navigate to the point in time where I want to delete these files, there is no gear icon which allows me to choose "Delete backup". Nor can I find any other way of deleting these files. When I look inside the Time machine backup disk, I no longer see the Backups.backups folder. Instead I get a heading that reads "Backups of Max's iMac" and then three folders underneath that which read 2021-09-25-[six figure number]. How can I delete those Time Machine backups?

Best Answered by

iBoysoft author Jenny Zeng

Jenny Zeng

Answered on Monday, July 10, 2023

The gear icon or Delete option seems to be gone on APFS Time Machine backups. Previously, Time Machine made its backups to an HFS+ volume, and gives you a lot of control over the backups. However, since macOS Big Sur, Time Machine has started to back up to APFS volumes, which no longer allow you to delete items within a backup.

But you can still delete a whole backup of a specific date. If you really want to get rid of those items you mentioned, you can delete the backups with those items and back up your Mac again after adding the files you don't want to back up to Time Machine's exclusion list.

Here are two ways to delete the Time Machine backups on Mac: (Make sure your Time Machine backup disk is connected.)

Way 1: Delete Time Machine backups in Finder

  1. Open your backup drive from the desktop or Finder.
  2. Navigate to the backup folder with the items you want to delete.
  3. Right-click it and select "Move To Trash" or "Delete Immediately." (Delete Immediately will permanently delete the backup without moving it to Trash.)
  4. Empty the Trash if you selected "Move To Trash."

Way 2: Delete Time Machine backups in Terminal

  1. Open the Terminal app on Mac.
  2. Execute the command below to list all backups on your Time Machine backup disk.tmutil listbackups
  3. Run the command below to delete a specific backup.sudo tmutil delete -d pathToBackup -t backupTimestampReplace "pathToBackup" and backupTimestamp with your information. For instance, tmutil delete -d /Volumes/BackupDrive/Backups.backupdb/MyMac/ -t 2023-06-28-080000
  4. Type your admin password and hit Enter. (The password won't echo to the screen.)

To add unwanted files to the exclusion list, follow this guide: How to Use Time Machine on Mac: Backup and Restore Tutorials

 Note: It's worth mentioning that you shouldn't have to delete Time Machine backups manually unless it's getting full and not automatically deleting the old backups.

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