Tue Oct 10 2023

The Best Ways to Kill Background Processes Running on Your Mac

The Best Ways to Kill Background Processes Running on Your Mac

Do you ever wonder what happens behind the scenes on your Mac while working on tasks or enjoying your favorite applications? Like any other computer, your Mac is a complex system that relies on various processes to function smoothly.

So, when your Mac suddenly slows down or starts behaving strangely, chances are high that an application is running in the background—possibly misbehaving. This can go on and on and may sometimes involve processes associated with macOS.

Knowing what background processes are running on your Mac is the first step towards killing them and freeing up the resources it was taking up. In this article, we'll explore background processes on your Mac, what they are, what they do, and how to kill them.

Let’s get into it!

What are background processes?

When discussing background processes, we refer to tasks on your device without your knowledge. This mostly happens if you run lots of applications simultaneously without keeping track of them.

These applications aren't the only ones running on your device. Other background tasks are also functioning behind the scenes. Most of these 'functions' are essential components of your macOS and are responsible for performing tasks that keep the system running efficiently.

These processes are generally divided into two categories - daemons and agents. They typically run without your input and complement programs that monitor your system, run backups, and provide other essential services.

Here is more on what background processes do:

System maintenance

Background processes are crucial for your macOS maintenance. They ensure your Mac's operating system stays up-to-date, manages software updates, and performs routine maintenance tasks.

For example, they help optimize file systems and manage system logs. Some also complement third-party apps, such as a cleaner for Mac, to ensure efficient disk cleanup. You need to let them run occasionally to ensure your macOS operates optimally.

Resource management

Background processes running on your Mac help manage the system resources efficiently. They allocate CPU, memory, and storage resources to different applications and services on your device. This ensures that your Mac runs smoothly over time without any significant challenges.


Your Mac runs security-related background processes to protect your system from threats. These processes include antivirus scans, firewall management, and real-time monitoring for malicious activities.

Application updates

Many applications have background processes that check for updates and download them automatically, ensuring you always have the latest features and security fixes.

Despite these benefits to your device system, background processes don't need to run at all times on your Mac. They consume precious memory, drain processing power, and reduce battery life.

When left unchecked, these processes will accumulate over time, causing performance issues on your device. Here are some crucial signs that your Mac might have too many background processes running:

  • Sluggish Performance: If your Mac becomes noticeably slower, it could be due to an overload of background processes consuming system resources.
  • High CPU Usage: You can check your Mac's Activity Monitor to see if any processes use a significant amount of CPU or memory. Excessive usage by background processes can indicate a problem.
  • Increased Fan Noise: When your Mac's fans start running loudly, it might be trying to cool down an overheating CPU caused by resource-intensive background processes.
  • Shortened Battery Life: Background processes can drain your Mac's battery faster than usual, reducing battery life between charges.

How to kill background processes running on your Mac

It's vital that you properly manage background processes on your Mac and enable them only when they're needed. macOS provides several options to stop an app or service from running in the background.

Here is a look at some of the best ways to limit these processes running in the background and ensure your device performs optimally.

1. Use activity monitor

Activity Monitor is a powerful tool that provides a detailed overview of all the processes running on your Mac. It’s what you use to see what’s running on your Mac—you can use it to know data on how your system resources are being utilized in real time.

The tool displays processor (CPU), memory (RAM), and storage usage. This makes it valuable if you want to know the apps consuming too much power on your device and those sending and receiving the most data on your network.

When your Mac isn’t performing at its best, and you’re not sure why, it’s always advisable to turn to the Activity Monitor to see a list of all running processes. To access it, navigate to Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor.

After launching it, you'll see a list of currently active processes, complete with resource usage statistics in percentage. This information is vital in identifying resource-intensive background processes that you should kill.

You can sort processes by CPU, memory, energy impact, and more in the Activity Monitor window. Click on the respective column headers to identify processes consuming too much resources.

Here are the steps you should follow to end any background process from within Activity Monitor:

  1. Select the process from the list
  2. Double-click on its name
  3. A pop-up window will appear. Click the Quit button.
  4. Confirm the action.

2. Force quit applications

While the Activity Monitor is excellent for managing individual processes, there may be instances when an entire application becomes unresponsive. This will make it difficult to pinpoint the specific process causing the issue.

In such cases, the only viable option is to force quit the application. The Force Quit tool is a built-in tool that allows you to kill apps that are no longer responding but continue using up system resources and power.

To force quit an application, go to the Apple menu and choose Quit in the menu bar. Alternatively, press Command + Option + Escape simultaneously. This key combination will open the Force Quit Applications window, listing all currently running applications.

If the app doesn't quit, follow these steps to force the app to quit:

  1. Click on the app in the Apple menu bar
  2. Click Force Quit
  3. Select the unresponsive application
  4. Click the Force Quit button and confirm this action when prompted.

Force quitting forcefully terminates the unresponsive application along with any associated background processes, allowing you to regain control of your Mac.

3. Disable startup items

Managing background processes doesn't end with what's running; it also involves what starts when your Mac boots up. When you start your Mac, some apps and invisible background processes launch, potentially consuming valuable system resources.

Of course, this will help you save time to launch a particular process on your device. But sometimes, you may see items running that you need to remember to add yourself. You need to remove these processes from your Mac to behave normally.

Identifying and removing startup items on your Mac helps concentrate your Mac's resources on the apps and processes you're currently using. To control these startup items:

  1. Go to the Apple menu
  2. Select System Settings
  3. Click General
  4. Follow up by clicking Login Items on the right
  5. Make a list of the login items you need to disable, and then click the Remove button.

Be cautious enough not to remove essential items that may affect your Mac's functionality. Turning off unnecessary startup items effectively reduces the number of background processes running when you log in.

4. Check background applications

There will always be certain applications persistently running in the background, even when you're not actively using them. Some are applications that request access to control your computer using accessibility features.

While they may be useful to the normal functioning of the device, you’ll need to remove them from running to prevent unnecessary consumption of resources. Here is how to manage and remove some of these apps on Mac.

  1. Go to the Apple menu and navigate to System Preferences
  2. Click on Security & Privacy
  3. Go to Privacy.

Select the Accessibility tab to view the background applications that may consume your system resources. You can remove unnecessary applications from this list to reduce the overall number of background processes and improve your Mac's performance.

5. Update software regularly

Software updates on your Mac are crucial for its normal functioning. They are crucial for maintaining a healthy Mac and efficient background process management.

This helps, especially if these processes have bugs or some apps have crushed and are only consuming resources without functioning.

Apple regularly releases software updates to improve performance, fix bugs, and enhance the security of your Mac. If you neglect these updates, you're putting your device at risk of running background processes that consume more resources than necessary.

To update your macOS, go to the System Preferences and click on Software Update. Here, you can check for and install available system updates. Keeping your software up-to-date will help your device benefit from optimized background processes that utilize resources more efficiently.

6. Use terminal commands

For advanced users comfortable with command-line interfaces, Terminal provides a robust method for managing background processes running on your Mac. These commands allow you to gain precise control over system processes and remove those you don't need.

There are many ways you can launch Terminal on your Mac. The first is using a keyboard shortcut; press Command + Spacebar to open Spotlight. Search for it and double-click to open the application.

Another option is to open the Terminal via the Launchpad. Select Launchpad, choose the Other folder, and then select Terminal. When Terminal is up and running, type top and hit Return. You’ll view a running process list and how many resources they consume.

To kill an unwanted background process, note down its Process ID (PID) and type ‘kill’ to kill an unwanted background process. For example, to terminate a background process with PID 12345, type kill 12345. Use these commands with caution, as entering incorrect commands can disrupt your system's functioning.

7. Customize system preferences

Your Mac's System Preferences provide additional ways to influence background processes. Within the Notifications preference panel you can inspect which applications possess notification privileges within the Notifications preference pane.

Disabling notifications for apps that don't warrant immediate attention can decrease background activity and help maintain focus.

Furthermore, you can tailor what Spotlight indexes in the Spotlight preference panel. Spotlight indexing, a background operation, organizes your Mac's content for swift searching.

By excluding folders or file types you rarely search for, you can lighten the load on background indexing processes, potentially boosting your Mac's speed.

8. Explore hardware enhancements

When background processes hinder your Mac's performance, it may be time to explore hardware upgrades. Upgrading your Mac's hardware, whether by bolstering RAM or transitioning to a solid-state drive (SSD), can significantly bolster its multitasking capabilities.

Augmenting your RAM allows your Mac to expedite data storage and retrieval, minimizing the necessity for resource-intensive data swapping. Similarly, SSDs offer heightened read and write speeds, streamlining data access and process management.

These hardware improvements prove particularly advantageous for aging Macs, bolstering systems grappling with background-process demands.

Final thoughts

Managing background processes on your Mac is crucial for sustaining peak performance and curbing superfluous resource depletion. Implementing the above strategies empowers you to seize command over your Mac's background processes, ensuring your device consistently operates at its best.

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