Since the release of the graphical user interface (GUI) on the first Mac, the desktop has played a prominent role in our daily computing interactions. After all, it is the most convenient and most visible place for our files.
Most likely, you save most of the content you download from the web to your desktop, and if you never need to forget something important, put it there as well. There are even various Doing Backgrounds (GTDs) that turn your desktop into a checklist!
The problem, however, is that the desktop fills up pretty quickly and no one has time to constantly clean it. So what do you do when you need a Mac to look presentable?
Why hide Mac icons on the desktop?
Sometimes you need to temporarily remove an icon from your Mac desktop. You may want to give a presentation or just want to take a screenshot without any distractions. In either case, moving the icons to other folders would be unnecessarily time consuming. Especially when you know how to easily hide Mac icons.
Here are some options for removing the icon from your Mac desktop.
How to hide all icons on the desktop with one click
If you don’t tend to present so often and the default screenshot for Mac is enough for your needs, you might just want to click a simple button to make all the desktop icons disappear.
One Switch is just the solution you need. This lightweight app stays in your menu bar and brings all the most popular but hard-to-reach features at your fingertips. You can click to hide icons, connect to your favorite Bluetooth device, turn on Dark Mode, keep your Mac awake indefinitely, and more – One Switch does it all seamlessly.
Another handy tool for hiding icons on your macOS desktop is Almighty. The app lives in your menu bar and all you need to do to hide or show items on your desktop is to click on the app icon in the menu bar and find the appropriate menu option:
In the screenshot, the setting is set to display desktop icons. To hide them, just turn off the setting. Since this setting is turned off by default, you will probably need to turn it on and off in order for the desktop icons to really hide after you use this tool when you first install Almighty.
And while we’re at it – Almighty is actually a powerful Mac configurator that helps you customize much more than just the look of your desktop. The app has handy switches for many Mac features. From deleting clipboard content to scheduling shutdowns, Almighty is really powerful as the name suggests. So you can start using it to remove icons from your desktop and eventually configure dozens more Mac settings with it!
How to hide Mac Terminal desktop icons
You probably know that Terminal is one of the most powerful applications on your Mac. In fact, you can control any aspect of your Mac via terminal commands. For many, however, the Terminal might seem confusing and inaccessible, so it is better to teach it one by one.
To hide your Mac desktop icons, for example:
- Launch Terminal from Applications ➙ Utilities
- Enter defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop false
- Press Enter
- Now restart Finder by typing killall Finder and press Enter again
The icons are gone! Now you can do whatever you want and when you want the icons back, just enter defaults, type com.apple.finder CreateDesktop true and then kill Finder again.
Hide with a dot
Now that you know how to get rid of icons on your Mac desktop, you can also use Terminal to hide them in the Finder. Here’s a simple set of commands that prevent your files from appearing automatically in Finder:
- Start the terminal from Applications > Utilities.
- Go to the folder where your file is located by typing Terminal the cd an order followed by a path to it, e.g. cd Downloads. Hit Enter.
- Tip mv [name of your file] .[name of your file], e.g. mv file .file. Remember to include the file extension. Hit Enter. To undo the change, enter mv.[name of your file] [name of your file].
This will work for your Finder items, but also for the desktop. So, if you are wondering how to hide folders or files on your Mac desktop, this method can be one of your solutions for individual icons.
When it comes to mass-removing icons from your Mac desktop, you’ll need a more efficient solution – like one of the tools we recommend a little later in this guide.
And if you want to know how to hide apps on your Mac desktop, rejoice because this method also works for apps, just add .application at the end of the name of your application.
Set up a hidden flag
Another way to manually hide your files or folders on a Mac is with a hidden flag.
- Start the terminal from Applications > Utilities.
- Type chflags hidden . (Yes, it’s a space at the end, remember to turn it on or the command won’t work.)
- Drag and drop the item you want to hide in the Terminal, causing the exact path of the file or folder to appear in your command line. Hit Enter. To undo, enter chflags nohidden [filepath]. (Omit the square brackets.)
This will help you hide and uncover files, folders and applications.
Change the visibility attribute to invisible
Another way to hide an icon on your Mac is to change its visibility attribute using terminal commands.
- Start the terminal from Applications > Utilities.
- Type setfile -a V (also space at the end), then drag and drop your item to the Terminal to get the full path of the file. Hit Enter.
Note that the setfile command requires tools for developers, so if you haven’t used them on your Mac yet, the download may take some time.
To undo, use setfile -av team.
How to hide desktop icons for presentations
Most of the time, when you need to quickly remove icons from the desktop, it’s because you have to present something on your Mac. But you don’t have to worry only about icons – you can easily be disturbed by push notifications and active applications.
PliimPRO is a unique presentation solution that will overcome all interferences. This utility lives in your menu bar and hides desktop icons with just one click, disables notifications, removes active apps, turns off speakers, and even changes the wallpaper to something more neutral. So, once you enter the presentation mode with a simple switch in PliimPRO, you can be sure that there will be no surprises.
How to remove an icon from a Mac Finder desktop
If you prefer not to get into weeds with Terminal and want a simpler solution for hiding desktop icons, you can also use Finder settings. Note that this will not hide all icons, but only those that are connected to external devices and usually appear automatically: hard drives, external drives, CDs, DVDs, iPods, and connected servers.
Here’s how to hide icons with Finder:
- While on the desktop, go to the menu bar and select Finder ➙ Preferences (⌘ +,)
- Switch to the General tab
- Cancel all items
Now your desktop should look much cleaner. But is there a faster way to remove an icon from a Mac desktop?
How to remove icons to take a screenshot
The second most popular use case for hiding desktop icons is screen capture – when you’re trying to display something specific on your Mac, no one needs to know what types of files are gathering dust on your background. You can, of course, manually move your files and then use the screen capture tool, but why not combine them all in one?
CleanShot X is one of the most powerful tools for taking screenshots and capturing your Mac screen. Capture a specific area, application window, or full screen. This utility can even capture a long image of a web page or set a timer. Finally, it can capture your screen at any time and automatically transfer the results to the cloud. Even more impressive is that all this functionality fits neatly into one icon on the menu bar. And to hide desktop icons, just select Hide desktop icons at any time!
Hide your information in system folders
Now, this is a little weird, but you can actually hide files in system folders.
- Open up Finder > Go.
- Press Option hidden detection key Library drop down menu option and click on it.
- Once in the library, just create a new folder for your items and save them there.
Bonus: How to clean your Mac desktop
As we all know, discovering how to hide icons on a Mac doesn’t actually solve the problem of cluttered desktops. Sooner or later, the number of icons will become unfeasible and force us to clean it all up. But what are some faster ways to do that?
The most basic way to organize your desktop is to use Stacks – a feature that dates back to Mac OS X Leopard. Stacks essentially group your icons on the desktop or by type, added data, modification date, tags, etc. And if another file later matches your grouping, it will be automatically added to the stack, helping to keep everything clean.
To use Stacks, simply right-click anywhere on the desktop and select Use Stacks. To undo, repeat the action.
If you think that Stacks is a bit limited in its functionality, there are more advanced applications that will help you stay organized.
Spotless goes beyond the idea of Stacks by allowing you to sort your files by rules. For example, you can create a rule to put all your PNG files with the word “screenshot” in them in your own folder. Now every time you drag and drop selected files into the app’s pop-up tray on the menu bar, your files are organized and placed in your folder. You can also schedule tidying tasks, automating the management of your desktop.
But what if you could organize not only icons, but your thoughts at the same time?
Unclutter is a great utility that serves as a temporary storage for your files, clipboard data, and any random notes you need to remember. As you activate Unclutter on the menu bar, it slides down from the top of the desktop and offers you to hide any files you want or make a note for later reference. It can even sync your files to multiple Macs via Dropbox, including everything you’ve copied to the clipboard!
As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to keep your desktop clean, which also means there is no excuse not to! If you often present, arm yourself with PliimPRO; if you take screenshots, get CleanShot X; to hide the icon with one click, download One Switch. And if that’s not enough, automate your desktop with Spotless and always keep your files close at hand with Unclutter.
Best of all, PliimPRO, CleanShot X, One Switch, Spotless and Unclutter are available to you for free during a seven-day trial of Setapp, a platform with more than 200 outstanding Mac applications for every use you can imagine. Try them all today at no cost and make your Mac routines truly unstoppable.
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