Hide All Desktop Icons in Mac OS X

Sep 23, 2009 - 50 Comments

Desktop icon clutter can really impact workflow by overwhelming you with files and just too much stuff to look at. Inevitably, it can be hard to avoid since a lot of apps download things to the Desktop by default, we save things there, screenshots go there, it quickly becomes the generic catch-all location for documents and stuff that we’re working with. If you decide the desktop is just too much to deal with, you can actually toggle a secret setting in Mac OS X to turn off the desktop icons, thereby preventing them from being displayed at all.

Hide Desktop Icons from Appearing

Launch Terminal, found within /Applications/Utilities, and type the following defaults command string:

defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool false

After hitting enter, you will then need to kill the Finder so that it relaunches and the changes take effect:

killall Finder

The desktop will no longer display icons, effectively hiding them from appearing. All of the files still exist, but they’re now discretely hidden in your home folder’s “Desktop” directory rather than cluttering up the visible desktop. If you’re wondering what this looks like when it’s in effect, it’s basically a super-clean desktop like this:

Desktop icons disabled in OS X

Notice how there is literally nothing on the desktop? Just a clean image of the background wallpaper? That’s what this trick does.

Note that this process is different than simply hiding things like Mac hard drive icons and network shares from showing up on desktop, because this trick is all inclusive and hides every single icon regardless of what it is, completely preventing them from appearing on the OS X Desktop whatsoever, despite still technically being stored in the users ~/Desktop directory. It’s obviously easy to implement, and it’s also easy to reverse if you decide the feature isn’t for you and you want to see everything visible as usual again.

Show Desktop Icons Again in Mac OS X

To show the Desktop icons again, open the Mac Terminal and type the following defaults command, notice the only difference is ‘false’ has been turned into ‘true’, thereby re-enabling desktop icon display:

defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool true

Again, kill the Finder and your icons will show on the desktop as usual:

killall Finder

Finder will relaunch, and the desktop will be revealed again with all of it’s icons shown. The image below shows an exaggerated example, with tons and tons of icons sitting on the wallpaper:

Desktop cluttered with lots of icons, desktop is visible

Other than being a nuisance to look at, desktop clutter can actually slow down a Mac (or any computer, for that matter), since each individual icon and thumbnail must be drawn by the operating system anytime the desktop is accessed or shown. As a result, every single file sitting on the desktop takes up a little slice of memory, and redrawing the thumbnail icons uses a tiny bit of CPU, but with hundreds of files laying about those will accumulate to a significant burden on the computers resources, thereby slowing down the computer. This is particularly true with old Macs, but it applies to newer models as well. So when in doubt, keep it tidy and free of too many icons, or just hide the icons display like we described here so that you can gain a temporary speed boost until you sort through your files.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Customize, How to, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

50 Comments

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  1. Ronnie G. says:

    The other day I installed a new application called Berokyo and now I have no icons in my desktop and everything is organized in a beautiful virtual multi-shelf cabinet. The application is a Staff Pick at apple.com.

    http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/productivity_tools/berokyo.html

  2. Gary Hoover says:

    Or use the excellent freeware app Camouflage.

    http://www.briksoftware.com/products/camouflage/

    Works beautifully and you can define a key combination to toggle it on and off.

    • Philippe says:

      Problem is that in Lion, hiding desktop icons also hide wallpaper in spaces to the one in space #1.

      • Pax says:

        I’m still using 10.6, and I have automatic changing wallpapers. Do you know a freeware that could handle the job?

    • Danny says:

      The problem with that is, the icons are still there and taking up memory.. Camouflage just sets your wall paper to float on top (like you can set a music player, say).

      You can test it by setting a much smaller wallpaper than your screen size and then toggling Camouflage on & off; the smaller picture is in a sea of icons, and merely drifts in front of the icons it covers, and the back behind them as you toggle “off.” The surrounding icons haven’t moved, and therefore nothing on the desktop has moved.

      Basically its purpose is aesthetic, which would be fine– but doesn’t do the functional work of taking all that media off of your computers mind.

      Too bad because i also liked that little app.

  3. [...] This post was Twitted by AppleTwitts [...]

  4. [...] I was looking into hiding the desktop icons on my Mac, I came across this interesting post at osxdaily.com. Rather than try the solution proposed, I checked out one of the apps recommended [...]

  5. Maybe I’m just an old-school unix guy, but I don’t understand while everybody is mentioning all these memory grabby apps when this command line solution is simple, elegant and most importantly, doesn’t need to be loaded into memory everytime for it to work!! Great Post!!

    • Robin says:

      Completely agree with you on this one… terminal works like a charm and does the job effectively, no need for external shells/apps to do the job.

  6. B says:

    I first ran the false line and then the true to restore the icons; however, the Macintosh HD icon no longer appears in the “Desktop” folder even though the icon for it does appear on the Desktop. I try to drag it directly to the Desktop folder, but it does not appear there, sometimes creating an alias in an adjacent folder. I have gone to Finder>Preferences and checked and unchecked the HD boxes and relaunched Finder to no avail.

    How can I get the Macintosh HD icon to reappear in the Desktop folder in the Finder despite it reappearing on the desktop?

    Any help is appreciated. Thanks.

    • Danny says:

      Sorry, i readily admit i don’t have a solution for you, but– out of curiosity, why do you want for the hard drive to be *in* the Desktop folder?

      It wasn’t in there before the icon fix either, so it won’t be now.

      My guess is, that’s separate from the code that regulates folders– you’ll have to dig deeper into your computer for that special protocol that makes your HD sit on, but not in, your Desktop.

      I’ll bet someones got a command, but i wonder if it won’t cause more harm to extract the function than just leaving it in(?)

      Good luck, friend; i sure know what it’s like to wanna play with your computer– mostly my reasoning for spending hours searching & scratching my head is, “Just ‘cuz”

      I must have total control- huzzah!

  7. Chuck Tomasi says:

    Thank you. When I ran the migration assistant from our old Tiger iMac to the new Snow Leopard iMac, my daughter’s desktop was not showing icons. Using the second option (-bool true) worked like a champ.

  8. [...] and dock. Of course if you’re on the other end of the spectrum and you hate icons you can hide all desktop icons in Mac OS X, but that’s not the purpose of this article. You are here for great icons, so if you too are [...]

  9. Jacques Richer says:

    I have a problem that seems to be just the opposite of yours, guys…

    I spent a lot of time organizing icon layout in various folders, over the years…
    only to have OSX destroy these organization for no good reason, once in a while.
    The last time was when I upgraded to Mac OS X 10.6.2.

    I would pay for a way to freeze icons in a given position, chosen by me of course.
    I have tried saving copies of the .DS_Store files for a few important directories; sometimes copying that back onto the .DS_Store files restores the layout. But not
    always. I just don’t understand the .DS_Store laws. Why can’t I decide where I want my icons to be? This is MY computer, not Apple’s! This unrequested shuffling of icons drives me nuts.

  10. [...] you really want to have a clean and bare desktop, you can hide all desktop icons from ever appearing via the Mac OS command [...]

  11. John-Michael says:

    I just finished making a Dashboard App to automate this a bit better for people. If this doesn’t exist yet on the Apple site I might go add it there. Otherwise I’d be willing to supply it to people.

  12. Kendall says:

    I recently got a new macbook pro and after downloading msn for mac i realized it left behind desktop icons that i really would rather not have there. I came across this webpage and maybe im just doing it wrong (?) but its not hiding anything for me and im scared to try anything else because as this is my first mac i am afraid to screw something up royally (im not very familiar with it yet).. if anyone has any ideas help would be much appreciated! Thanks in advance ~ K

    • joakim says:

      Just delete them from the desktop by dragging to Trash, they’re only aliases and not real files. You won’t lose the application, don’t worry.

  13. [...] or you just don’t like the desktop icons and the clutter they can cause, you can always hide all desktop icons in Mac OS X with a simple Terminal [...]

  14. Jerome Lyons says:

    This is the best way to hide your HD & external disks.

    http://www.rockia.com/2009/09/hide-show-your-system-disk-icon-on-snow-leopard

    If you keep your files organized you wont have to worry about hiding them.

  15. [...] not interested in downloading a third party tool that does this for you, you can also manually hide all icons from the Mac desktop by using the command line defaults tool. This will force the desktop to display no icons at all. [...]

  16. shahnawaz says:

    Great Post I easily managed to to hide all my desktop icons in one go

  17. [...] cluttering icons… I have found the following method for disabling the desktop icons from here but of course should you prefer I have also typed up the steps to disable the icons. Oh I should [...]

  18. [...] up the Desktop by Hiding Desktop Icons Launch Terminal and type the following: defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool [...]

  19. Thank you very much! I needed to clean the Desktop to record a screencast. I confirm that the command still works in Snow Leopard 10.6.6.

  20. [...] Again, kill the Finder and your icons will show on the desktop as usual. Clean up the Desktop by Hiding Desktop Icons via OSXDaily [...]

  21. [...]   I did find a way to take care of this problem:How to hide your Mac OS desktop iconsThis is from a post in 2009 but it still worksGo to “Applications” and find the “Utilities” folder, [...]

  22. [...] you don’t want to deal with manually hiding and showing the desktop icons, showing hidden files, accessing the user library directory, and forcibly emptying the Trash, grab [...]

  23. [...] Hide All Mac Desktop Icons Prove how minimalist you are with this little hack from OS X Daily. [...]

  24. Mikey says:

    THANK YOU

  25. Robert Huttinger says:

    [hint]Now if there were an automator service to do this without opening terminal …. [/hint]

  26. [...] so covered in files that you can barely see the wallpaper. Sometimes mine gets so full that I just hide the desktop icons so I can deal with them later, but that’s not necessarily the best [...]

  27. [...]  http://osxdaily.com/2009/09/23/hide-all-desktop-icons-in-mac-os-x/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInStumbleUponEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  28. [...] menubar apps are especially useful if you hide the Mac OS X desktop to reduce clutter, because they give you information and functionality that you’d otherwise [...]

  29. Cameron says:

    I had a problem with my desktop, it wouldn’t let me click or show anything on it… So I tired the terminal code “defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool true”
    Then typed “killall Finder”
    Then suddenly everything was back
    THANK YOU :)

  30. [...] the way, for the clean look with no desktop icons, I’ve used this little trick.  I also use Rainlender for the calendar, and GeekTool for all the Date, Time, and System stats. [...]

  31. Danny says:

    Sweet. Thank you!

  32. poptal says:

    Thanks you so much for this tip.

  33. Brian says:

    FYI
    I just came here looking for the answer to this question for Lion, and just discovered its a moot point.
    1. In Lion, you can not show drives on desktop
    2. You can move all your desktop files to another place
    3. Clean desktop.


    Finder -> Prefs -> uncheck all the show on desktop boxes

    Create a folder somewhere called ‘Desktop’, (like in your documents folder)

    Drag all the clutter from your desktop there.

    Remember that thats where you’re stuff is :-)

    Bob’s yer uncle.

  34. Theodore says:

    Thaaaanks! Fantastic workaround! Upgraded to Mountain Lion and Camouflage does not work there… this worked like a charm and no load on memory!

  35. Charles says:

    This is a great tip except for one thing: Once you desktop items are hidden you no longer have any Contextual menu functionality on the Desktop – only in icons in open windows.

    Also there is no more clicking the Desktop to get back to the Finder (for example, if you use a utility like QuicKeys to open an often-used folder in the Finder).

  36. am-guy says:

    First of all, thanks for the command, it works well to hide the icons. Now I want icons back, and when I enter the command in terminal, I get the following in the terminal:

    $ defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool ture
    Command line interface to a user’s defaults.
    Syntax:

    ‘defaults’ [-currentHost | -host ] followed by one of the following:

    read shows all defaults
    read shows defaults for given domain
    read shows defaults for given domain, key

    read-type shows the type for the given domain, key

    write writes domain (overwrites existing)
    write writes key for domain

    rename renames old_key to new_key

    delete deletes domain
    delete deletes key in domain

    domains lists all domains
    find lists all entries containing word
    help print this help

    is ( | -app | -globalDomain )
    or a path to a file omitting the ‘.plist’ extension

    is one of:

    -string
    -data
    -int[eger]
    -float
    -bool[ean] (true | false | yes | no)
    -date
    -array …
    -array-add …
    -dict …
    -dict-add …

    And now I dont have icons back. What can I do to get icons back.
    Thanks

  37. CSchuster says:

    Well, after soooo many years and sooooo many people asking for this feature: APPLE must finally implement this feature as a part of Mac OS.

    Its time to stop praying, we should firmly call for that as a matter of course.

  38. Seth says:

    I love this command, thank you. I have used it since Lion and I started seeing a strange behavior the last few weeks since a Mountain Lion update and this is the only thing I can think of that causes it. I am curious if anyone else has seen it.

    If I have a desktop that has no windows on it, when I use a gesture to switch to that desktop, the desktop will snap back to the last desktop I was on.

    I just tested it and used the command to show the desktop icons again and the snap back is no longer happening.

  39. kruger says:

    Pretty nifty and elegant. Thanks a million!

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