2 Show Desktop Keyboard Shortcuts for Mac

Jan 4, 2018 - 20 Comments

How to Show Mac Desktop with a Keyboard Shortcut

If you want to show the Mac desktop quickly, the fastest way to do so is often with a keyboard shortcut to reveal the desktop. This approach will push aside all on-screen windows, apps, and other information, and show only the Mac desktop – all without closing any apps.

These tricks can offer a fast way to access files and other icons on the desktop, or even just to quickly hide whatever is on the screen by shuffling away windows to show the Mac desktop instead.

The Mac actually has several Show Desktop keyboard shortcuts in Mac OS and Mac OS X, and for Macs that are equipped with a Trackpad, there is an easy to use gesture to show the desktop as well. Let’s review the keyboard shortcut options for showing the desktop on the Mac. Keep in mind these tricks work to show the desktop on all vaguely modern versions of Mac OS system software, as long as they include support for the Mission Control or Expose features.

Show Desktop Keyboard Shortcuts on Mac OS

There are two Show Desktop keystrokes immediately available for all modern Macs, each of the keyboard shortcuts takes advantage of the Mission Control feature of Mac OS.

Show Mac Desktop with: Command + F3

The first keyboard shortcut that shows the Mac Desktop is Command F3. Press both the Command key and the F3 key together.

Show Desktop on Mac with keyboard shortcut Command F3

Pressing this keystroke combination will immediately activate the Mission Control “Show Desktop” feature in Mac OS and push all windows on screen aside to reveal the desktop of the Mac.

You can hide the desktop and return to the prior window state by pressing Command+F3 again at any time, or if you interact with an onscreen item, launch a new app, or open a new window, that will also return all the windows back to their prior status over the desktop again.

The animated GIF below demonstrates how this effect looks, revealing the desktop on Mac after the keystroke has been pressed successfully:

Keyboard shortcut to show Mac desktop shown in animated GIF

Show the Mac Desktop with: fn + F11

Another Show Desktop keyboard shortcut for Mac OS X is Function F11. You will need to press both Function (fn) key and the F11 key together to show the desktop with this keystroke.*

Keyboard shortcut to show desktop on Mac with Function F11

Just like the command+F3 keyboard shortcut, pressing FN + F11 together will activate the Mission Control “Show Desktop” feature and slide all windows off screen to show the desktop of the Mac, where you can access icons and whatever else.

You can hide the desktop and return all the windows to their normal position again by pressing Function+F11 again, or by interacting with another item on screen which opens a window.

* Note that if you have the keyboard setting for “Use f1, f2, etc keys as standard function keys” enabled then you won’t need to press the Function key.

Show Mac Desktop Keyboard Shortcuts Not Working? Here is How to Enable Them

If for whatever reason the keyboard shortcuts to show the Mac desktop are not working, then you can enable them in the System Preferences of Mac OS:

  1. Go to the  Apple menu and choose “System Preferences”
  2. Select “Mission Control”
  3. Look under the Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts section and next to “Show Desktop” choose “F11” in the pull down menu
  4. Try the F11+function keystroke to show the desktop again, it should work now

Enable Show Desktop keyboard shortcut on Mac

These shortcuts will work even if you have the desktop disabled, some icons not shown, and are hiding the desktop icons on a Mac, but in those cases you will just see the wallpaper background picture rather than any desktop icons of course.

And it’s use-case is a bit different, but there’s also a keyboard shortcut to minimize and hide all windows on a Mac, which will show the desktop in a roundabout way by hiding everything else on the display. Note that’s quite different from what is detailed above, which shows the desktop without hiding and minimizing anything.

Know of any other keyboard shortcuts to show the Mac desktop quickly? Do you have any other tricks to reveal the desktop on a Mac? Share them with us in the comments below.

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

20 Comments

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  1. Stanley says:

    You can also assign a hot corner to show the desktop which i find is easier and much quicker than pressing a key combination..

    • Mick says:

      Yes, I will 1+ this… Hot Corners uses one finger…

    • BuffyzDead says:

      Yup, my method of choice

      Top right Hot Corner, and a flick of the wrist,
      with my Magic Mouse.

      Since I “download” to the desktop,
      flick my wrist to reveal the desktop/download,
      grab the file, flick my wrist again to bring back all windows,
      press command key while “moving” the download, to where I want to place it.

  2. Tom says:

    Spread 5 fingers on touchpad. You prbly must ensble this in mutigestures of your touhpsd.
    The easiest wsy I think

  3. HOP says:

    Spread with thumb and three fingers. Specially if you have this “cool” useless control strip…

  4. Hugh says:

    Hot corners. The only shortcut needed. Swipe down with 1 finger to corner. Duh.

  5. J-L says:

    The above shortcuts, trackpad gestures and hot corners do not work if you have an application open in full screen mode. It only works if you have partial windows covering the desktop.

  6. ASentientBot says:

    Swipe gesture is the easiest by far, but a bit hard to master. (Spread with thumb and three fingers as other people already said. Enabled by default on High Sierra at least, not sure if you have to enable on older versions.)

    fwiw, Fn+F11 seems to be the fullscreen shortcut in Firefox so it doesn’t work for me.

  7. ed says:

    +1 hot corner

  8. Mike says:

    Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts:

    I prefer: Show Desktop > Right Command

    • Sheri says:

      Thank you! I find Right Command easier to access – as well as easier to remember – than Fn+F11, which doesn’t work for me anyway. And yes, I did make the suggested change in Mission Control/System Preferences.

  9. Loreno says:

    These are nice. But I wonder – is it possible to hide all windows but the one that is active?

  10. Jim says:

    or you can use Settings>Keyboard>Mission Control>Short Orders? (not sure how it’s in English) and set cmd+D for showing Desktop if you fancy Windows.

  11. Joe Schmough says:

    This only works once. ONE TIME ONLY on my Mac. Thanks anyway but I’m just going to set this computer on fire and buy a real computer, a pc.

  12. Alisson says:

    command + mission control (f3) = show desk
    option + mission control (f3) = show mission control preference
    control + mission control (f3) = show expose (application windows)

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