How to Hide All Desktop Icons in Mac OS X
Want to hide all desktop icons on a Mac? 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 you have too many icons on the desktop and maintaining the desktop is just too much to deal with, you can actually toggle a secret setting in Mac OS X to turn off the Mac desktop icons completely, thereby preventing them from being displayed at all. This effectively hides all the icons from showing up on the Mac desktop only, but all of your files and stuff will still be accessible from elsewhere through the file system and Finder. You can think of this kind of like disabling the desktop, because you can still actually save files and folders to the desktop, it’s just that the icons will not show up. Instead, you’ll just see your desktop wallpaper.
How to Hide Desktop Icons on Mac OS X from Appearing Completely
If you’re ready to hide all desktop icons on a Mac, you’ll be using the command line to accomplish this task. Here is how you can hide all Mac desktop icons by basically disabling the desktop from appearing:
- Launch Terminal, found within /Applications/Utilities
- Type the following defaults command string exactly:
- Hit enter / return
- Next you will then need to kill the Finder so that it relaunches and the changes take effect, do that with the following command in the Terminal prompt:
- Again hit Return, this refreshes the Finder and the Desktop
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool false
Once the command is executed correctly, the Finder will refresh and all desktop icons will instantly disappear – the files will still exist, they are just no longer visible on the desktop.
This trick works to disable the desktop and hide all the desktop icons exactly the same in all versions of MacOS and Mac OS X, from Mac OS X Snow Leopard to OS X Yosemite to MacOS Mojave and everything in between, and presumably later too.
You can expedite the hiding of the desktop icons on the Mac by turning the command string into a single line to be copied and pasted into the Terminal window, like this:
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool false;killall Finder;say icons hidden
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:
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 Mac 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.
So to be perfectly clear, this will hide your icons from showing on the Desktop by disabling that feature, but your desktop data, files, folders, and everything else is still available by manually going to the “~/Desktop” folder of the user account. None of your files are missing, they’re just tucked into your user Desktop folder on the Macintosh HD.
How to Show Desktop Icons Again in Mac OS X
To show the Desktop icons again, return to open the Mac Terminal and type the following defaults command – notice the only difference between the disabling of desktop and enabling of desktop is ‘false’ has been turned into ‘true’, thereby re-enabling desktop icon display on the Mac:
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool true
Again, kill the Finder and your icons will show on the desktop as usual:
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:
Similar to the hiding trick, you can condense those commands into a single command string to reveal the desktop icons again.
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool true;killall Finder;say icons visible
This even gives you a nice auditory clue announcing the state of the icons (icons hidden, or icons 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 that Mac desktop tidy and free of too many icons, or just hide the icons and files display like we described here so that you can gain a nice little speed boost until you sort through your files.