How to Delete a Time Machine Backup From an External Hard Drive

Time Machine Backup From an External Hard Drive
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Time Machine creates macOS backups of important files and system settings for easy restoration. However, if there is insufficient space on your external drive due to multiple old backups, you need to delete older ones to make room for new backups. We’ve already mentioned creating MacBook backups to an external drive. This article shows how to delete Time Machine backups from an external hard drive.

3 Ways to Remove Time Machine Backups From an External Drive

There are three easy ways to delete old Time Machine backups from an external drive: delete them directly from the disk, remove them using Finder, or use Terminal.

1. Erase Time Machine Backups Directly from the Drive

Time Machine backups do not consume much space, but take note that your hard drive space is not infinite. Sooner or later, you need to delete some of these backup files to make space for new ones.

To delete these backups directly from the drive, follow these steps:

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  1. Locate the Time Machine icon on the menu bar and click on it.
  2. Once Time Machine opens, sort the backups according to your desired date.
  3. After that, delete the backups created on those dates by clicking on the gear icon and then selecting the Delete Backup option.
  4. You will then be asked to confirm your action and provide your administrator password.
  5. After confirmation, the backup/s will be permanently deleted from your drive.

As long as you follow the steps above carefully, then you should be able to delete old Time Machine backups seamlessly.

2. Erase Time Machine Backups Using Finder

Another efficient and easy way to delete Time Machine backups from your external drive is to use Finder. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Open the File menu on your Mac.
  2. Launch a new window by clicking the New Finder Window option.
  3. Using a lightning cable, connect the drive that contains all your Time Machine backups.
  4. Wait for a few seconds until your Mac recognizes the external drive. Soon, it’ll be visible on Finder under the Devices section.
  5. Select the drive by clicking on it. You will be prompted to provide your administrator password to continue.
  6. If you are using Airport Time Capsule, Apple’s wireless router that can be used for storage purposes, you will have to enter your password to access the backups.
  7. Once you’ve entered the backup disk, you will immediately find the Backups.backdb folder. Open it.
  8. Locate the sub-folder that is named after your Mac. It should have different files and sub-folders in it, too. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that there are fixed data attached and saved in it. Note that your goal is to delete a specific Time Machine backup file, so look for it among the list of files. Click on it and hit the Move to Trash option.
  9. Repeat the process to delete other backup files from the disk.
  10. Once you are done, go to your desktop and click the hard disk icon.
  11. Click Eject to remove the device from Finder.

Using Finder to erase Time Machine backups is a very effective method, but you can only use it for deleting Time Machine backups and not individual files from the folders.

3. Erase Time Machine Backups Using Terminal

You can also use Terminal to erase Time Machine backups from your external drive. Just be careful with this method because there is no way you can undo your actions.

To erase all Time Machine backups from an external hard drive using the Terminal app, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Terminal app. Go to Applications > Utilities and select Terminal.
  2. Enter this command in the command line:
    • sudo tmutil delete /Volumes/drive_name/Backups.backupdb/old_mac_name
  3. You will be prompted to provide your administrator password to continue.
  4. Wait for the process to complete. Depending on the amount of backup files that need to be cleaned up, the process could take hours.

To erase Time Machine backups one at a time using Terminal, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Applications > Utilities.
  2. Choose Terminal to launch the Terminal app.
  3. Enter this command in the command line:
    • sudo tmutil delete /Volumes/drive_name/Backups.backupdb/mac_name/YYYY-MM-DD-hhmmss
  4. Enter your administrator password to proceed with the deletion of a specific backup.


Time Machine is a great utility for Macs. It gives macOS users the assurance that their personal settings and data are safe and data loss is one less concern they need to have.

But it is also worth noting that a backup drive space is very limited, which means Mac users need to adjust and get rid of outdated backups to allocate space for new ones. Hopefully, the methods above can help when the time comes that they need to delete Time Machine backups.

If deleting Time Machine backups is too complicated for you, do not hesitate to seek help from experts. Take your MacBook and your external hard drive to the nearest Apple Store and let an Apple Genius do the task for you. Of course, it entails spending some cash, but it’s definitely a wiser action than losing loads of important data.

After you’ve deleted outdated backups, you might want to clean up your Mac even further. Get rid of junk files and system files that are eating up a huge chunk of your Mac’s storage space. For this task, you can simply download and install a reliable Mac cleaning tool.

With the methods we shared above, do you think you can delete outdated Time Machine backups from your external drive on your own? Do you know an easier way to erase old Time Machine backups? We’d love to hear you – comment your thoughts below.

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2 years ago

Thanks that’s good info for the future, but right now I need to know how to wipe the Time Machine completely off the external drive and set it up again. When I try it says it can’t be done. thanks

9 months ago

When I emptied the trash items were being deleted one by one. So far 20,000 items after 45 minutes with no indication how long this will take. I can’t look at the trash because emptying is in progress.

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