Let's say I am nearing the limit of space on my backup drive. So I want to delete backups or versions before 6 months ago. Is that possible through time machine? How do I do that?

This is the message I'm getting now!!! (Panic) Why is this happening? How do I stop it?

The backup disk is full.

Time Machine deleted one or more old backups to make room for new backups. The oldest remaining backup is: Feb 4, 2012

To avoid deleting additional old backups, open Time Machine preferences to select a different backup disk.
  • You can't stop it from doing that — it's how Time Machine is supposed to work.
    – slhck
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 17:09
  • Yes, you said you wanted to delete old backups, and that's exactly what it's doing for you.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 18:21
  • OK. It says I can dismiss the message from appearing every time. Thanks Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 19:22

5 Answers 5


Time Machine will do it for you automatically. http://pondini.org/TM/12.html


There doesn't seem to be a way to delete multiple backups via the starfield. You could use Terminal and tmutil delete to quickly delete multiple backups:

  1. Make sure the backup disk is mounted (entering the starfield and then exiting it should work)
  2. Navigate to the folder that contains the backups in the Finder. (I don't quite remember, but I think you get there by double-clicking on the backup disk on the desktop, then Backups.db, then a folder with the name of the computer being backed up.)
  3. Open Terminal and type sudo tmutil delete (the space afterwards is important!)
  4. Select all the backups that you want to delete and drag them into the Terminal window. That will automatically insert the filepaths for you. Then press return.
  5. You will be asked for a password. That's your account password, the one you use to log into your computer. The characters won't echo, not even as dots or asterisks, so just type it carefully and then press return again.
  • Will this method work if the backup hard drive is connected to a different mac? (Not the mac that was being backed up)
    – Shwaydogg
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 19:48
  • My drive was destroyed and I want to clear the time machine history. tmutil delete doesn't work because it can't find the backup.
    – geoidesic
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 9:00

Providing one answer to my own question would be is to start over (losing my history). I've done this before and IIRC:

  1. Turn off Time Machine. System Preferences > Time Machine > On / Off switch
  2. Open Disk Utility. Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility
  3. Select the current Time Machine Hard Drive
  4. Select Erase Tab
  5. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
  6. Open Time Machine
  7. Click Select Disk button
  8. Select the Hard Drive you just erased and click Use Backup Disk
  9. Turn on Time Machine if it isn't turned on already.

I'm not going to select this as the answer, since the goal would be to save the history but it will give someone more space if that is the reason they are asking this question. Also please correct or edit the steps if you take this approach.

  • Only useful if you use the Time Machine drive exclusively for backups, and there's no reason to delete backups manually if you do, because Time Machine does it automatically.
    – Daniel Beck
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 6:54

To delete an entire backup:

  1. Enter the Time Machine starfield (right-click on the Dock icon and click Enter Time Machine, or click on the menu bar item and click Enter Time Machine)
  2. Navigate back to the backup you would like to delete (by using the timeline on the right side of the screen or the arrows near the bottom).
  3. Click on the gear icon at the top of the window—there's an option there called something like Delete Backup or Delete Entire Backup (not Delete All Backups Of This Item). You might be prompted for an admin name and password.

Depending on how much has changed from that backup to the adjacent ones, you might have to delete a few before you notice a difference.

  • Tried this. I don't see this gear icon. Using Mountain lion. Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 20:18

sudo tmutil delete /Volumes/MyDrive/Backups.backupdb/mycomputer/2012-07*

it’s best practice to split up your drive into partitions so the backups aren’t having a tug of war for space with other activities on the disk.

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