Some of you may know that applications leave files behind when you drag them in your trash. Most of these are .plist (preference lists) or caches located in the Application Support folder (in your Library). There are quite a few tools out there that hunt down these files, and deletes them for you when you decide to remove an application. I personally use AppCleaner, but I thought it would be interesting to compare the different offerings that are available.
Removing .plists is definitely not required when using OS X, but I like to keep things tidy. There is also a good reason to keep those files around though, since if you ever choose to reinstall an app, it’s settings and preferences will be intact if it can find its old plist file. Bear in mind that this is in no way an in-depth review, but is intended as a good overview. Without further ado…
I present the tools (I included the versions available when writing this overview and all pricing in USD):
Almost all the apps offer to remove widgets, plugins and preference pane entries. For AppCleaner, AppDelete and AppZapper, it pretty much boils down to that. Amnesia adds an option to remove ScreenSavers and to back up/restore your apps.
To access these features in iTrash, you need to double-click on the trash logo (thanks to Atarikid for pointing this out). I would expect a more intuitive way of accessing these features in upcoming versions. iTrash also removes lost plists files, which is a great addition I have been wanting for a long time! It will also run in Ghost Mode, which is a very neat, albeit slow, way to automatically scan for related files when moving an application to the trash. I wish it would use more CPU processing so the window could pop-up faster (this seems like a design decision and not a problem per-say). Finally, there is an expert mode, which finds even more files (I did not use this mode during my tests).
CleanApp doesn’t remove plugins nor widgets, but catches up with a wealth of other features. It can find duplicate files, clean really old files, can scan your drive to display the biggest folders, it can scan all your apps for unnecessary language packs, scan for cache files and the list goes on (there are simply too many features unrelated to deleting applications to list them all here). For the purpose of this review, I will solely concentrate on cleaning app-related files.
Simply looking at the feature set, Amnesia seems over priced. It is the most expensive of the bunch, but doesn’t offer compelling features to justify its price… Lets test these out now.
I will be simulating an uninstall of pro apps Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Digidesign Pro-Tools. In addition, I will test more common apps such as Skype, Chrome, Firefox and Steam (that should be interesting).
When scanning for related files, AppZapper and CleanApp were extremely fast (almost instantaneous results). AppCleaner, AppDelete and iTrash displayed results in a very reasonable time and Amnesia was slow… very slow…
- For Lightroom iTrash displayed a whooping 63 results, offering to remove every single preference file for the whole Adobe suite… Wow! Amnesia reported 12 results including my Lightroom data folder! That’s simply unacceptable. AppDelete returns 8 good results, AppCleaner 6 (it misses the Application Support folder), AppZapper 5 and CleanApp 4 (both failing to detect .savedstate and .lockfile files).
- For Photoshop iTrash again takes the lead with 68 results, and again would clear all my settings for the whole Adobe suite… AppCleaner displays 53, but these are mainly irrelevant, since they are all in the Photoshop folder. AppZapper shows 45, and just like AppCleaner counts every plugin inside the Photoshop folder as a unique item, Amnesia 11, AppDelete 6, CleanApp 5.
- Scanning Pro Tools was interesting. iTrash does it’s thing again and returns 16 results that are actually relevant this time around (it identified many log files and a cache folder). Amnesia’s scan took longer than all the other apps’ combined (including the time for AppZapper to crash and for me to relaunch it). It returned 5 results. AppCleaner, AppDelete, AppZapper (after the initial crash of course) and CleanApp all returned the same 3 results.
- For Skype, Amnesia’s scan is still slow and it’s 12 results are questionable, since it identified 2 Skype installer .dmg files in my Downloads directory… AppCleaner, AppDelete and iTrash find 7 related files. AppZapper 6 and CleanApp 5.
- Now onto Chrome, iTrash wins this one with 10 actually relevant results. Amnesia gets 9. AppCleaner and AppDelete 8, AppZapper doesn’t identify any of the Chrome folders and returns a mere 4 items as is the same with CleanApp and it’s 3 results. Amnesia, AppCleaner, AppDelete and iTrash all successfully show .savedstate and .lockfile items.
- When testing Firefox Amnesia returns 8 items (it misses the .growlticket and includes 2 installation dmg files… I’m still not sure what I think of that). AppCleaner, AppDelete and iTrash return the same 7 files. AppZapper misses the .growlticket and returns 6 results. CleanApp only returns 5 results (it fails to find the .growlticket and the .lockfile).
- Finally we get to Steam. Amnesia finds 7 items (including the installation dmg, plists and some logs). AppDelete identifies 3 items. AppCleaner, AppZapper, CleanApp and iTrash all report the same 2 results (the app itself and the Steam Application Support folder).
Overall feel and interface
As an AppCleaner user, I actually like how it works and its interface. It resembles AppDelete, AppZapper and iTrash in many ways. AppDelete displays it’s results in a separate black-styled window, which I didn’t like. AppZapper feels nice and it’s interface is clean, but it only shows you filenames (you have to mouse-over a filename and wait for a tool-tip for the file path), which I don’t like. iTrash is also pretty similar to the others, but uses an unintuitive way to display more options (double-clicking on its trash icon). Amnesia is ugly and hasn’t been updated to the Lion Aqua interface. It is also unbearably slow. CleanApp is a different beast. I really like how it displays a thermometer beside the files it found, displaying how confident it is about each result. Very useful. It’s window is unbearably large though.
You’ve probably guessed it by now. I would stay away, far away, from iTrash and Amnesia. Amnesia is the most expensive and it sucks. It feels like a Panther app, it is painstakingly slow and was going to delete years of pictures and personal data when removing Lightroom. Amnesia fails miserably.
iTrash is pretty good at finding stuff… too good actually! When I delete an application, I don’t feel like sifting through pages of false-positives to select the few real results. I want an app that always shows good results, an app that I can trust wont break my workflow. iTrash might be a good fit for control-freaks who want to spend a lot of time analyzing what applications are leaving behind, while running the risk of breaking your system. I am not that person.
I had high hopes for AppZapper, but it simply doesn’t live up to its price tag. At 12.95$ it is the third most expensive app, but fails to find many relevant files, and doesn’t offer any additional features to justify its price. I would definitely skip this one.
AppDelete is really good at finding stuff, yet is always on the safe side. It’s price tag is fully justified, and even though I don’t like how it displays results, I think it’s a great app. I trust this one completely. If finding more plists when removing an application is worth a few bucks for you, then this is the app you need!
I hesitated a long time if I were to include CleanApp as an honorable mention. This article focuses on identifying and removing left-over files from applications, which is CleanApps’ biggest down-side. It misses a lot of files… It is actually the worst at finding related files. The app itself is amazingly powerful though, and the price is right. If you don’t mind many files left behind when uninstalling stuff, and are looking for a great overall cleanup application (a great companion to Onyx for example), I would absolutely give CleanApp a go. It simply can’t be seen as an app remover in itself though. Some more work on its detection algorithm would make this an insta-buy.
Nothing can beat free, especially when it works exactly as expected. Don’t expect any bells and whistles here, AppCleaner does exactly as its name implies, and does it well. It doesn’t find as many files as iTrash or AppDelete, but it’s really close and every single identified file and folder during this test was relevant. It earns the SlowTech awesomest number 1 champion award of the best application remover app.
SlowTech recommendation: AppCleaner