How To Rebuild Your Spotlight Index

Does your Mac fail to find files that you know exist when you search for them? Or, does Apple Mail or Outlook fail to find email messages when you search for them? If so, this problem could be caused by a corrupt Spotlight index. Spotlight is the name of Apple’s search capabilities built into the Mac operating system. Spotlight’s index can get damaged from time to time.

When this occurs, follow the instructions below to delete and then recreate or rebuild Spotlight’s index.

  1. Click on the Apple menu and select System Preferences
  2. When the System Preferences window opens, click the Spotlight icon
  3. Click the Privacy tab.
  4. Click the Add (+) button and select your Mac’s hard drive. Typically, this named Macintosh HD. (This process triggers the Mac operating system to delete the existing Spotlight index.)
  5. Click the red dot to close the System Preferences window.
  6. This next step may seem counter-intuitive, but we’re now going to undo what we just did.
  7. Click on the Apple menu, again, and select System Preferences.
  8. Click the Spotlight icon.
  9. Click the Privacy tab..
  10. Click on the Mac’s hard drive that you added back in step #4, then click the Remove (–) button to remove it from the list.
  11. Click the red dot to close this window

Spotlight will now start to reindex your Mac. Depending upon the amount of stuff you have on your Mac’s hard drive and the speed of your Mac’s processor this reindexing process could take anywhere from 30 minutes to many, many hours.

If you’d like illustrated instructions check out this article from OS X Daily.


  1. I’ve seen these instructions a few places, but one thing that I can’t seem to find, is how do I know it’s working/reindexing/how much time is left? Or do I just wait until tomorrow and hope for the best?

    • Cathrine,
      Good question. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t provide a time estimate and it’s not easy to see that the rebuild process is running. However, here’s one way you can try to see that it’s working. A minute or two after you start the rebuild process, click on the Spotlight icon in the upper right corner of your Mac’s screen. Type in a search term, you can type any word, it doesn’t really matter. Since Spotlight is being re-indexed, you should see a message indicating that Indexing is occurring. Next to the word Indexing, you’ll see a blue progress bar, as well.

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