Fix Your Spotlight Search Results By Forcing Spotlight To Re-index [OS X Tips]



I’ve had a few friends experience a problem with their Spotlight search results after upgrading to Mac OS X Lion and at other times for other reasons. They claimed to search for items that they knew were somewhere on their computer, but Spotlight wasn’t able to find them in both cases.

Here’s a down and dirty fix for Spotlight that is useful when Spotlight seems to stop providing the results you expect. It is also useful when you just want Spotlight to re-index your system.

  • Open System Preferences.
  • Click on Spotlight.
  • Click the Privacy tab.
  • Drag your Macintosh HD (startup drive) to the list.
  • Wait a moment.
  • Remove Macintosh HD from the list.

This will force Spotlight to re-index the contents of Macintosh HD.

If you prefer to not do something as drastic as this you can drag a folder and its contents to the list in place of Macintosh HD in the steps above. This will cause Spotlight to re-index only the folder and its contents.

Periodically performing an entire disk re-indexing in Spotlight probably isn’t a bad idea either.

  • djrobsd

    What I wish is that I could put Spotlight on a timer.  It always seems to reindex during the most inconvenient times and I hate it!  My Macbook pro is always on (albeit partially asleep) so it would be nice to have it actually do something useful while I’m sleeping.

  • patti flynn

    thank you so very much for this tip.
    i have NEVER been able to use spotlight …assumed it was a problem with my folder names or something….and this did the trick perfectly.

  • MrBillMrBill

    We use a product called SpotOff that you can get from:


    I was having indexing problems during backups. Spotlight would kick on during the back up and slow everything down. SpotOff allows you to be able to still use Spotlight, it just stops updating until you re-enable it. Spotlight on Mountain Lion also seems to get Dazed and Confused during this sort of thing, sometimes screwing up completely.

    FWIW, here’s the process I use on Mountain Lion to do a backup:

    1. Use SpotOff to disable Spotlight indexing.
    2. Do the backup
    3. When the backup is done, use SpotOff to re-enable indexing.

    Any time, at least on Mountain Lion, when SpotOff re-enables indexing Spotlight will do an index of all the changes, which might take some time, but it hasn’t screwed up on me any more.

    Just thought I’d share! :-)