Fix reverting screensaver settings in OS X

DesktopAndScreenSaverIconXThe screensaver in OS X is a convenient tool to have enabled, even if its conventional use to prevent phosphor burn-in on CRT monitors is a somewhat moot point in this age of flat-screen displays. While you can choose your desired screen saver and apply some customizations to its settings in your Mac’s Desktop & Screen Saver system preferences, sometimes you might find (especially after upgrading your OS) that the screen saver’s settings, or the selected screen saver itself, will revert from any changes you have made.

If this happens to you, there are several things you can try:

1. Clear the screensaver defaults

The defaults in OS X are the preferences for a given application, specified by its domain. Running the following command in the Terminal will do this for the domain for the current system:

defaults -currentHost delete

2. Clear your screensaver preference files

While clearing the screensaver domain is a preferred approach, by running the following two commands (note the second one here differs by containing capital letters), you will clear all screensaver-related settings:

rm ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/*
rm ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost/*

This command differs from the first in that it will remove all screensaver-oriented settings from your Mac, including specific details like what photo album is used by any of the picture-based screen savers, and any custom text used in the Message screen saver, etc.

3. Uninstall third-party screen savers

If you have installed third-party screen savers, then remove them from your Mac per the developer’s instructions. Following this, you can check with the developer for updates for the screen saver, especially if you are experiencing a problem after having upgraded your Mac. You can then consider reinstalling the screen saver to see if a fresh installation will have it configured properly. This may be useful if you prefer to use the third-party screen saver but are finding its settings not working properly.

12 thoughts on “Fix reverting screensaver settings in OS X

  1. John Singleton (@jhsingle)

    This only works very briefly for me. When I select a photo folder for the screensaver, it only lasts a day, then the next morning it reverts to the Nat Geo photos. The “shuffle slide order” setting is even more transient – it only lasts for one invocation of screensaver, then reverts to showing pictures in folder order. [iMac/OSX 10.10.2]

  2. Ken Lundy

    I tried these fixes and unfortunately the Nat Geo pics are back. Tried the fixes again. All went well for a few days. Then Nat Geo returned 3 times yesterday. Why won’t Apple fix this??

  3. Merle Freeman

    I got tired of fighting with it! So I renamed the National Geographic folder to National Geographic old, created a new folder with National Geographic and added my own preferred pic’s. Great, custom National Geo photo’s of my own.

  4. redwoodresident

    These fixes do not work. Tried #1 and #2. Both soon revert to National Geograpgic.

  5. Ken Lundy

    I’m now thinking that the various work-arounds may no longer be necessary.
    Since updating to OS X 10.10.4, my screensaver has NOT reverted back to NatGeo!
    The screensavers on my iMac and my MBP are now staying on the folder I choose!
    I’m afraid to say it but I think Apple may have finally fixed this problem.
    I hope I’m not speaking too soon.

    1. Dasha

      I am afraid you may be speaking too soon: I run OS X 10.10.4 and the screen save always reverts to the first Nat Geo (“Pink Mount”) picture. Infuriating since I don’t like pink…

  6. John Ridge

    I was OK with this fix until I updated to 10.10.5. Now I can only select a folder from my Finder set, not a “folder” within my iPhoto library.

    Any suggestions?

    1. John Ridge

      I seem to have fixed it by accident!

      After logging in again, I had not launched iPhoto. When I did so, I found I was able to select “Photo library” again in the screensaver Options.

      At the same time, a screensaver .plist with “PhotoChooser” in its name had appeared in the Preferences/ByHost folder. I have not deleted it, and all seems well…

  7. Desmond

    The commands worked but unfortunately I do net get the options of selecting the photos library – I am running El Capitan. All my other Macs work fine in this respect

  8. borntocoupon

    Can’t find a solution for my slightly different problem… I setup the screen saver and it works for a while. Then for some reason, the screen saver didn’t turn on at all overnight. I also have it lock each time for security, so for it to not turn on and lock, is not good. I’m fine with any photos coming up as the screen saver. anyone know how to fix that?

  9. BapaFixer

    This works.
    Back up all data. Quit System Preferences if it’s running.
    Copy the text to the Clipboard (command-C): ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost
    In the Finder, select Go ▹ Go to Folder… from the menu bar.
    Paste into the box that opens (command-V), then press return. A folder should open in the finder.
    Look for a file with a long name that begins “”. There may be several such files. Move them all to the Trash.
    Log out and back in. Test.
    If the problem is resolved, empty the Trash and recreate your settings in the Screen Saver tab.

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