How to kill Android apps and tasks running in the background

Samsung Galaxy S7
Jeffrey Van Camp/Digital Trends
If you’re struggling with performance issues on your Android device, or trying to track down suspicious battery drain, then you might want to take a peek at which apps are running in the background. This guide will show you exactly how to do it and offer up some suggestions on what you can do about it.

Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that the majority of Android apps will be running in the background because they’re doing something they’re supposed to do. Android is good at switching things in and out automatically to maintain smooth performance, so you need to think carefully before interfering.

Check your battery usage

Your first port of call should be the battery usage breakdown that’s built into Android.

Go to Settings > Battery > Battery usage.

If you scroll down, you’ll see there’s a percentage listed next to each entry showing recent battery usage. You should expect to find Screen as the top listing and there will likely be some Google apps listed. What you’re looking for is an app or game that seems to have taken up a suspiciously large amount of battery. If you’ve used something briefly or not at all and yet it still chewed through a chunk of your battery life, then it’s a possible candidate for action.

Check running services or process statistics

You can get a look at exactly what is running at any given moment by delving into the developer options on your Android device.

  1. Go to Settings > About device and tap on Build number seven times to unlock the Developer options. If you have a Samsung Galaxy, it might be Settings > About device > Software info > Build number.
  2. You’ll get a pop-up message telling you that you are now a developer.
  3. Go to Settings > Developer options and look for Running services or Process statistics (depending on the version of Android you have).
  4. With Running services in Android 6.0 Marshmallow and above, you should see live RAM status at the top, with a list of apps and their related processes and services currently running below. By default, it will show services in use, but you can also tap to show cached processes.
  5. With Process statistics in older versions of Android, you’ll see a list. The percentage next to each one tells you how often it’s running and you can tap on it to see what the RAM usage is like.

Once again, you’re looking for apps that are suspiciously busy, even though you don’t really use them much. There are a lot of system processes and Google services that you don’t want to mess with. If you don’t know what something is, just type the name into Google and find out. It’s best to be cautious to avoid unexpected crashes or problems. What you’re really looking for is a third-party app that you installed or some bloatware that you don’t use that seems to be running in the background a lot more than it should.

Once you’ve identified some problem apps, you’ve got a few different options to deal with them.

How to stop background apps temporarily

There are various ways to stop an app from running in the background right now and that might be enough to stop your immediate problem. Just be aware that the next time you open the app, or another app accesses it, these background processes are going to start back up again.

  • You can hit the Recent apps button on your phone and tap the X next to open apps or swipe them right or left to close them. However, this doesn’t necessarily stop background services and processes from running.
  • If you have a device running Android 6.0 or above and you go to Settings > Developer options > Running services, you can tap on active apps and choose to Stop. You’ll see a warning if an app cannot be stopped safely.
  • For older versions of Android (before 6.0), in Settings > Developer options > Process statistics you can tap on an active app and choose Force stop.
  • In any version of Android, you can also go to Settings > Apps or Settings > Applications > Application manager, and tap on an app and tap Force stop. Older versions of Android have a Running tab in the Apps list, so you can easily see what’s actually running, but this no longer appears in Android 6.0 Marshmallow. If an app isn’t running, then the Force stop option will be grayed out.

How to stop background apps permanently

If you want to stop an app running in the background and make sure that it doesn’t start up again, then you still have a couple of options.

  • The easiest way to permanently stop an app running in the background is to uninstall it. Go to Settings > Apps on a stock Android device, or Settings > Applications > Application manager on a Samsung Galaxy, tap on the problem app, then tap Uninstall. If the app was preinstalled you might not have the option to Uninstall, but you should have the option to Disable Disabling will also stop it running in the background.
  • If you’re willing to root your Android device, then you could try out an app like Greenify or Titanium Backup. They will help you to automatically hibernate or freeze troublesome apps when you aren’t using them, so they don’t impact on performance or drain your battery anymore.

What else can I do?

There are a couple of other things you can do to try and deal with troublesome apps that you don’t want to actually get rid of.

  • Take a look in Settings > Data usage > Background data and you can prevent apps from using mobile data to sync in the background, though they will still use Wi-Fi when it’s available.
  • If you have Android 6.0 Marshmallow or above, you can go to Settings > Privacy and safety > App permissions. Take a look at permissions like Location and decide whether all those apps really need that permission. Revoking some permissions can reduce background activity for some apps, but in other cases it might stop the app from working or lead to crashes. For apps designed for older versions of Android you may get a warning about denying permissions, but you can always come back in here and grant them again if you encounter a problem.
  • We don’t recommend using task manager apps. They can cause more problems than they solve and rarely deliver the promised performance boosts. You’re essentially installing and running yet another app to temporarily stop apps running in the background. But Android automatically does this when its necessary and, as we’ve shown above, you can do it quite easily yourself.

We’ve reached the end of our guide on how to investigate Android apps running in the background and stop them. Most Android users should never need to force stop apps, but if you have a problem we hope this helps you out. Just remember to do your research and proceed with caution! Let us know how you get on.

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