Five Solutions for Pasting Plain Text on a Mac

I’ve always used “Paste and match style” if I’m pasting it into a document or paste/copy into a plain TextEdit or BBEdirt document.

This partly summarizes why I stopped using 3rd party add-ons for OSX/macOS. It also has to do with all the different systems I touch (clients, friends, family, etc.) that may not be receptive to me installing custom software which alters core copy-paste actions.

I have for many years relied on what Josh calls “Quick and Clunky”: BBEdit (or TextWrangler before it was discontinued). Easy to get and have ready in a sub-folder on anyone’s Mac where it will not bother them if they don’t want it in Applications.

This is perhaps not as “easy” as an installed script or app, but I can always count on the same process to get predictable results on ANY modern Mac system. I do not have to worry about an Apple update or cryptic security patch breaking the function when I require “naked” text.

I use and the idiom:

pbpaste | cat | pbcopy

This reliably strips all formatting from the text on the clipboard, replacing the clipboard content with pure text, allowing a clean paste. In my experience, even copy/paste from BBEdit sometimes will retain whatever font is currently in use in BBedit.


Might seem clunky but is really quick in practice. I ALWAYS have BBEdit running on my Macs. I just copy the relevant text in the source document, drop it into a BBEdit document then immediately copy it again. Voila, all cleaned up. That’s about it. Seven quick steps.

Select text
Command C (copy)
Switch to BBEdit (free version is fine)
Command N (new document)
Command V (paste)
Command A (select all)
Command C (copy)
and cleaned up text is on clipboard ready for pasting wherever.

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But you have a new BBEdit document with text in it each time.

That you don’t save. Pretty simple. I typically just use the one doc that I drop text into and copy out of. At the end of the session I just click the X to close the new doc and ‘Don’t save’.

Not plain-text, but…

I recently came across a hiccup when trying to paste some text grabbed from a web-page into a rich-text-editor. It was a mess. I tried to clean it up via paste into TextEdit, converting to plain etc. plus, in a few others, but what worked for me in the end… and I was somewhat amazed by it, was pasting into a new/empty email in, then copying and pasting from there. So did some excellent cleaning up of the html/css, in particular headings and indents.

FWIW, the “cat” step in the pipeline is redundant. pbpaste | pbcopy is all you need.

Often redundant, agreed. However, the Mac clipboard is pretty magical with the varieties of data it can contain. It “does the right thing” so often you don’t even notice. Including “cat” in the pipeline is an old habit based on experience with clipboard contents with many data formats. “cat” seems to clean things up so the result is pretty reliably text. It’s been a while since sorting out the details, but as I recall, a clipboard which includes not only styled text, but also vector images containing text, or an image with a text alt tag could result in unexpected results.

Since Nisus Writer Pro is always open I pass the text through it. Once pasted, I “Copy Text Only” and paste that where needed (usually

Write on!
R. Mark Hurvitz

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Slick (whether the cat is redundant or not). But I usually don’t have Terminal running, and I almost always have BBEdit running.

Hmm. I have not had that happen—yet.

That’s almost what I do. Since I almost always have a document open in BBEdit, I do something like this.

Select text
Command C (copy)
Switch to BBEdit (free version is fine)
Command V (paste)
(select text that I just pasted, after editing if desired)
Command X (cut)
Switch to document where I want unformatted text
Command V

The change in steps is because my recollection is that BBEdit would append a serial number to each new document, even if I didn’t save the previous document. It bothered my (why, I don’t know) to see the incrementing serial number, so I started using the current document. By cutting instead of copying, the document is back to its starting point. (Well, the dirty bit is set. Often, I use the Revert command to clear it.)

(rant) Despite the discussion of BBEdit, usually I use Paste and Match Style. However, in an Excel comment, that isn’t available, and that’s where I especially want plain text (because Excel often uses a style that doesn’t match the source and isn’t as easily readable as plain text). Even if I copy the plain text from an Excel comment and paste it into a different comment, it isn’t formatted like the source! What was Microsoft thinking? (end rant)

Just came to this thread looking if someone was talking about the pbpaste | pbcopy trick, which I use a lot… It is really useful if you have a Terminal on hand, and even works when copying from one device into the device where the pbcopy is issued…

Similar to the AppleScript or command line approach, everyone can easily create a very simple solution that works on both MacOS and iOS with Shortcuts. I’ve been using this successfully for quite some time already:

Get clipboard - Get First Item from Clipboard (same reasoning as for adding “cat” in the command line) - Get text from Item from List - Copy Text to clipboard

This cleans the content of the clipboard to just text. Other steps can be added to clean a selected text, or to paste the clean text at the cursor location - as is most suitable to your use case.

I’ve used Launchbar for years. Pasting plain text is as simple as a configurable keyboard shortcut.

I have been using for many years (I think that is the app name - I don’t have a Mac available while typing this). It has controls in the menu bar to turn it on or off. It can also auto-load during boot up.
Bizarrely it doesn’t work when I try to copy and paste text from the New Scientist website. The paste always adds the URL of the copied text!

All of these are Mac solutions. Most programs have paste matching style which works just fine for me.

It’s iOS that’s a mess. There is no Paste matching style option. Right now, I use my Madkdown editor, IA Writer to remove styles, but that’s clumsy to do.

Does anyone have a good iOS solution?

With an iPad Air 4th generation running iOS 15.4.1 and an external keyboard, command-shift-option-V pastes plain text in a Numbers cell. I haven’t tried it using any other app, and I expect that the external keyboard would be burdensome to many people.