How to factory reset a Mac

Mac computers are generally reliable. But as with any computer, sometimes things go wrong. Before you spend a lot on a new Mac, though, try a factory reset, which wipes your computer and reinstalls a clean version of macOS. A factory reset is also the best way to prepare your old computer for a new owner to make sure no leftover data falls into the wrong hands.

The process has been the same for years on Intel-based Macs, however, Apple’s switch to silicon has slightly altered the method for cleaning and reinstalling the operating system. Here’s how to wipe your hard drive and reinstall the operating system on your Mac, regardless of whether it has Apple’s M1 chip or includes Intel components.

Enter recovery mode

To access the options to wipe data and reinstall the operating system, you need to access macOS Recovery. However, with the release of the new Macs, there are now two different ways to do this, depending on the chip inside your computer.

For Intel-based Macs

For Intel-based Macs, press and hold the power button, then choose the Restart option from the pop-up menu. Otherwise, open the Apple icon in the upper left corner of the screen and choose Restart. From here, hold Command + R until the Apple logo appears. Release the keys and allow the Mac to boot and open in Recovery.

For Apple silicon-based Macs

Macs using Apple silicon require a different method where you need to shut down your computer completely. Open the Apple menu and select Shut Down or press and hold the Power button and select Shut Down from the pop-up menu. Press and hold the power button to turn your Mac back on and hold it for several seconds until you see “Loading startup options”. Select Options from the boot screen to access macOS Recovery.

If you find yourself in a situation where your computer is frozen and the normal means of recovery don’t work, try the Control + Command + Eject shortcut (or power button).

Delete your data

Regardless of the method used to get here, you must then select a user with administrator privileges and enter their account credentials before gaining access to the computer’s boot options. Once fully in macOS Recovery, select Disk Utility to wipe the hard drive.

In the Disk Utility menu, choose your Macintosh HD drive under the Internal heading and click Erase in the top toolbar. A dialog box will appear asking for the drive name and format. Keep the name as Macintosh HD and make sure the format is set to APFS or Mac OS Extended (Journaled).

Click Erase Volume Group (or Erase if the button isn’t displayed) to erase the drive, then make sure other internal drives have been erased as well to completely erase the computer and avoid errors during the reinstall process. Exit the Disk Utility window to return to the recovery screen.

Keep in mind that once this process is done, you will no longer be able to recover the deleted data that was left on the drive. If you think you still need what is on your hard drive, we recommend that you first backup via Time Machine or sync important files to iCloud.

Reinstall and reset

If you plan to sell the computer, you can stop here and let the new owner install a clean version of macOS. For those who intend to keep their Mac, the next step should be to reinstall macOS on the computer.

Your computer should be plugged into a power source and connected to the internet. Go back to the macOS Utilities screen, click Reinstall macOS and follow the instructions to download a new version of the operating system.

If you saved your files via a Time Machine backup, you can now restore those files via the Migration Assistant as part of the reinstallation process. You will be asked if you want to transfer information from another Mac or from a Time Machine backup. Select Time Machine and continue the process to restore your files.

If you have decided not to perform this action while cleaning up your Mac, you can return to the macOS Recovery screen and choose the Restore from Time Machine backup option. Select the appropriate backup from the list to reinstall the saved files.


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