Can I wipe my Mac and start over?

Yes, you can wipe your Mac and start over with a clean installation of macOS. This can help improve performance and free up storage space if your Mac is running slowly or cluttered with files. Here’s an overview of how to wipe a Mac and reinstall the operating system.

Back Up Your Data First

Before wiping your Mac, it’s essential to back up your files, photos, music, documents and other data you want to keep. You have a few options for backing up:

  • Use Time Machine to back up to an external hard drive or AirPort Time Capsule.
  • Manually copy important files to an external hard drive, USB flash drive or cloud storage like iCloud or Dropbox.
  • Use a cloud backup service like Backblaze to backup your entire Mac.

After backing up, make sure to disconnect any external hard drives or devices containing your backups before wiping your Mac.

Erase the Mac Drive and Reinstall macOS

With your data backed up, you’re ready to wipe the drive. Here are the steps:

  1. Restart your Mac and boot into Recovery Mode by holding Command + R when turning on your Mac.
  2. Select Disk Utility from the Recovery Mode options.
  3. Click Continue to open Disk Utility.
  4. Select your startup disk (usually named Macintosh HD).
  5. Click Erase at the top of the Disk Utility window.
  6. Choose a format – APFS is recommended for newer Macs.
  7. Give the drive a name (Macintosh HD is standard).
  8. Click Erase – this securely wipes and erases the entire drive.
  9. Quit Disk Utility when done.
  10. Reinstall macOS – you’ll be guided through the setup assistant steps.
  11. Restore your data from the backups you made.

That’s the basic process for wiping your Mac and starting fresh. Some additional tips:

  • For older Macs, use OS X Recovery instead of Recovery Mode.
  • For maximum security, choose a multi-pass erase option when wiping the disk.
  • macOS installation typically takes under an hour.
  • You can download macOS in advance from the App Store if needed.
  • Set up your user accounts, settings and apps like you did originally.

When to Consider Wiping a Mac

Here are some common scenarios when wiping a Mac may be worthwhile:

  • Performance issues – A fresh macOS install can fix random crashes, slowdowns and other performance problems.
  • Before selling or gifting – Wipe your Mac to erase personal data before selling or giving away to someone else.
  • Erase malware – Starting over can remove hard-to-delete malware or adware.
  • Free up space – If your drive is nearly full, wiping removes all files so you start with ample free space.
  • Resolve persistent problems – If you have system glitches a regular reset won’t fix, wiping the drive gives you a clean slate.

Reasons Not to Wipe a Mac

Wiping your Mac has some downsides to consider as well:

  • It takes time to fully back up and reinstall macOS.
  • You’ll need to reinstall your apps and reconfigure settings.
  • There’s a small risk of data loss if backups fail.
  • The issue may persist even after wiping the Mac if it’s a hardware problem.

If you’re able to pinpoint and resolve a specific software issue without wiping your Mac, that’s generally preferable. But wiping the Mac is an effective troubleshooting technique when other options fail.

How to Back Up a Mac Before Wiping It

Backing up your Mac properly is crucial before wiping it. Here are some tips for different backup methods:

Time Machine Backup Tips

  • Use an external drive with at least 2x the storage of your Mac’s drive.
  • Plug in and set up the drive before your first backup.
  • Let the initial backup complete before wiping the Mac.
  • Eject the Time Machine drive before starting the wipe process.

Manual Backup Tips

  • Copy your most important files to an external drive or cloud storage.
  • Focus on documents, photos, music, downloads and desktop files.
  • Double check your storage devices to make sure files copied correctly.
  • Keep the backup drive disconnected until the OS reinstall is complete.

Cloud Backup Tips

  • Enable automatic backup to services like iCloud or Backblaze.
  • Check that all desired files/folders are selected for backup.
  • Allow time for the initial backup to complete before wiping.
  • Disable backups or disconnect internet during the erase process.

Following best practices for backups reduces the risk of permanent data loss when wiping your Mac.

How to Reinstall Apps After Wiping a Mac

Once you’ve wiped your Mac and reinstalled macOS, you’ll need to redownload and set up your apps. Here are some tips:

  • App Store apps – Open the App Store app and redownload previously purchased apps. Your purchase history is stored in your Apple ID.
  • Subscription apps – Apps like Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud can be downloaded again and will pull your account details and preferences as you sign in.
  • Third party apps – Go to the developer’s website and redownload apps, then reinstall them on your Mac.
  • License keys – Locate any license keys, serial numbers or registration codes you need to reactivate certain apps.
  • Settings – Adjust app preferences and settings to match what you had before wiping the Mac.

Thankfully the app reinstallation process is much quicker than original setup. Within an hour or two you should be able to download and set up your everyday apps.

How to Restore Files After Wiping a Mac

Once macOS is reinstalled, you can restore your files from your backups. Here are some tips for different backup methods:

Restoring from Time Machine

  • Reconnect the Time Machine drive and power it on.
  • Open Time Machine from the menu bar or System Preferences.
  • Navigate through timeline snapshots to restore files/folders.
  • Choose “Restore All” to completely recreate your original file system.

Restoring Manual Backups

  • Connect the external drive or access the cloud storage location.
  • Select and copy the files/folders back to your Mac as needed.
  • Take care not to overwrite newer files if applicable.
  • restore desktop files and carefully redo system settings.

Restoring Cloud Backups

  • Reconnect internet access if you disabled it.
  • Sign into cloud backup services like iCloud or Backblaze.
  • Allow syncing/restoration of files from the cloud.
  • Monitor cloud sync status to ensure files download properly.

With patience and care, you can selectively restore your most important data from backups after the wipe process completes.


Wiping your Mac completely erases the contents of the drive, allowing for a fresh installation of the operating system. It’s a reliable troubleshooting technique when your Mac is misbehaving or running out of storage space. Just be absolutely certain to back up your files first using Time Machine, a clone, or a manual backup. With a current backup available, you can securely erase, reinstall macOS, and restore your apps and data to get your Mac running like new again.