How long does it take to restore a Mac to factory settings?

Restoring a Mac to its original factory settings can be a quick and easy process, or it can take quite a bit of time depending on the age of your Mac, the amount of data stored on it, and the method you choose to restore it.

Quick Answer

If you use the latest macOS Recovery feature, restoring a Mac to factory settings can take as little as 20-30 minutes. However, it typically takes 1-2 hours on average to fully erase a Mac and reinstall the operating system from scratch.

What Affects Restore Time

There are several factors that can impact how long it takes to restore a Mac to factory settings:

  • Mac model and year – Newer Macs with flash storage can restore more quickly than older models with traditional hard drives.
  • Amount of data – The more data stored on the Mac, the longer it will take to fully erase it.
  • Restore method – Using macOS Recovery is faster than reinstalling the OS from external media.
  • Type of reset – An erase and reinstall takes longer than just wiping system settings.
  • Software being reinstalled – Reinstalling the full macOS along with apps and settings takes more time.
  • User errors – Entering the wrong credentials or interrupted processes can add time.
  • Internet connection – A slow or unstable internet connection will slow down the process.

Restore Methods

There are a few different ways you can choose to restore a Mac to factory settings. The method you use affects the overall restore time.

1. macOS Recovery

The fastest method is to use the built-in macOS Recovery feature. This allows you to erase the drive and reinstall the operating system without any external media. Here are the steps:

  1. Restart your Mac and hold down Command + R keys.
  2. Select Disk Utility and erase the drive.
  3. Quit Disk Utility, then reinstall macOS.

This method allows you to restore to factory settings in around 20-30 minutes typically, if you have a fast internet connection. It does require downloading the full OS which can take time.

2. Erase All Content and Settings

Instead of fully reinstalling the OS, you can simply erase all content and reset system settings. Here is the process:

  1. Restart Mac and go to Recovery OS.
  2. Open Disk Utility and select Erase.
  3. Choose Macintosh HD drive and Erase using Mac OS Extended format.
  4. Quit Disk Utility, then select Reinstall macOS.
  5. Instead of reinstalling, go to Utilities > Terminal.
  6. Type resetpassword and press Enter.
  7. Select your drive, then Erase All Content and Settings.

This wipes all your personal data and resets the Mac to factory defaults in 1-2 hours typically.

3. Reinstall macOS from External Media

You can also boot from external media like a USB drive to erase your Mac and reinstall the OS. Here are the steps:

  1. Make a USB installer drive for macOS.
  2. Boot your Mac from the USB drive.
  3. Open Disk Utility and erase the drive.
  4. Quit Disk Utility and reinstall macOS.

This process can take 2-4 hours to fully restore your Mac to factory settings since it involves preparing the USB installer disk as well as redownloading the OS.

Restore Time by Mac Model

Here are approximate restore times for specific Mac models using the macOS Recovery method:

Mac Model Estimated Restore Time
MacBook Air/Pro 2015 or later 20-30 minutes
MacBook Air/Pro 2012 – 2014 1-2 hours
MacBook Air/Pro 2011 or earlier 2-3 hours
iMac 2015 or later 30-60 minutes
iMac 2012 – 2014 1.5-2.5 hours
iMac 2011 or earlier 3-4 hours

As you can see, newer MacBook Air and Pro models with flash storage can restore in under 30 minutes generally. Older Macs with traditional hard drives will take longer.

Factors that Increase Restore Time

While the Mac model and restore method used impact restore time, there are also some other factors that can slow down the process and add time:

Large Amounts of Data

The more data you have stored on your Mac’s drive, the longer it will take to fully erase it before reinstalling the OS. Deleting large files like photos and videos can help speed up the process.

Slow Internet Connection

Using macOS Recovery requires downloading the full operating system which is 5-8 GB. With a slow internet connection, this download alone can take hours versus minutes on fast broadband.

User Errors

Entering incorrect passwords or selections during the restore process can force you to start over, adding to the overall time. Following the steps carefully helps avoid errors.

Power Interruptions

Losing power during the restore forces you to start over and can significantly lengthen the process. Use a surge protector and avoid interrupting the restore.

Older MacOS Versions

On older Macs that do not have Internet Recovery built-in, restoring requires OS X installation media which takes longer than downloading current macOS.

Full vs. Partial Restore

Doing a full erase and reinstall of the operating system takes longer than just resetting system settings and user data. Choose based on your specific needs.

Number of Apps Reinstalled

If you choose to reinstall all your applications as part of the OS restore process, this can add a significant amount of time depending on the number and size of apps.

Tips to Speed Up Restore Time

Here are some tips to help speed up the process when restoring your Mac to factory settings:

  • Delete unnecessary files and data beforehand
  • Use a wired Ethernet connection if possible for faster downloads
  • Close all other apps and programs during restore process
  • Use macOS Recovery method for latest OS version
  • Select only the most important apps to reinstall
  • Use a Mac with SSD or flash storage if possible
  • Avoid interrupting the process once started


Restoring a Mac to factory settings can take as little as 20-30 minutes on newer Macs, but expect 1-4 hours on average depending on the model, amount of data, and restore method used. Following the steps carefully, deleting unnecessary files first, using a wired internet connection, and avoiding interruptions can help speed up the restore process.