Is reinstalling macOS the same as factory reset?

A factory reset completely erases all data, settings, and apps from a device and restores it to its original factory settings. On a Mac, this is essentially the same process as reinstalling macOS, which involves wiping the hard drive and installing a fresh copy of the operating system. Reinstalling macOS is done by booting into Recovery Mode and selecting “Reinstall macOS” from the utilities menu. Both a factory reset and reinstalling macOS will remove all user data, accounts, settings, and applications, restoring the Mac to the state it was in when it originally left the factory.

Files and Data

Reinstalling macOS does not erase your files or user data like a factory reset does. When reinstalling macOS, you have the option to archive and install, which moves your existing files and data to a new partition and then installs a fresh copy of macOS on your startup drive.

According to Apple Support, “Reinstalling macOS overwrites system files while preserving your data and user accounts.” (Source)

In contrast, a factory reset completely erases all files, applications, and user accounts from the startup drive. It returns the Mac to its original out-of-the-box state with a blank drive and no user data.

So while a reinstall preserves your files and data, a factory reset wipes them completely. Reinstalling is a less disruptive option if you want to refresh your system while keeping your documents, photos, music, settings, and other personal data intact.

User Accounts

Reinstalling macOS keeps your user accounts and settings intact, so there is no impact on user accounts during the process. All users, passwords, permissions, and settings will remain the same after reinstalling macOS (Apple 2022).

In contrast, erasing and resetting your Mac to factory settings will delete all user accounts and reset all account settings. You will have to recreate any user accounts after the reset process is complete (Apple 2022).

Overall, reinstalling macOS preserves user accounts, while resetting to factory settings erases all user accounts and requires setting them up again afterwards.


Apple. 2022. Reinstall macOS. Apple Support. Accessed [Today’s Date].


Reinstalling macOS essentially resets all of the system settings and configurations back to their factory defaults. This includes settings in System Preferences for desktop and screen saver, keyboards, trackpad, mouse, displays, sound, printing and scanning, internet accounts, users and groups, security and privacy, notifications, spotlight, and more. Any customizations made to these settings will be lost.

A factory reset through macOS Recovery, on the other hand, specifically resets settings in System Preferences related to general system information like hostname, appearance, and auto login. It also resets network settings and deletes existing user accounts and groups while keeping the base macOS system files intact. So a factory reset is more limited in scope compared to a full macOS reinstallation.

Overall, reinstalling macOS will reset a wider range of settings system-wide, while a factory reset focuses mainly on certain account, network, and system customizations. For the broadest reset of settings, reinstalling macOS is recommended over a factory reset alone. However, a factory reset may suffice if only certain system settings need to be restored to defaults.


When reinstalling macOS, all built-in Mac applications that came with the device will be reinstalled to their default factory state. This means any customizations, preferences, or app-specific settings will be reset. For example, your Finder or Safari settings would go back to defaults.

However, any third-party applications that were manually downloaded and installed by the user will be removed during a macOS reinstallation. This includes apps like Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, Google Chrome, etc. The user would need to manually re-download and reinstall these applications after the macOS reinstallation is complete. So an OS reinstall provides a clean slate in terms of Apple apps, but erases all user-installed software.

In contrast, a factory reset keeps all factory default apps and settings, but also does not touch user-installed applications. So a factory reset preserves any third-party apps downloaded by the user, while resetting Mac system apps to factory conditions. The key difference is that a factory reset maintains user applications, while a full OS reinstall erases them.

Overall, the main implication for applications is that a full macOS reinstall will remove all user-installed apps, requiring re-downloading from scratch. A factory reset maintains user apps while resetting Apple apps.

OS Version

When you reinstall macOS, your Mac keeps the same macOS version that was already installed. For example, if you were running macOS Mojave and reinstalled the OS, it would still be macOS Mojave after the reinstallation (Reinstall macOS – Apple Support).

In contrast, doing a factory reset on a Mac wipes the hard drive completely and reinstalls the original macOS version that came with that model. So if your Mac originally had macOS High Sierra, a factory reset would revert it back to High Sierra (How to reinstall macOS – Apple Support).

The key difference is that reinstalling macOS keeps your current OS version, while a factory reset installs the original OS. Reinstalling is generally preferable if you want to keep your Mac up-to-date with the latest macOS release.

Time Required

The time it takes to reinstall macOS is significantly shorter than performing a factory reset. Reinstalling macOS only takes about 30-90 minutes depending on the Mac model and macOS version. It’s a fairly quick process since you are just reinstalling the operating system while keeping your user data intact.

In contrast, a factory reset can take several hours to complete. With a factory reset you are not only reinstalling the OS, but also erasing the entire hard drive which adds considerable time. All user accounts, applications, files, settings and other data will be deleted. Plan for the factory reset process to take 3-6 hours to finish.

So in summary, reinstalling the OS is a much quicker process that preserves your data. Whereas a factory reset erases everything and requires a lengthier restore time.

Data Backup

Before reinstalling macOS or performing a factory reset, it is crucial to properly back up your data to avoid permanent data loss. The best practice is to use Apple’s Time Machine backup software to create a full system backup. Time Machine allows you to restore your entire Mac system, files, apps, and settings from the backup after reinstalling macOS or resetting the Mac.

To backup with Time Machine, you need an external hard drive or Time Capsule wireless drive connected to your Mac. Open System Preferences > Time Machine and select the external drive as the backup disk. Time Machine will regularly back up the entire Mac automatically in the background. You can also manually trigger a backup anytime before reinstalling macOS.

In addition to Time Machine, you can backup important files and data to iCloud as a secondary measure. Enable iCloud Drive on your Mac and select which folders you want to backup to iCloud. This provides an extra layer of protection for your most critical files. Just make sure you have enough iCloud storage space for the backups.

Following this best practice of using Time Machine plus iCloud before reinstalling macOS or factory resetting ensures you have full system and file backups you can restore from later. This protects against catastrophic data loss.

When to Choose Each

Both factory resetting and reinstalling macOS have pros and cons, so choosing which one to use depends on your specific needs and goals:

  • Reinstalling macOS is recommended if you want to upgrade to a newer version of macOS or need to fix software issues like bugs or crashes. Reinstalling will wipe the main drive and install a fresh copy of macOS while retaining your user accounts, settings, and data stored on other drives.
  • Factory resetting is preferable if you need to erase everything and return the Mac to its original out-of-the-box state. This wipes all user accounts, settings, applications, and data. Factory reset is the best option if you’re selling or gifting the Mac.
  • Factory reset may be easier or quicker than reinstalling macOS if you don’t need to update to a newer OS version. However, reinstall allows you to retain user accounts and settings.
  • Reinstalling may be a better choice than factory reset if you want to troubleshoot complex software issues or suspicious installed programs. The clean OS install ensures everything is wiped.
  • If your Mac is having severe hardware issues or software corruption, factory reset is generally recommended as it completely eradicates any existing problems.

In summary, opt for a factory reset if you need a completely clean slate, whereas reinstalling macOS is preferable for software troubleshooting while retaining accounts and data. Consider your specific needs and goals when deciding.


While reinstalling macOS and a full factory reset have some similarities, there are also key differences between the two options.

Both reinstalls and factory resets will wipe the OS, restore default settings, and remove apps that didn’t come pre-installed. However, a factory reset also removes all user accounts and data from the Mac, while reinstalling macOS alone will preserve user accounts and data.

If you simply want to refresh your Mac by reverting system files and settings back to their original state, reinstalling macOS is the way to go. But if you want to fully wipe your Mac and reset it to the out-of-the-box state, a full factory reset that erases user data is necessary.

Overall, reinstalling the OS is less disruptive but provides a less thorough refresh, while a factory reset is more involved but truly resets the Mac to its default condition. Consider which aspects of your Mac you want to reset versus keep when deciding between these two options.