Doing a factory reset on your Mac can be useful if you are experiencing performance issues, want to wipe your computer before selling or giving it away, or simply want to start fresh with a clean installation of macOS. A factory reset completely erases all data and settings on your Mac and reinstalls macOS from scratch.
How to Factory Reset a Mac
There are a couple different ways to factory reset a Mac, depending on the model you have. Here are the main methods:
The easiest way to factory reset most modern Macs is to restart your computer and hold down the Command and R keys simultaneously after you hear the startup chime. This will boot your Mac into macOS Recovery mode.
From there, you can access Disk Utility to erase your drive and reinstall macOS cleanly. Here are the steps:
- Restart your Mac and immediately press and hold Command-R after you hear the startup sound
- Select Disk Utility when the macOS Utilities window appears
- Click Continue to proceed
- Select your Mac’s main internal drive from the left side pane
- Click Erase at the top of the Disk Utility window
- Give your drive a name if desired, leave format as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), and click Erase to confirm
- Quit Disk Utility when done erasing
- Select Reinstall macOS from the macOS Utilities window and follow the prompts to reinstall macOS cleanly
If your Mac is using a version of macOS that is older than what came pre-installed, you may need to use Option-Command-R instead at startup. This will download the latest compatible version of macOS to do a clean install, rather than using the OS that came with your Mac.
Using Shift-Option-Command-R at startup will reinstall the macOS that originally came with your Mac, even if it has been updated since purchase. This allows you to revert back to the out-of-the-box OS.
Use an External Bootable Installer
You can also factory reset by creating a bootable macOS installer on an external drive. To do this:
- Get an external drive with at least 12GB of available storage and connect it to your Mac
- Restart your Mac and hold down Option after the startup chime to enter Startup Manager
- Launch Disk Utility from Startup Manager and format the external drive (name it if desired)
- Quit Disk Utility, then choose Install macOS from Startup Manager
- Follow the steps to download macOS to your external drive
- Eject the installer drive after download completes and disconnect it from your Mac
- Restart your Mac and hold down Option again to enter Startup Manager
- Select the external drive to boot from it
- Open Disk Utility to erase your Mac’s internal drive
- Quit Disk Utility and install macOS cleanly from the external installer drive
What Happens During a Factory Reset
When you factory reset your Mac, whether via macOS Recovery or an external installer, here is exactly what happens:
- The macOS installer erases and reformats the internal drive, removing all data and restoring it to factory default state
- A clean install of macOS is performed, with only the base operating system and default apps installed
- Default system settings are applied
- You are walked through the initial macOS setup process and account creation
- Once completed, your Mac is like new with a fresh copy of macOS and none of your old data or settings
Essentially, it is the same process as if you just took a brand new Mac out of the box, turned it on, and went through setup for the first time.
Before Factory Resetting Your Mac
Before wiping your Mac and doing a clean install of macOS, it’s important to properly prepare to avoid losing any important data or information.
Here are some steps to take beforehand:
- Backup any important files you want to keep. You can use Time Machine, copy files to external storage, or sync documents to cloud storage.
- Deauthorize any devices or media apps linked to your Apple ID if you don’t want them reauthorized on your reset Mac.
- Sign out of iMessage, FaceTime, iTunes, App Store, iCloud, and any other Apple services you are signed into.
- Make a record of any software license keys you may need to reactivate software on your Mac after resetting.
- Disable Find My Mac if enabled so you can erase your Mac.
Taking these precautionary steps will ensure no valuable data or settings are lost when you factory reset the Mac.
When to Factory Reset a Mac
Some common situations where performing a factory reset on your Mac is recommended include:
You’re Selling or Giving Away Your Mac
Resetting your Mac to factory default state is important when transferring ownership to someone else. It wipes all your personal data and starts fresh so the new owner can configure the Mac themselves.
Experiencing Software Issues or Slow Performance
If your Mac is acting slow or buggy, factory resetting can wipe out any problematic apps, files, or settings and give you a fresh start.
macOS is Having Problems or Needs to Be Reinstalled
A factory reset can be useful for troubleshooting macOS problems, and is required if you need to downgrade or reinstall your Mac’s operating system.
You Forgot Your Password
If you forgot your account password, a factory reset lets you start over with a new account and password.
Purchased a Used Mac
When buying a used Mac, doing a factory reset lets you wipe the previous owner’s data and personalize the Mac yourself.
Pros of Factory Resetting a Mac
Here are some of the benefits of performing a factory reset on your Mac:
- Removes all user data, wiping the slate clean and restoring privacy
- Clears up storage space by deleting unwanted apps, files, caches, and more
- Fixes software issues caused by corrupt files or settings
- Improves performance and speeds up a slow Mac
- Allows reverting to an older macOS if desired
- Fresh macOS install without upgrades on top of original OS
- Gets rid of malware or viruses that standard uninstalls may not remove
Cons of Factory Resetting a Mac
Some downsides to be aware of with factory resetting your Mac include:
- Causes data loss if backups weren’t made properly
- Need to reinstall all apps and programs after resetting
- Loss of settings customizations back to defaults
- Process can take several hours to complete
- Won’t retain any macOS updates if reverting to older version
- Requires iCloud or other logins to be signed in again
- May not resolve problems if hardware or component failure is the cause
Options After Factory Resetting Your Mac
Once you have factory reset your Mac, you have a few options on how to proceed:
- Set up your Mac as new – Create a new account and don’t restore any backups. Useful if giving away Mac.
- Restore from a Time Machine backup – Restore your files, settings, and apps from a previous backup.
- Use Migration Assistant – Transfer data from another Mac or PC to your reset Mac.
- Sign into iCloud – Sync data such as photos, emails, contacts from iCloud.
- Reinstall apps and settings – Manually reinstall software and customize settings from scratch.
Factory Resetting Mac Models
The factory reset process is nearly identical across all modern Macs, including:
- MacBook Air
- MacBook Pro
- Mac mini
- iMac Pro
- Mac Pro
The main difference is older Macs may not support macOS Recovery over the internet, so an external bootable installer may be required instead of Command-R recovery reboot.
Factory Resetting MacOS Versions
You can factory reset any version of MacOS supported by your Mac model, including:
|MacOS Version||Release Year|
Using Command-R will install the macOS that originally came with your Mac. Shift-Option-Command-R installs the newest compatible OS for your model. And Option-Command-R downloads the latest macOS version available.
Should You Factory Reset Your Mac?
Deciding if you should factory reset your Mac depends on your specific situation. It can fix many issues and offer a fresh start, but also takes time and causes data loss.
A factory reset makes most sense when:
- Selling or giving away your Mac
- Dealing with significant performance/software issues
- Unable to resolve problems any other way
- Your Mac is having general issues and feels unstable
You may want to avoid resetting if:
- You have important data and no backups
- The problem seems related to specific apps or files
- You are on new hardware unlikely to have software corruption
- You can resolve the issue by troubleshooting without wiping system
How to Backup Your Mac Before Factory Reset
To preserve your important data before wiping your Mac, make sure to backup using one or more methods:
- Time Machine – Built-in macOS backup software, requires external hard drive
- Cloud storage – Sync files to services like iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc
- External drive – Manually copy files to a USB flash drive or hard drive
- Data migration – Use Apple Migration Assistant to transfer data to another Mac
Be sure to verify backups completed properly before proceeding with a factory reset so you don’t lose anything important.
How to Reinstall Apps After Factory Resetting Mac
After wiping your Mac, you’ll need to reinstall any software and apps you use. Options include:
- Restoring apps from a Time Machine or other backup
- Re-downloading apps from the App Store
- Using original app installers and license codes to reinstall non-App Store software
- Manually reconfiguring app preferences and settings
Make a list of important apps and accounts beforehand to simplify the reinstallation process.
Factory Reset Mac Without Install Disk
If you don’t have a macOS install disk, you can still factory reset a Mac using macOS Recovery over the internet:
- Restart Mac and hold Command-R at startup to enter Recovery mode
- Connect to wifi if prompted
- Select Disk Utility and erase your internal drive
- Quit Disk Utility and choose Reinstall macOS
- Follow prompts to install macOS over the internet
This allows resetting without any physical installation media, as macOS can be downloaded directly from Apple’s servers.
Factory Reset Mac Without Losing Data
To refresh your Mac without losing data, try these alternatives to a full factory reset:
- Mac cleanup – Manually delete unneeded files, caches, apps, and logs
- OS reinstall – Reinstall macOS without erasing, keeping files/settings intact
- New user account – Create a separate account to test if issues persist
- Selective deletions – Only remove problematic apps, files, configs causing issues
- App cleaners – Use optimizer utilities like CleanMyMac to clean without wiping
These less invasive options may resolve problems without completely resetting everything back to factory defaults.
Factory resetting your Mac using macOS Recovery is an effective way to wipe your computer and reinstall a clean macOS if you are dealing with significant issues or want to start fresh. Be sure to fully backup your data first, then erase your drive and reinstall macOS. While the process takes some time and work to get your system back up and running, a factory reset can often resolve problems and improve performance when other options fail.