What will I lose if I factory reset my Mac?

Factory resetting your Mac will erase all of the data and settings on your computer and restore it to the state it was in when you first unboxed it. This can be a useful troubleshooting step if you’re experiencing software issues or want to wipe your Mac before selling or giving it away. However, it also means you’ll lose everything stored locally on the computer. Here’s an overview of what a factory reset entails and the potential downsides.

The Factory Reset Process

On Macs running macOS High Sierra or later, the factory reset process is called macOS Recovery. To start it, you’ll reboot your Mac and hold down Command+R until you see the macOS Utilities window. From there, you can click “Erase” and then “Erase All Content and Settings” to wipe the drive and reinstall the operating system from scratch.

Older Macs have a similar Utilities menu accessible by rebooting and holding Command+R. The process may be called a “reinstall” rather than a factory reset but achieves largely the same result.

In either case, the process completely erases the startup drive, removes all files and folders you’ve saved, and reverts all system and app settings back to their defaults. It’s the same experience you’d get setting up a brand new Mac for the first time.

Your Files and Folders

The most obvious thing you’ll lose with a factory reset is all of your personal files and folders on the Mac. This includes:

  • Documents
  • Spreadsheets
  • Presentations
  • Images
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Downloads folder contents
  • Desktop files
  • Anything saved to your local user account folder

If you’ve saved anything at all directly on the Mac it will be permanently erased by a factory reset. Your only option to get those files back is to restore them from a backup.

Apps and Preferences

Resetting your Mac also removes any apps you’ve installed over time. For apps purchased through the App Store, you can redownload them without charge. But apps installed via other methods will be gone.

A factory reset also reverts any custom preferences or settings you’ve adjusted in apps and system preferences. Some examples include:

  • Default web browser
  • Desktop wallpaper
  • Menu bar customizations
  • Network settings and saved Wi-Fi passwords
  • Energy saver settings
  • Alert and preview settings
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Accessibility modifications
  • Finder view options
  • Safari bookmarks and settings
  • Mail, calendar, and contact data

Essentially any setting that you customized on your Mac will be erased and reset to the out-of-the-box defaults.

User Accounts

In addition to deleting your files and settings, a factory reset also removes all user accounts from the system. That includes:

  • Your main macOS user account
  • Any secondary or guest accounts
  • Associated user folders, preferences, and keychains
  • Parental control settings
  • Guest OS Boot Camp partitions (if present)

You’ll have to recreate your user account from scratch upon first boot after the reset process. If you used FileVault encryption, that will also be reset.

Identifying Information

Some identifying information linked to your Mac will be erased during a factory reset as well. This includes:

  • Computer name
  • Location settings
  • iCloud account details
  • Apple ID associations
  • Wi-Fi router and Bluetooth pairings

Any hardware details like serial number remain unchanged. But personalized details will be wiped clean.


One final thing to note – any local Time Machine backups stored on an external drive connected to your Mac will also be erased during the factory reset process. Make sure to copy those off the drive if you want to preserve your backup archives after resetting.

When Should I Factory Reset a Mac?

Now that you know what will be erased, here are some of the most common reasons for performing a factory reset on your Mac:

  • You’re selling or gifting the computer to someone else. Wiping it protects your personal data.
  • You’re experiencing performance issues, crashes, or software glitches. A reset may resolve software-related problems.
  • You want to start fresh. Resetting lets you remove clutter and get back to a clean, minimal setup.
  • You suspect malware or viruses. A reset can clean infected system files and settings.
  • You’re upgrading to a new Mac. You can wipe the old one cleanly before transitioning.

In general, a factory reset is a handy troubleshooting tool and lets you remove your digital footprint from a Mac before parting ways with it. Just be sure your files are backed up before taking this step.

How to Backup Your Mac Before Factory Reset

To avoid permanent data loss, it’s critical to fully back up your Mac before performing a factory reset. Here are some backup options to consider:

  • Copy important files to external media like USB drives, SD cards, or external hard drives.
  • Use Time Machine to backup to an external or network drive. Remember to copy the backup volume off the Mac before resetting.
  • Use cloud backup services like iCloud, OneDrive, or Dropbox to upload your files remotely.
  • Create a full system image backup using Disk Utility or third party tools.
  • Manually back up app data, contacts, calendars, and other information to avoid losing settings.

The specific steps will vary based on your backup solution. But be diligent and double check that critical data is saved elsewhere before proceeding!

Tips for Safer Backups

Here are a few other tips to make your Mac backup process go smoothly:

  • Temporarily pause sync services like OneDrive to avoid conflicts.
  • Make multiple backups across different media or cloud services.
  • Label removable media clearly for future reference.
  • Encrypt backups that contain sensitive data.
  • Store backups in a different physical location for redundancy.
  • Verify backups completed properly before wiping your Mac.

How to Factory Reset a Mac Step-by-Step

Once your data is backed up, here are the steps to factory reset a Mac:

  1. Disconnect any external devices besides keyboard and mouse.
  2. Make sure the Mac is plugged into power source during the process.
  3. Backup your data if you haven’t already.
  4. Restart your Mac and immediately hold Command + R.
  5. Select Disk Utility > Continue.
  6. Click your startup disk name (usually Macintosh HD).
  7. Click Erase in the toolbar > Erase All Content and Settings.
  8. Enter your admin password to confirm the erase.
  9. Quit Disk Utility after the wipe completes.
  10. Click Reinstall macOS/macOS Recovery in the Utility window.
  11. Follow the onscreen prompts to reinstall the operating system.

That’s all there is to it. Within an hour or so, your Mac will be restored to factory settings. Be ready to setup your user accounts, settings, and apps again post-reset.

What Gets Restored After Factory Reset?

After the reset process finishes, here’s what gets restored or reinstalled automatically on your Mac:

  • The macOS operating system itself, like Catalina or Big Sur.
  • All built-in apps and utilities that ship with macOS.
  • Necessary firmware, drivers, and hardware interfaces.
  • Default system preferences and settings.
  • Critical security updates and patches.
  • Root certificates and password keys.
  • Default wallpaper.

In essence, macOS itself and all its factory components will be intact after the reset. But all user-generated data, apps, preferences, accounts, and customizations will be wiped clean.

What Data Remains After Factory Reset?

Although a factory reset erases most information from your Mac, some data might linger in hidden areas or backups:

  • User folder names may remain in hidden directories.
  • System logs may retain history of deleted files.
  • Recovery partitions or clones may have user data remnants.
  • SSD free space may retain fragments of old files.
  • Some caches or app data in hidden Library folders.
  • Item names in Time Machine or cloud backups.

Forensic data recovery tools could retrieve some of these data remnants after a reset, but most are inaccessible through normal means. Still, if privacy is a major concern, you may want to manually wipe free space after resetting as well.

How to Make macOS Recovery Media

The macOS recovery tools run directly from your Mac’s disk by default. But you can also create bootable macOS recovery media on a USB drive or external disk. This allows you to factory reset any Mac from that recovery drive.

To make recovery install media:

  1. Connect a USB flash drive or other disk to your Mac.
  2. Launch Disk Utility.
  3. Select your external media in the sidebar.
  4. Click Restore tab > Restore from macOS Base System.
  5. Select your startup disk as the source.
  6. Click Restore to load the recovery image.

You can now boot any Mac to this USB drive and access the recovery tools to erase the startup disk. It serves as a handy password reset or factory reset disk for any Mac.

What Are Recovery Partitions?

Newer Mac models include a hidden recovery partition on the internal drive that contains the macOS recovery tools. This allows booting to recovery mode even without installation media. Recovery partitions take up a small amount of disk space and can be deleted.

To remove a recovery partition:

  1. Boot to recovery mode by holding Command + R at startup.
  2. Open Disk Utility from the Utility menu.
  3. Select your startup disk and click Manage in the toolbar.
  4. Under Recovery, select Remove Recovery Partition.
  5. Click Done when complete.

This will delete the local recovery partition and free up a few GB of disk space. Just know you’ll need to use external recovery media for factory resets after removing it.

Should You Sell or Recycle a Mac After Factory Reset?

Once you’ve factory reset a Mac and removed your personal data from it, you have a couple options going forward:

  • Sell it privately or to an electronics recycler to earn some money back.
  • Donate it to a charity organization for them to reuse.
  • Recycle it responsibly through an e-waste collection site if it’s too old.

Erasing and selling a Mac you no longer need can help offset the cost of a new one. Just make sure to factory reset it properly. If you still have the original boxes and packaging, that can also increase the resale value.

For very outdated machines with little market value, recycling or donating them is better than simply tossing an old Mac in the trash. But many communities have free e-waste drop off sites where computers can be recycled safely and securely.

Common Factory Reset Issues

Although the factory reset process seems straightforward, there are a few potential issues to watch out for:

  • Stuck progress bars – Let it sit for 30+ minutes before force restarting.
  • Error messages – Note the text and troubleshoot with Apple Support.
  • Non-bootable after – May need to reinstall macOS from an external drive.
  • Asks for old user password – Happens when non-Apple drives are formatted wrong.
  • Still has old files after – Backup drive may have been reconnected too soon.

As long as you follow all the steps carefully and patiently, you can usually avoid major issues during the factory reset process. But if problems persist, Apple’s own support article on the topic contains additional troubleshooting tips.


Does factory reset delete everything on Mac?

Yes, a proper factory reset will delete all user data, accounts, apps, and customized settings. It erases the drive and reverts the Mac to its out-of-the-box state.

What if I forgot to backup before reset?

If you forgot to backup your files before resetting, unfortunately that data is likely gone forever from your Mac. Your only hope lies with professional data recovery, which is expensive, not guaranteed, and only works if the files weren’t overwritten on disk.

Can I reset without losing data?

No, there is no way to factory reset a Mac without deleting your files and settings. That is the entire purpose of the process. Your only option is to back up data manually before resetting.

Do I need tosign in with Apple ID after reset?

You won’t need to sign into your Apple ID right after a factory reset. But you will want to do so later to redownload apps, music, photos, and other iTunes and iCloud content.

Is factory reset same as reinstalling macOS?

The two processes are similar but not identical. Reinstalling macOS alone won’t delete your user data. A proper factory reset erases the drive then installs a fresh copy of the OS.


While factory resetting your Mac erases all local data, it provides a clean slate if you’re passing on the computer or troubleshooting OS issues. Just be absolutely certain to backup your files first! And know you’ll have some setup and customization ahead of you after the reset process. But in the right circumstances, it can be just the refresh your Mac needs.