How to Perform a Factory Reset of Your Mac

Get your Mac ready for resale, or fix a problematic system

If you're ready to sell your Mac, pass it along to a friend or family member, or if you're giving up on troubleshooting a misbehaving system, it's time to reset your Mac to factory settings. This process will wipe your system clean and allow you or its new owner to set it up as a new machine. No one will be able to access the data it once housed.

Here's a look at what's involved when you perform a factory reset on your Mac.

The information here pertains to any Mac computer running OS X or macOS, with additional instructions if your machine is running Catalina.

What's Involved In a Factory Reset

Whether you're preparing your Mac for a new owner or simply starting fresh with your system after troubleshooting has failed, there are a few steps involved with performing a factory reset. You'll need to back up your computer, disable certain features and services, erase the hard drive, and then reinstall a fresh version of macOS. Afterward, depending on your circumstances, you may want to migrate personal data to a new Mac.

It's important to stay connected to the Internet during this process to make sure you can disable online accounts and download the latest possible macOS compatible with your system.

Create a Backup of Your System

Your old Mac is full of important files and data, so it's important to make a backup before you proceed with the factory reset process. It's easy to make a backup with Time Machine. If you're using iCloud, it's even easier to ensure all your data is backed up. Here's a look at the backup process with Time Machine and iCloud.

There are other backup options, as well, such as making a clone of your drive with a product like SuperDuper. The important thing is to make sure you have a backup.

Create a Backup Using Time Machine

To create a Time Machine backup, you need an external storage device such as a NAS device like Apple's Time Capsule, or a simple external hard drive connected directly to your Mac, such as a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire drive.

If Time Machine doesn't automatically ask to use your drive, add it manually. Once you add your drive, Time Machine will automatically start making backups.

  1. Connect your storage device to your Mac.

  2. You may receive a message that says, Do you want to use [Backup Disk] to back up with Time Machine? If so, check Encrypt Backup Disk and then select Use as Backup Disk. Time Machine will automatically start making backups.

  3. If Time Machine doesn't automatically ask to use your drive, add it manually. Select the Time Machine icon (clock) in the Mac's menu bar.

    If you don't see the Time Machine icon on your menu bar, select System Preferences under the Apple menu, choose Time Machine, and then select Show Time Machine in menu bar.

  4. Select Open Time Machine Preferences.

  5. Choose Select Disk (it may say Add or Remove Backup Disk).

  6. Select your external drive from the list options. Check Encrypt backups (recommended) and then select Use Disk.

    Time Machine backup
  7. After you select your backup disk, Time Machine will automatically make periodic backups.

iCloud Backup

If you already have iCloud and iCloud Drive set up on your Mac, your important files are already backed up. iCloud keeps your critical personal data synced across your devices as well as backed up in the cloud. This includes contacts, calendar data, notes, and mail files. iCloud Drive stores everything else, including your Desktop and Documents folders, in macOS Sierra and above.

To check on your iCloud and iCloud Drive settings:

  1. From the Apple menu, select System Preferences.

  2. Select Apple ID. If you're using macOS Mojave or earlier, you don't need to select Apple ID. Instead, select iCloud.

  3. Sign in with your Apple ID, if prompted. When you sign in, iCloud is turned on automatically.

  4. Select iCloud Drive > Options to see the files stored in iCloud Drive.

    signing out of iCloud while factory resetting Mac

Sign out of iTunes

This is important because your computer will no longer be linked to your iTunes account. The process differs depending on your version of macOS.

If You're Using Catalina

With Catalina, you access the iTunes Store via the Music app.

  1. Open the Music app on your Mac.

  2. Select Music > Preferences from the menu bar.

  3. From the General tab, select the iTunes Store.

  4. From the Account menu, select Authorizations.

  5. Select Deauthorize This Computer. You'll be prompted to sign in with your Apple ID.

  6. Select Deauthorize to finish the process.

If You're Using macOS Mojave or Earlier

  1. Open iTunes. 

  2. From the menu bar at the top of your computer screen or at the top of the iTunes window, choose Account > Authorizations > Deauthorize This Computer.

    deauthorizing iTunes as part of the mac factory reset process
  3. When prompted, enter your Apple ID and password.

  4. Select Deauthorize.

For older versions of iTunes, select Store > Deauthorize This Computer.

Turn off FileVault

FileVault is a disk encryption program available in Mac OS X 10.3 and later. It's not turned on by default, but if you're using it, it's a good idea to turn it off.

  1. From the Apple menu, open System Preferences.

  2. Select Security & Privacy.

  3. Select the FileVault tab.

  4. If you see FileVault is turned off for the disc [name of main hard drive], then you don't need to do anything.

    turning off FileVault as part of the process of resetting a Mac to factory settings
  5. If FileVault is turned on, select the padlock icon, enter your username and password, and select Unlock.

  6. Select Turn off FileVault.

  7. Enter your username and password when prompted, and wait for the process to complete.

Sign out of iCloud

Now it's time to sign out of iCloud.

  1. From the Apple menu, select System Preferences.

  2. Select iCloud, and then Sign Out.

  3. Uncheck the boxes next to iCloud Drive, Contacts, Calendars, and Reminders.

  4. Select Continue. (In earlier macOS versions, select Delete From Mac.)

    signing out of iCloud to reset Mac to factory settings
  5. You'll see a message asking whether you want to keep a copy of your iCloud data on the Mac. Because you'll reformat the hard drive in a later step, select Keep a Copy to proceed.

    If you have a device with Touch ID, such as a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, you'll need to confirm that your payment information will be removed from the Mac.

  6. You're now signed out of iCloud on your Mac. Your iCloud data remains in iCloud and on any other devices you've signed in to with your Apple ID.

Sign out of iMessage

If you're using OS X Mountain Lion or later, sign out of iMessage.

  1. Open the Messages app.

  2. Select Preferences > iMessage. (In other versions, select Messages > Preferences > Accounts).

  3. Select Sign Out.

    signing out of iMessages

Unpair Paired Bluetooth Devices

This step is optional, but it's a good idea to unpair Bluetooth devices, such as keyboards, mice, and trackpads, currently paired with your Mac.

  1. From the Apple menu, select System Preferences.

  2. Select Bluteooth.

  3. Hover the pointer over the device you want to unpair, then select the remove button (x) button next to the device's name.

  4. Select Remove in the dialog box asking if you're sure.

If you're using an iMac, Mac Pro, or Mac mini, you'll need to use a USB or other wired keyboard and mouse to complete the next step.

Restart Your Mac in Recovery Mode

  1. From the Apple menu, select Restart.

  2. Press and hold Command + R.

  3. Release the keys when you see an Apple logo, spinning globe, or another startup screen, depending on your macOS version.

  4. Enter any passwords requested.

  5. The process is complete when you see the Utilities window.

    restarting a Mac in recovery mode

Erase Your Disk

We'll first look at this process in Catalina, because this macOS adds a second data volume.

If You're Using Catalina

  1. Select Disk Utility from the Utilities window in macOS Recovery.

  2. Select Continue.

  3. Make sure Disk Utility's sidebar shows your hard drive's name. Your startup disk should be called Macintosh HD unless you renamed it.

  4. In the sidebar, locate a data volume with the same name as your hard drive, for example, Macintosh HD - Data. If you have this volume, select it.

  5. Select Edit > Delete APFS Volume from the menu bar, or select the delete volume button (–) in the Disk Utility toolbar.

  6. When prompted to confirm, select Delete. (Don't select Delete Volume Group.)

    deleting Mac hard drive in Catalina
  7. After deleting the volume, select Macintosh HD (or whatever you named your drive) in the sidebar.

  8. Select the Erase button or tab.

  9. Enter a name that you want the volume to have after you erase it, such as Macintosh HD.

  10. Under Format, choose either APFS or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) to format as a Mac volume. Disk Utility shows the recommended Mac format by default.

  11. Select Erase to begin erasing the disk. You may be prompted to enter your Apple ID.

  12. When done, quit Disk Utility to return to the Utilities window. 

  13. Select Reinstall macOS from the Utilities window, then follow the onscreen instructions to reinstall macOS on the volume.

If You're Using Mojave or Earlier

In these macOS versions, there's no additional volume to delete.

  1. Select Disk Utility from the Utilities window in macOS Recovery.

  2. Select Continue.

  3. Select your main hard drive, typically called Macintosh HD, in the sidebar on the left. 

  4. Select the Erase button.

  5. Select a name and format for your storage drive and press Erase.

    erasing mac hard drive
  6. Select Reinstall macOS from the Utilities window, then follow the onscreen instructions to reinstall macOS on the volume.

After you've wiped the drive clean and reinstalled macOS, the Mac restarts to a Welcome screen and asks you to choose a country or region. If you're selling or giving away the system, don't continue the setup process. Rather, press Command + Q to shut down the machine. The setup assistant will guide the new owner on the process.