How to Reset MacBook Air

It's easy to restore your MacBook Air to its factory settings

What to Know

  • Create a backup of your MacBook Air and then sign out of iCloud, iTunes, and other services.
  • Boot up in Recovery Mode and select Disk Utility > View > Show All Devices. Then select your hard drive and click Erase.
  • Choose APFS (High Sierra or later) or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) (older macOS) and click Erase. In Utilities menu, click Reinstall macOS.

This article explains how to reset your MacBook Air to factory settings if you're selling it or experiencing irrecoverable performance issues. It includes information on how to create a backup with Time Machine, how to sign out of Apple services such as iCloud and Message, and how to reinstall macOS. It applies to macOS Big Sur (11) through OS X Yosemite (10.10).

Create a Backup

Before you begin, create a backup of the MacBook Air before resetting it, especially if you plan to reuse it again or to use your files and docs with a new Mac.

A common way of backing up involves the use of Time Machine, a preinstalled Apple app that backs up your files, including music, photos, and apps, to an external drive. Here's how to create a backup using Time Machine:

  1. Connect an external storage device to the Mac.

  2. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the screen.

  3. Click System Preferences.

  4. Click Time Machine.

  5. Click Select Backup Disk.

    A screenshot of Time Machine's settings
  6. Select your external drive and then click Encrypt backups and Use Disk.

  7. Click the ON button in the left column of the Time Machine window, if it isn't in the ON position.

After you click Use Disk or ON, Time Machine begins a backup of your MacBook Air. Later, after your MacBook Air has been reset to its factory settings, you can restore this backup by reconnecting your external hard disk to the Mac and following the on-screen instructions.

Time Machine is generally recommended for most MacBook Air users, but it doesn't do everything a backup app could possibly do. For example, even though it copies your files and apps, it doesn't create a bootable clone of your MacBook Air, which is something you'll need if you want to have your MacBook (or another MacBook Air) running exactly as it did before.

As such, you might want to consider downloading a free third-party backup app, such as SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cleaner. While a rundown of each and an explanation of how they work is beyond the scope of this article, a previous Lifewire guide on free third-party backup apps  runs through the best free backup apps available.

Sign Out of Your iServices

There's one small but important thing you should do if you're resetting your MacBook Air for the purposes of selling or giving it away. This involves signing out of the Apple services you're signed in to on your Macbook, such as iTunes, iCloud, and iMessage.

A screenshot showing how to de-authorize a Mac from its iTunes account

How to Sign Out of iCloud

  1. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the MacBook Air's screen.

  2. Click System Preferences.

    Apple Menu with System Preferences highlighted
  3. Click Apple ID in macOS Catalina (10.15) and later. (In earlier versions, click iCloud instead.)

    Mac System Preferences Showing Apple ID icon
  4. Click Overview and Sign Out in macOS Catalina (10.15) and later. (In earlier versions of macOS, select Sign Out.)

    Overview and Sign Out highlighted in Apple ID preferences

How to Sign Out of iTunes

  1. Open the Music app in macOS Catalina (10.15) and later or iTunes in macOS Mojave (10.14) and earlier.

  2. Scroll up to the menu bar at the top of the MacBook Air's screen and click Account.

    Big Sur Music App showing Account in the menu bar
  3. From the drop-down menu that appears, click Authorizations.

  4. Click Deauthorize This Computer.

    Music app Account menu showing Authorizations
  5. Enter your Apple ID and Password.

  6. Click Deauthorize.

    Music app Deauthorize this Computer option

How to Sign Out of Messages

  1. Open the Messages app.

  2. Click Messages (in the menu bar at the top of the Mac's screen).

  3. Click Preferences.

    Mac Messages app showing Preferences option
  4. Click the iMessage tab.

    Messages preferences showing the iMessage tab
  5. Click the Sign Out button, which is to the right of your Apple ID.

    Messages preferences with Sign Out highlighted

That completes the necessary steps you need to take if you plan to sell your MacBook Air or give it to a friend or family member. Next comes the actual step of resetting it.

Perform a Factory Reset

To reset your MacBook Air to its factory settings, your Mac must be connected to the internet. You first need to boot up your Mac in Recovery Mode. To do this, press and hold Command+when restarting your MacBook Air or switching it on, holding both keys until you see the Apple logo.

After the Apple logo appears and it's finished starting up, you are shown the Utilities window. It's here that you can erase your hard disk and perform the reset. Here's how you do it:

  1. Click Disk Utility.

    A screenshot showing the macOS Utilities app
  2. Click Continue.

  3. Click View > Show All Devices.

  4. Select your hard drive and click Erase.

  5. In the Format field, choose the APFS option on macOS High Sierra or later. On macOS Sierra or earlier, choose the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) option.

  6. Click Erase.

There is no Undo feature for erasing the SSD in your MacBook Air. Take care and make sure you've backed up all your data before clicking Erase.

Next, you'll wipe your MacBook Air's hard drive clean. It can take several minutes to complete. After it has finished, you can reinstall macOS, as described below:

  1. From the Utilities menu, click Reinstall macOS.

  2. Click Continue.

  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.

If you're selling or giving away your MacBook Air, stop after the installation is complete, and do not proceed with the setup of your new Mac once you reach the Welcome screen. To stop after the installation has been completed and leave the MacBook Air in its factory condition, press Command+Q, and then click Shut Down.

If you do that, the next time the MacBook Air is turned on, it will start the setup process just like it did when it was brand new.

Why You'd Want to Reset Your MacBook Air

There are a number of reasons why you might want or need to reset your MacBook Air, even if this isn't something you'd normally do when your model is working properly.

The most popular reason someone resets a MacBook Air is that they are selling it. In this case, resetting your MacBook is essential, since you don't want to hand over a repository of your personal data to a stranger. You need to wipe your personal information and settings from the computer so that you can sell it without putting your security and privacy at risk.

Another reason to reset a MacBook Air relates to solving performance issues. If your MacBook Air has been lagging and working slowly, and you've tried every available option for tuning it up and improving its performance, it may be time to reset it to its factory settings. This is a last-ditch strategy, but in many cases, it works well. When the reset is complete, the MacBook Air is in a similar state as when it was first removed from the box.

This article is for readers with a MacBook Air, but we also have an article on how to reset a MacBook Pro.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I hard reset my MacBook Air? If you only want to clear your user settings from the MacBook’s memory and restore security features that you changed, perform a hard reset. To hard reset a MacBook Air, restart the MacBook and simultaneously press the Option, Command, P, and R keys. Hold down the keys for about 20 seconds.
  • How do I reset my MacBook Air password? When you want to change your Mac login password, go to the Apple menu and select Restart. After the Mac restarts, select your user account, go to the password field and click the question mark, then select Reset it using your Apple ID. From there, enter your Apple ID and follow the instructions.
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