How to Wipe a MacBook Air

Reset your MacBook and clear your data to factory defaults

Whether you are looking to sell your MacBook Air and want to wipe its data for your security or want to start over with a fresh installation of macOS, follow this tutorial to clear all the data off your computer.

You have options to reset your MacBook to factory default settings, which removes all your personal data, or erase the computer drive completely without setting it up with an operating system at all, which is rarely the better choice.

Information in this tutorial applies to macOS Big Sur (11) through macOS High Sierra (10.13). Older versions of the operating system follow similar steps.

This process erases all the data on your computer, including files, photos, videos, and programs. Follow the backup procedure below to make a copy of your data before continuing.

Backing Up Your MacBook Air

Before you begin wiping your MacBook Air, back up any data on the machine so that you have a duplicate. Any data remaining on the laptop when you wipe the computer is permanently lost. Follow these steps to back up your MacBook to an external storage device using Time Machine, which is installed on your Mac:

Screenshot of Apple Time Machine
  1. Plug in an external storage device to your MacBook Air's port.

    When purchasing an external drive for backup purposes, ensure the drive has enough capacity to cover your internal drive.

  2. Open System Preferences on your Mac.

  3. Click Time Machine.

    Time Machine Option
  4. Select the Choose Backup Disc or Select Disk option.

  5. Choose your USB storage device and click Use Disk.

  6. On the next screen, select Save.

Within a few minutes, the backup process begins. Your first backup may take a few hours or more depending on how much data is on your machine. Check back in the Time Machine preference pane to confirm when Time Machine has finished its first backup. It will note when its latest backup completed. For more information, check out our detailed tutorial on using Time Machine.

Sign Out of iCloud on Your MacBook

Before you wipe your MacBook Air, it is a good idea to sign out of iCloud and services such as Find My Mac. If you don't sign out of said features, future users may be prompted for your login information. Follows these steps to easily log out of iCloud on your device:

Screenshot Sign Out of iCloud
  1. Open System Preferences on your Mac.

  2. Select iCloud. (In newer versions of macOS, select Apple ID > iCloud.)

  3. Click Sign Out. (In newer versions of macOS, select Overview > Sign Out.)

    You might be prompted to enter your password when signing out of iCloud.

  4. When the dialog asks whether you want to keep a copy of your iCloud data, select Keep a Copy.

Wiping Your MacBook Air and Reinstalling macOS

If you are simply cleaning out your machine to start from scratch or are selling or gifting the unit to another individual, erase it and reinstall macOS, so that the computer is usable. If done successfully, the Mac's software appears as it did when you first unboxed the unit.

Screenshot of macOS Mojave
 Apple

The following steps will completely erase your MacBook's internal storage device; all data and information will be lost.

  1. Begin by shutting down your Mac from the Apple menu or by pressing the power button once on your keyboard.

  2. Once your computer is completely off, hold down the Command and R keys on your MacBook's keyboard simultaneously.

  3. Without letting go of any previous keys, turn on your MacBook Air by pressing the power button.

  4. Once you see the Apple logo or a Spinning Globe on screen, you can let go of the Command and R keys.

  5. Allow the computer to start up into Recovery Mode, you can proceed once you are presented with the macOS Utilities window.

  6. Within the macOS Utilities window, select Reinstall macOS.

  7. Click Continue to begin the macOS installer.

    The macOS installer may ask you to unlock your disk or enter your Mac password before continuing.

  8. Your MacBook will restart several times as it erases the old disk and installs macOS. A progress bar shows you the estimated amount of time remaining.

  9. Once this is complete, the machine boots to the Setup Assistant to begin setting up the computer. If you don't want to set up the Mac because you are selling or gifting it, press Command+Q to quit the wizard and then shut down your computer.

Wiping Your MacBook Air Without Reinstalling macOS

Once you have confirmed that your data is backed up to an external storage device, you can begin erasing your MacBook Air's internal storage of all information. Follow these instructions to begin the process if you want to erase the machine and not reinstall macOS:

Wiping Your MacBook Air

The following steps will completely erase your MacBook's internal storage device; all data and information will be lost.

  1. Begin by shutting down your Mac from the Apple menu or by pressing the power button once on your keyboard.

  2. Once your computer is completely off, hold down the Command and R keys on your MacBook's keyboard simultaneously.

  3. Without letting go of any previous keys, turn on your MacBook Air.

  4. Once you see the Apple logo or a Spinning Globe on screen, you can let go of the Command and R keys.

  5. Allow the computer to start up into Recovery Mode. Proceed when you see the macOS Utilities window.

  6. In the macOS Utilities window, select Disk Utility.

  7. Under the View menu option, select Show All Devices.

    Show All Devices
  8. Below the View menu button are the drives attached to your machine. Select your primary drive; it contains Macintosh HD within it.

  9. Once your drive is selected, select Erase.

  10. In the Erase window, leave all settings as is and click Erase.

  11. Restart your Mac. If successfully erased, your machine will turn on to a flashing question mark in a folder icon.

Additional macOS Install Options

By default, pressing Command+R when booting your Mac leads you to install the latest version of macOS that has been installed on your machine.

However, two additional options are available when booting, and they are as follows:

  • Press Option+Command+R to install the latest version of macOS that is compatible with your MacBook Air.
  • Press Shift+Option+Command+R to install the version of macOS that came with the Mac. If your MacBook Air is older, it will install the closest version that's available.
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