If you are selling your MacBook or Mac – or just passing it on to friends or family – you would be wise to wipe the Mac and restore it to factory settings first. This is partly so that your data stays safe, but it will also avoid any issues at a later date that could come about if you don’t disconnect that Mac from various services and software you might use. It also means the new user can restart the Mac as if it was brand new.
Just remember that if someone is going to be using the Mac after you, removing personal information alone isn’t enough – you also need to make sure there’s a working version of macOS installed afterwards.
Another reason why you might want to wipe your Mac is to perform a clean install of macOS – which can be a good way to fix issues with your Mac if it’s starting to behave oddly. Wiping a faulty Mac will allow you to set it up like a new Mac – which will hopefully fix any software-related issues you are having.
Follow our guide to do the following:
- Erase all your data from your Mac
- Restore your Mac to its factory settings
- Reinstall macOS
Note the video above shows the method pre-macOS Catalina. Since the arrival of Catalina there is a change to the process of wiping your Mac due to the arrival of the Macintosh HD-Data partition so read on to find out how to delete or wipe your Mac in Catalina.
Additionally, if you have an M1 Mac (such as the 2020 Mac mini, November 2020 MacBook Air, or November 2020 MacBook Pro), the process by which you access Recovery on your Mac has changed. We detail how to access Recovery on an M1 Mac below, but also in this article: How to do everything on an M1 Mac.
How to erase a MacBook or Mac
You know you need to erase the Mac before you pass it on, but exactly how can you delete everything? We’ll run through the process.
Step 1: Back up your Mac
Resetting a Mac to factory settings gets rid of all the data stored on that machine, so we recommend that you make a backup of the data first.
This can be done very simply using Apple’s Time Machine software – here’s how to back up using Time Machine. The best thing about backing up with Time Machine is it makes it really easy to move your data to a new Mac afterwards.
This cloned drive can be re-cloned back to the main drive if you decide to restore your Mac, or it can be used to access all the original files from your computer after you have wiped the internal hard drive.
Step 2: Deauthorise accounts
The next step is to disconnect the Mac from any services you are linked to.
You’ll want to sign out of things like iTunes, iCloud, Messages, and Find My.
For example, in the Music app (or iTunes in older versions of macOS) you will need to deauthorise your iTunes Store account and log out. This is important because you can only use up to five Macs to play music and movies that are locked to your iTunes/Music account. The method of deauthorising your music services varies depending on which version you’ve got.
Step 3: Unpair Bluetooth devices
This is especially important if you are passing your Mac on to someone in your home or office as any Bluetooth device that may have once been paired with your old Mac may connect to the old again – which could be frustrating if you want to use it with your new Mac.
Step 4: Reset NVRAM
Another way to be absolutely sure that none of your personal settings remain on the Mac is to reset the NVRAM.
The NVRAM is a small amount of memory that your Mac uses to store certain settings. Resetting it will clear your user settings and restore any security features you might have adjusted.
Here’s how to reset the NVRAM:
- Hold down Option, Command, P and R.
- Wait 20 seconds and release the keys.
Note, you can’t reset the NVRAM on an M1 Mac in the same way. You can change the settings but you can’t reset it. However, you may not need to because it seems to be the case that the M1 Chip tests the NVRAM when the computer is started from shutdown (i.e. not after a normal reboot). If something is wrong with the memory it is reset automatically
We describe how to reset NVRAM in this article: How to reset NVRAM on an M1 or Intel Mac
Step 5: Restart your Mac in Recovery
Now you have backed everything up, deauthorised your accounts and unpaired devices, you are ready to start to erase everything on the Mac. To do so you need to enter Recovery mode. This will enable you to wipe the Mac.
Note: The process by which you access Recovery on a M1 Mac is different to the process on an older Intel-powered Mac. We will discuss both.
Entering Recovery on an Intel Mac
- Click the Apple logo at the top left of the screen and select Restart.
- Immediately hold down the Command and R keys until you see an Apple logo or spinning globe. (You may be better off using a different key combination depending on the age of your Mac, and which macOS you want installed or was installed on the Mac when you bought it – we have a complete guide to starting a Mac in Recovery Mode here). For example, Apple recommends that “if you’re selling or giving away a Mac that is using OS X El Capitan or earlier, use Option-Command-R to make sure that the installation isn’t associated with your Apple ID”.
- Expect it to take a while for th