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How to wipe your Mac and restore to default

Feel like you need a clean slate? Whenever you want to, you can restore the factory settings on your Mac. This means erasing all your data, everything you’ve done on the computer, and reverting it back to just like it was when you took it out of the box (well, probably with a few more dings and scratches, depending on the age).

It’s a simple procedure that is over in no time, and we’ll walk you through just how to do it safely and effectively.

Wait, why would I want to do this?

Ordinarily, losing absolutely everything unique on your Mac would be cause for concern and possibly thrown keyboards. But there are scenarios where a full wipe and restore session can prove valuable. The most common is when you want to sell your computer as a used device through someplace like eBay or Craigslist. No buyer is going to want a computer with a hard drive full of someone else’s data, so resellers typically work to reset the computer.

Read: Can Macs get viruses and malware? We ask an expert

Part of this includes de-authorizing the computer in iTunes, removing any personalized login information, removing firmware passwords, and generally cutting off all connections to the cloud. But another important part is restoring factory settings. So if you are planning on selling or gifting your Mac to someone else, go the extra mile and take the time (really not much time at all) to wipe it first.

Factory settings: Erase your Mac

All right, let’s go through how to erase your current Mac drive and everything on it. Take one last look around, and double check to make your Mac is currently connected to the Internet, preferably through a hard line connection. Erasing your hard drive is pretty simple, but you need a way to access factory settings once again when you are done. You need Internet connectivity for the restoration process to work successfully on modern Macs. If you are erasing data on a MacBook of any kind, plug in the power adapter first so there’s no danger of running out of battery power.

Now, go to the Apple menu (the one that has the Apple logo on it) and select the Restart option. Wait patiently for your Mac to shut down and then begin the startup procedure. During the restart process, before moving onto the login screen, your computer will show a gray slate screen. This is your opportunity to go behind the scenes: Hold down both the Command key and the R key when you see gray.

This should pop you over to the OS X Utilities, where you can make various important and potentially dangerous changes. Select Disk Utility. Now, this process is going to be a little different based on what version of OS X you are using, but you will want to look for your startup disk or other startup-related information. Select it and then click on the Erase tab. Next, head over to the Format option and set it to Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Again select Erase. This may take some time. Once finished, go to the Disk Utility menu and select Quit Disk Utility.

Factory settings: reinstalling the OS

Now you’ve erased everything that made your Mac special, just like a mad brain scientist, but wiping your system is only half the way there to going back to factory settings. Once you have Igor quit out of Disk Utility, you should see an option to Reinstall your current OS X. Select that reinstall option, confirm that you really want to do it, and proceed. You may have to click through a few confirmations before the installation is ready to begin.

Related Product: Free MacPaw CleanMyMac3 Download

This is where you need to have your computer connected to the Internet. Apple keeps all the factory setting data on its own servers these days. With a net connection, your Mac can look for its original source material and download a new, off-the-assembly-line version of all its settings.

Note: This online download solution works only for the newer versions of OS X. This shouldn’t be a problem with most of today’s Macs as long as you are running something like Lion, Mountain Lion, or newer operating systems, which all download factory settings from the Web. But if you are working with Snow Leopard or an earlier version of OS X software for whatever reason, these cannot reinstall online. You will need the original OS X installation disc that came with your computer, so get ready to dig it out if necessary.

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Tips on saving data

Obviously a full wipe and reset is a big move and you’ll have to tread carefully if there’s any data you want to keep. Backing up your computer is a vital step and highly suggested before you begin any of the wipe procedures. Here are a few tips on the best ways you can save Mac data.

Read: Want to use OneDrive between a Mac and a Windows PC? Partitioning is your best bet

  • Use Time Machine if possible. This allows you to save state on your Mac settings and data, usually via an external hard drive (if you don’t have one laying around, consider buying one for this and other backup needs). Then you can transfer that snapshot of your Mac, including all your information, into a Time Capsule and essentially move your computer to another Mac system. This is nice if you are upgrading computers and selling your old Mac.
  • You may need to reinstall your Apple apps on your new computer when moving data. Visit the Mac App Store, and you’ll see an option to reinstall any apps you may be missing.
  • If you have both computers at the same time, you can use Migration Assistant to simply migrate your data from one to the other and cut out the middleman via some quick drive cloning.
  • Cloud backup services can help out a little here, but most cloud accounts don’t have enough data to back up a full Mac’s worth of information, so it’s best to stick with physical backup sources for a project like this.