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How to Reset a Mac: Factory reset a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Does your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro seem a little long in the tooth? Is there an issue you can’t seem to solve no matter how you try? Or do you want to sell your MacBook without a trace of personal data on it? Here's our guide on how to reset a MacBook, or any Mac computer, to solve any of those issues.

Below, we explain how to completely factory reset your MacBook (or iMac) and reset it to a like-new state. The instructions below (with a few minor changes here or there) will work for macOS Catalina and most older versions of the operating system. 

Before you do this, be sure to back up your data. If you’re selling your MacBook, also make sure to sign out of iMessage, iCloud and any other accounts before you reset. Worried about losing your data? Scroll to the bottom of this article for steps you should take before factory resetting your MacBook.

How to reset a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro

1. Hold down the Command and R keys on the keyboard and turn on the Mac. Let go when the Apple logo pops up.

2. Select your language and continue.

3. Choose Disk Utility and click continue.

4. Choose your startup disk (named Macintosh HD by default) from the sidebar and click the Erase button.

5. After you've chosen a name for the disk after it's erased, choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the dropdown menu and click Erase. (If you want to encrypt your disc for extra security, choose the “Journaled, Encrypted” option. You’ll be prompted to create a password.) Choose GUID Partition Map.

6. Click Erase then Done and exit the window.

7. If you haven’t yet, connect to Wi-Fi in the top right-hand corner, just like you usually would on your Mac.

8. From the main menu, choose Reinstall macOS and click continue.

9. Press Continue. A pop-up will appear. Choose Continue there, too.

10. Read the software license agreement and click Agree.

11. Choose your boot disk and select “Install.”

12. Wait for the first step of the installation to occur. This is a good time to take a break.

13. The computer will restart and continue installing. Let your break continue. Get a sandwich (optional, but encouraged). The computer will restart.

What to do before you reset your MacBook

We want this guide to focus on resetting your MacBook, but there are recommended actions to take before factory resetting your MacBook that you should be aware of. These will ensure that you don't lose any personal files, photos or apps when you move from one MacBook to another.

Here are some things you should consider doing before you reset your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.

  • Back up your MacBook. We can't overstate the importance of this step. Creating a backup will protect your important files. If you don't backup your data, it will disappear when you factory reset.
  • Sign out of iTunes. Choose Account > Authorizations > Deauthorize This Computer. If you're running the latest macOS Catalina, you can skip this step. 
  • Sign out of iCloud. Hit the Apple menu, go to System Preferences then click the Apple ID. Choose iCloud from the side panel and Turn off Find my Mac. Then click Overview and Sign out.
  • Sign out of iMessage. Open the Messages app, choose Messages then Preferences. Click iMessage and Sign Out.
  • Unpair Bluetooth devices. Go to the Apple menu>System Preferences and choose Bluetooth. Here, you can unpair keyboards, headphones or other Bluetooth-enabled peripherals. 

Now you know how to factory reset a MacBook or any Mac computer!

From here, if you’re looking to sell your computer, you’re all done -- no need to worry about the buyer getting into your files or apps. If you want to get back to the desktop, follow the prompts as if you were setting up your MacBook for the first time. 

If your old Mac is still acting up and you've decided you want to upgrade, check out our roundup of the best Apple laptops available now. 

Apple Laptop Guide