Mac won't start in Safe Mode, here's what to do?

By Connie | Posted to Home > Mac Data Recovery Tips, published on September 13th, 2021 |

Summary: This post will help fix the Mac won't start in Safe Mode issue, including Mac boot up regularly rather than into Safe Mode and Mac stuck on the booting process to Safe Mode.

Mac won't start in Safe Mode

You prepare to use Mac Safe Mode to fix OS-related issues like MacBook won't turn on or runs slowly. But unfortunately, you fail to boot into Safe Mode. Your Mac simply starts up normally, or it's stuck during booting up to Safe Mode.

What's the matter? Please relax. This post will help you analyze the causes and then walk you through the Mac that won't start in Safe Mode with testified solutions. After that, your Mac Safe Mode will be available again.

Table of Contents:

Mac won't start in Safe Mode but boot up regularly

You press the Shift key during the startup to enter Mac Safe Mode as usual. But unexpectedly, you see the familiar desktop as a regular startup.

To check and fix the Mac Safe Mode that's not working, you can follow these solutions.

Check if you were actually in Mac Safe Mode

Since the desktops in Safe Boot and Normal startups seem similar, you may enter into Safe Mode indeed while you ignore.

In normal mode, the Dock color is similar to that of your desktop. But in Safe Mode, the Dock color will become light grey.

Mac Safe Boot desktop
Source: From IONOS

If you still can't tell the differences between them, you can try the way below to check if your Mac is in safe mode.

  • Open About This Mac from the Apple drop-down menu.
  • Click System Report and scroll-down to choose Software.
  • Check the status of the Boot Mode on the System Software Overview pane.

Check Mac status of Boot Mode

If it shows Safe, you are in Safe Mode. And if it indicates Normal, your Mac boot up regularly rather than into Safe Mode. Then, you can try to reboot your Mac computer into Safe Mode once a time.

Check if your way to boot in Safe Mode is right

Sometimes, your wrong Safe Mode booting operation leads to your failure. So, you'd better ensure every step of your way to Safe Mode is right.

If you cannot sure whether you do the right job, you can take the following steps as references.

When starting an Intel-based Mac in Safe Mode:

  • Shut down your Mac and wait 10 seconds till your computer completely shut down.
  • Press down the Shift key when restarting your Mac.
  • Release the Shift key until you see the login window. Or else, you'll boot your Mac in normal mode.

When booting an M1 Mac in Safe Mode:

  • Shut down your Mac and wait for 10 seconds to shut it down comppletely.
  • Hold down the power button until you see the startup options and the Options icon as below.

M1 Mac startup options

  • Select your startup disk. Don't click the Continue button below the startup disk at this time.
  • Press down the Shift key and simultaneously click Continue in Safe Mode.
  • Release the Shift key.

Check if your keyboard works well

Finally, you can check if your keyboard is dead by pressing it down and simultaneously typing any letter to see if you can type a capital letter. If not, the Shift key is out of work. Change a keyboard. If it happens again, fix the USB port.

If you are using a wireless keyboard, open System Preferences > Keyboard. Check if you fail to connect a Bluetooth keyboard and reset it.

After confirming you have a workable Shift key, restart your Mac in Safe Mode now.

Mac takes forever to boot to Safe Mode

In this scenario, the causes vary. Your Mac that is stuck in the booting process to Safe Mode may because:

  1. Temporary bug in Mac OS.
  2. Security settings limitations on your Mac.
  3. OS-related issues.

Therefore, you can try the following solutions to troubleshoot your Mac and enable your Mac to enter in Safe Mode.

Reboot your Mac into Mac Safe Mode

The temporary bugs in Mac OS will lead to the abnormal performance of your Mac, such as Mac won't start in Safe Mode in macOS Big Sur.

So, when your Mac takes forever on the process to Safe Mode, you can try to force shut down your Mac and wait a few seconds. Then, boot it into Safe Mode again.

Check your security settings

If your Mac Safe Mode still not working, think about if you've configured security settings to protect your Mac, like FileVault and Mac firmware password. These security settings may trigger Safe Mode to be stuck or hang forever.

To turn off FileVault (Only if your Mac can boot up), you can follow these steps:

  • Open the Apple menu > Security & Privacy.
  • Move on the FileVault tab and click the lock icon at the lower left corner of the window.
  • Type your admin password for further changes.
  • Click Turn Off FileVault.

Turn off FileVault

If you've also enabled Firmware password, you should close it as the steps below:

  • Press the power button for seconds to shut down your Mac.
  • Press the Command + R keys when rebooting your Mac.
  • Select Utilities > Startup Security Utility.
  • Click Turn Off Firmware Password.
  • Type your Firmware password to confirm to disable it.

The process to disable the security settings will take some time. Please wait until it finishes and then, reboot your Mac in Safe Mode.

Reset SMC

SMC (System Management Controller) controls the thermal and power management, sleep settings, etc., mattering your Mac performance.

Resetting SMC can fix hardware not functioning issues, such as keyboard not working that causes Mac Safe Mode not working issue.

Reset SMC on a MacBook:

  • Shut down your Mac and unplug the power cable.
  • Hold down the Shift + Option + Control keys. Next, press down the power button.
  • Release the keys and power button after 10 seconds.
  • Replug the power cable and turn on your Mac computer.

Reset SMC on a Mac desktop:

  • Shut down the Mac desktop, and then unplug the power cable for 15 seconds.
  • Replug the power cable and turn on your Mac desktop.

Now, you can try to restart up your MacBook in Safe Mode.


PRAM stands for Parameter Random Access Memory (NVRAM is similar). It is a memory used to store system-related settings, including the startup volume choice.

If your Mac computer behaves abnormally, such as can't start up in Safe Mode, you can try to reset the PRAM/NVRAM to fix the trouble.

  • Shut down your Mac.
  • Restart your Mac and immediately press and hold the Option + Command + P + R key combination.
  • Release the keys once you hear the second startup sound or after the Apple logo appears and disappears twice (For a T2-based Mac).

Now, go to restart your Mac in Safe Mode.

By the way, you don't need to reset PRAM on an M1 Mac because it will automatically reset if needed during startup.

Boot in macOS Recovery mode

Unfortunately, all the ways mentioned above are useless for fixing the Mac Safe Mode not working issue. The culprits may be the file system errors on the startup disk. These errors can not only set off the Mac won't boot, but it also prevents you from using Safe Mode.

In this situation, you need to use Mac Recovery Mode. When entering macOS Recovery mode, you can use Disk Utility First Aid to check and fix the errors on your startup disk.

If your Mac still fails to boot, you have to recover data from your unbootable Mac first. Next, format Mac startup disk with Disk Utility, and then reinstall macOS in recovery mode.

Use the Reinstall macOS Big Sur utility in M1 Mac Recovery mode

Use Terminal in Recovery mode to run iBoysoft Data Recovery

How to run iBoysoft Data Recovery in macOS Recovery Mode?

This post will guide you to run iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac to recover data from Mac that won't boot. Follow it to rescue your lost files back. Read more >>


Your Mac won't start in Safe Mode prevents you from fixing your problematic Mac computer. This article offers the complete guide to help you out with this thorny problem. Whether you fail to enter Safe Mode but in normal mode, or your Mac takes forever to start in Safe Mode, this post can give you solutions.


1. How do I force a Mac into Safe Mode?

Shut down your Mac and wait about 10 seconds. Press the power button to restart your Mac and immediately press down the Shift key until seeing the login window.

2. Why Safe Mode is not working?

The reasons for Safe Mode not working are various, including OS-related problems, security limitations on your Mac, file system errors of the startup disk, etc.