How to restore or reset Mac to the factory settings?

By Jessica | Updated to Mac Data Recovery Tips, on August 8th,2020 |

Summary: This article will teach you how to restore or reset a Mac to the factory settings and back up your important data before factory resetting your Mac.

Is your Mac not working properly? For example, your Mac is increasingly slow and overheating, or your Mac won't turn on. Moreover, you have tried many methods to fix the problems but in vain. For example, you have reset SMC and PRAM/NVRAM but the Mac is still underperforming.

On the other hand, your computer is performing well but you are going to sell, give away, donate or trade in it. You want to wipe your personal trace on the Mac, making nobody else access any of your privacy.

In either cases, you need to reset the Mac to its factory settings.

Before you go further with resetting a Mac desktop (iMac or iMac Pro) or Mac laptop (MacBook Air or MacBook Pro), did you fully understand what factory reset is? Did you know what you need to do before resetting a Mac to its factory settings? Did you know how to reset a Mac without losing data?

This post will answer those questions one by one.

Table of contents
1. What is Mac factory reset?
2. What to do before resetting Mac to factory settings?
3. How to restore your Mac to the factory settings?
4. How to restore files after Mac factory reset?

What is Mac factory reset?

A factory reset, also known as hard reset, hardware reset or master reset, literally means restoring the device to the state when it left the factory. Most electronic devices, like laptop and desktop computers, Android phones, iPhones and tablets, can be restored to original conditions. Mac factory reset means restoring a Mac desktop or laptop to its manufacturer settings. Resetting a device to manufacturer settings can be very beneficial and useful in the following situations:

  • Repair of a malfunctioning device with software problems and operating system errors.
  • Removal of a virus or a file which is very hard to remove.
  • Clearing storage space on computer hard drives or memories of other digital devices.
  • Removal of all user data on the device before selling, donating, giving away or trading in it.
  • Removal of all user data on the second-hand device before you become the new user.

How to reset a Mac to factory settings

Resetting a Mac computer, like MacBook Pro and any other Macs, will need you to reformat the startup disk and reinstall macOS onto it. It means all data on the startup disk while you are using the computer will be wiped out. The personal files, third-party programs, all settings and user data associated with the operating system will be no longer available.

Therefore, think twice before you are going to perform a factory reset because you can't undo it once factory reset is done. Is the reset the only way you can solve the issues with your Mac? Do you really want to reset the Mac to its original settings? Are you happy with the state that your Mac will be restored to?

If you have made up your mind, check the following sections to learn how to reset your Mac without losing data.

What to do before resetting Mac to factory settings?

As mentioned above, it is critical for you to be well-prepared before you proceed to reset your Mac.

Here is a must-do checklist for you to prepare your Mac for factory reset.

1. Create a backup

It is essential for you to have an up-to-date backup of your important files and data before you reset a Mac.

Don't restore the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro or Mac mini to factory settings without a backup copy of important files.

How to back up your Mac with Time Machine?

2. Reset login password (If you can't log in)

Even though you can reset a Mac without login password directly by wiping Macintosh HD and reinstalling macOS in macOS Recovery mode, but you will lose all data on the Macintosh HD by doing that. In order to avoid data loss, you need to reset your forgotten Mac password and log in your Mac first. Then you can back up all your important files.

If you are locked out of the Mac, there are multiple ways you can reset Mac login password, such as using Apple ID, using another Admin account, using Recovery Key and Reset Password assistant. Those methods have certain limitations. For example, the last two methods require FileVault to be turned on.

Therefore, a universal way to reset your login password is introduced below.

Step 1: Click on the Apple icon, choose "Restart" and hold down Command + R immediately.

Step 2: Release the keys until you see the Apple logo.

Step 3: Click on "Utilities" at the top menu bar and select "Terminal".

Reset Mac login password using Terminal

Step 4: Type in "resetpassword" (without space and all lower case) and hit "Return".

Step 5: Type in your new password as well as Password hint in the Reset Password window.

Step 6: Click on "Next" button and then "Restart".

Step 7: Log in your Mac with new password and back up your important data.

3. Sign out of iTunes

Did you know that you can use your iTunes account on 5 different devices at most? It is a good practice to deauthorize iTunes on this Mac to prevent future iTunes connection issues.

Step 1: Open iTunes app.

Step 2: Click on "iTunes" at the top menu bar.

Step 3: Go to Account > Authorizations > Deauthorize This Computer.

Sign out of iTunes before resetting a Mac

Step 4: Enter your Apple ID and password.

Step 5: Click on "Deauthorize".

4. Sign out of iCloud

Without disabling iCloud, certain features such as Find My Mac may still allow you to interact with the old Mac when you are using another Mac logging in to the same iCloud account. What's more, if you don't sign out of the iCloud account first, the new user of the Mac might have trouble signing in with his iCloud account later.

Step 1: Go to Apple icon > System Preferences… > iCloud.

Sign out of iCloud before resetting a Mac

Step 2: Click on "Sign out".

Step 3: Click "Keep a copy" when a dialog pops up.

5. Sign out of iMessage (For Mac OS X Mountain Lion or later)

If you have set up sending and receiving iMessage on the Mac before, you will need to sign out of iMessage to prevent that somebody else might access your iMessage chats.

Step 1: Open Messages app.

Step 2: Click on "Message" at the top menu bar and choose "Preferences".

Step 3: Click "iMessages" at the toolbar to find your iMessage account and click "Sign out".

Sign out of iMessages before resetting a Mac

6. Unpair Bluetooth devices (Optional if you will keep the Mac)

The keyboard, mouse, music players, speakers, headphones, etc. can be connected to the Mac wirelessly through Bluetooth. If you are going to keep those devices but send away your Mac, you'd better unpair them in case the new user will be very close to you, such as your neighbor or your roommate.

Step 1: Go to Apple icon > System Preferences… > Bluetooth.

Unpair bluetooth devices before resetting a Mac

Step 2: Click "Turn off Bluetooth" or Click the "X" button beside the paired device to remove it.

Step 3: Click "Remove" when a dialog pops up.

Tips: If you are unpairing devices like the mouse or the keyboard on a Mac desktop, you will need a wired mouse or keyboard to finish the following steps.

7. Turn off FileVault

FileVault is a handy built-in feature that Mac computer has to prevent unauthorized access to the Mac hard drive. Users can enable FileVault to protect their important and sensitive data from being changed by non-administrators.

Step 1: Go to Apple icon > System Preferences… > Security & Privacy.

Turn off FileVault before resetting a Mac

Step 2: Click "FileVault" and click the lock icon to unlock it.

Turn off FileVault before resetting a Mac

Step 3: Enter the administrator name and password.

Step 4: Choose "Turn off FileVault".

8. Erase Touch Bar data (For 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro 2016 and later)

Touch Bar is currently available only on 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro 2016/2017/2018/2019. It is a touch-based OLED bar that replaces the first row of function keys and helps users better control the activated programs. There will be some settings left in the Touch Bar data, so you'd better erase it first before passing on the MacBook Pro to another user.

Step 1: Click on Apple icon at the top left corner of menu bar, choose "Restart" and hold down key combination Command + R immediately.

Step 2: Release the keys until you see the Apple logo.

Step 3: Click on "Utilities" at the top menu bar and select "Terminal".

Step 4: Type in "xartutil --erase-all" and hit "Return".

Step 5: Type "yes" to erase Touch Bar data and hit "Return" one more time.

Erase Touch Bar data before resetting a Mac

Step 6: Click on "Terminal" on the top menu bar and quit.

So far, you have disabled some features/services and backed up your data, and let's embark on restoring your Mac to its factory settings.

How to restore your Mac to the factory settings?

Factory resetting a Mac is possible and easy even without a reinstallation disc. No matter which Mac computer you are using, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, or Mac mini, the procedures of factory resetting the Mac is pretty much the same.

Tips: Before performing the Mac factory reset, there are four things you need to take into account:

  • Make sure the computer is connected to the Internet.
  • Connect the Mac laptop, like MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, to the power because the process will take a while.
  • Print this tutorial out or open it on another device because you won't be able to read it when you factory reset the Mac.
  • Please follow the guide below in order.

Step 1: Restart the Mac in macOS Recovery mode

To reset the Mac, all steps will be performed in macOS Recovery mode. Check the instructions below to see how to restart the Mac in macOS Recovery:

1. Click on Apple icon at the left top corner of menu bar, choose "Restart" and hold down key combination Command + R immediately.

2. Let go of the keys until you see the Apple logo.

3. Wait for the Mac to restart in macOS Recovery mode.

Restart Mac into macOS Recovery mode

You won't see the login window as usual when you restart the Mac. Instead, you will see macOS Utilities window in macOS Recovery mode.

Note: If you can't reboot the Mac into macOS Recovery mode with the keys Command + R, try to restart the Mac again and hold down Command + Option + R or Shift + Command + Option + R immediately until you see a spinning globe.

Step 2: Erase the Mac hard drive

Then you need to erase the Mac hard disk first to get rid of all data on it in macOS Recovery mode.

1. Choose "Disk Utility" and click on "Continue".

2. Choose the startup disk (usually named Macintosh HD) at the sidebar.

Erase Mac Hard disk before resetting a Mac

3. Click on "Erase" at the toolbar in the Disk Utility window.

How to erase the Mac drive

4. Give the startup disk a name and reformat it.

If you are using a Mac running macOS Catalina, Mojave or High Sierra, reformat the disk into APFS. If you are using a Mac running macOS Sierra or earlier, reformat it into HFS+ (Mac OS Extended).

5. Click on "Erase" button.

6. Click "Done".

7. Go to the Disk Utility menu at the top to quit Disk Utility.

So far, your startup disk has been reformatted and is ready for macOS reinstallation.

Step 3: Reinstall macOS

After the startup disk is cleaned up and formatted, you can perform a clean install of macOS in the same macOS Utilities window now.

How to reinstall macOS on your Mac?

If you are going to pass on the Mac to another user, your mission is completed by now. You don't need to restore data to this Mac, because the new user of this Mac will set up the Mac as he or she likes. What you need to do is to turn off the Mac when you are asked to set up the Mac.

How to restore files after Mac factory reset?

Now you have reset your Mac to its factory factory settings. If you are going to use this Mac by yourself, then you probably need to restore files to this fresh Mac. Keep reading to learn how to migrate files from the backup you made a while ago.

Solution 1: If you created a backup with Time Machine

If you have backuped your Mac with Time machine, you'll be able to restore photos, documents, files, software, settings and more after resetting your Mac.

How to restore Mac with Time Machine backups?

If you accidentally lost or can't access your Time Machine backups, you may need to recover lost data directly from Mac hard disk. Check below to see how to recover lost data after erasing Mac hard drives.

How to recover lost data after erasing APFS hard drive?

Solution 2: If you create a backup by copying files manually

The way to restore files to the Mac is very plain in this situation. You just do the reverse - copy the files on the external drive or cloud storage and paste them back to the Mac.

After the files are transferred to the Mac, you will be back to your life rituals with a better performing Mac without any data loss.

Conclusion

It is recommended that you reset your Mac before the Mac goes to another hand. In addition, if there is no troubleshooting can solve the problems you have encountered with your MacBook, iMac or other Macs, factory resetting the computer is a good option.

If you don't want to lose any data during resetting the Mac, do remember to back up your important files first. It is of vital importance to recover lost data after system restore.