Picked up a used Mac or inherited one from a friend or family member who didn’t write down the password? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to use your Mac after you reset it, but your data will be lost.
Alternatively, you may have a Mac that you intend to sell, in which case you’ll want to reboot the device to give it a clean start. Apple makes this process really easy if you have a Mac with a T1, T2, or any M-series chip, see: How to Erase a MacBook or Mac, But You’ll Need a Password to Do It. We’re here to help if you don’t know that password.
Resetting a Mac without the password will delete everything stored on the machine, but if you’re happy to go back to the beginning with your device, the process is easier than you might think.
In this article, we show you how to fix this problem and restore your Mac to its factory settings, even if you don’t have the password.
Recover the password if you can
Before wiping your device, consider whether there is any data you need, particularly any files you haven’t backed up.
If so, consider recovering the password instead of resetting the device. We have a How to Recover a Forgotten Mac Password tutorial for this very purpose.
Create a bootable macOS installer in case you need it
Before you begin this process, you may later discover that you need a USB-C drive to start macOS if, once the recovery process has begun, you don’t have Internet access on the Mac in question.
We have a guide on how to reinstall macOS on a Mac that should help with this.
boot into recovery
Whether you need to wipe your Mac to move it to a new user or you forgot your password, you need to boot into recovery mode. We’ll cover how to use Mac Recovery Mode in a separate article, but we’ll quickly go over the process here:
The method depends on whether you have an Intel-powered Mac or one with an Apple M-series chip.
On an M series Mac:
Shut down the Mac.
Press the power button and hold it down.
Eventually, the Apple logo will appear with some text below it informing that if you continue to hold the power button, you will be able to access the startup options. Keep pressing that button.
Eventually, you’ll be able to select Options > Continue and this will open Recovery, as shown in the image below (sorry for the quality when it’s not possible to take a screenshot).
On a Mac with Intel:
Shut down the Mac.
Turn it back on while holding down the Command and R keys simultaneously until you see the Apple logo or hear a chime. Release the keys at this point.
The macOS Utilities screen will display a series of options.
delete the mac
This is where it erases everything on the Mac, so if you’re not sure what to do, you can try using Target Disk Mode, now renamed Mac Disk Sharing, so you can copy files. We discuss how to do that here: How to share a Mac’s drive with another Mac, though you may still need a password.
Assuming it’s okay to go ahead and delete, follow these steps:
Click on Disk Utility and Continue.
Once inside the Disk Utility app, all of your drives are listed in the left column.
Select the internal drive, traditionally called the Macintosh HD. You’ll need to select the parent drive, rather than any aliases under it; see the screenshot for a clearer example.
With the drive highlighted, click Erase.
Name your drive in the popup box.
The format dropdown and Scheme should be set to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and GUID Partition Map, respectively.
Reinstall the operating system
Erasing the drive can take a few minutes, but once you’re done, go back to the macOS Utilities menu and select Reinstall macOS. We will see how to reinstall macOS, separately, but we will explain the steps below.
Now you need to reinstall macOS via Recovery. The process, again, depends on whether you have an Intel-powered Mac or one with Apple Silicon (an M1, M2, or later).
You should be able to install macOS over the Internet, but you may prefer to use the USB drive you prepared earlier with the macOS installer (which might be faster).
Select Reinstall macOS in Disk Utilities.
Enter your Apple ID if necessary and wait while macOS reinstalls.
If your Mac won’t connect to the Internet to download macOS, click the Wi-Fi menu in the upper right corner of the screen, select the Wi-Fi network, and enter your Wi-Fi password. If that still doesn’t work, use the bootable USB drive.