With macOS 12 Monterey or later on certain Macs, you can easily erase and reset your computer using a built-in feature called “Erase Assistant” you can find in System Preferences. Here’s how to do it.

Requirements (And Tips for Older Macs)

Starting with macOs Monterey (macOS 12), released in 2021, System Preferences now has an “Erase All Content and Settings” option similar to the ones found on the iPhone and iPad. It only shows up if your Mac incorporates a T2 Security Chip or runs on Apple Silicon.

If you have a Mac running a version of macOS older than macOS Monterey—or your Mac lacks the hardware features mentioned above—you’ll need to perform a more complex series of steps to factory reset your Mac, such as reinstalling a copy of macOS from Recovery mode. Luckily, we’ve laid out how to do that in a separate article aimed at older machines, but we will also cover the process briefly below.

Alternatively, if the Mac you want to wipe includes a T2 chip or Apple Silicon and supports upgrading to macOS Monterey or later, you could perform the OS update first before using the “Erase All Content and Settings” feature to wipe your Mac.

RELATED: How to Update Your Mac and Keep Apps Up to Date

How to Erase all Content and Settings on a Newer Mac

If you have a Mac that uses Apple Silicon or has a T2 Security Chip running macOS Monterey or later, you can quickly wipe your Mac using System Preferences. To get started, click the Apple icon on the menu bar in the upper-left corner of the screen. In the menu that appears, select “System Preferences.”

When System Preferences opens, ignore the window that appears and look at top of the screen again. Click “System Preferences” in the menu bar and choose “Erase All Content and Settings” in the menu.

An app called “Erase Assistant” will open and will ask you for an administrator’s account name and password. You can type the name and password of any local account on your Mac that has Administrator privileges.

In Erase Assistant, type and administrator's user name and password.

Next, you might be asked to perform a Time Machine Backup, which is always a good idea anyway. If so, open Time Machine and follow the instructions there to back up your data to an external drive. When you’re done, click “Continue” in Erase Assistant.

After the optional Time Machine dialog (which may not show up on some machines), the Erase All Content & Settings window will appear. Click the caret beside your account name, and you’ll see a list of actions the Erase Assistant will perform in the steps ahead. Click “Continue” when you’re ready to proceed.

Next, enter your Apple ID and password to sign out of Apple ID. After that, you’ll see a warning screen.

Warning: Before continuing, make absolutely sure you have backups of your data on the Mac before erasing the Mac. You will lose all data, apps, settings, documents, photos, or videos that are stored on the Mac.

When you’re ready—and only if you’ve backed everything up—click “Erase All Content & Settings.” Be warned: You won’t be able to undo this step.

After clicking, your Mac will restart and show a progress bar as it erases all the content on your device. When it’s done, you’ll be asked to setup your Mac again, and you can start from scratch as if it were a brand new Mac, or hand it off to someone else to set up later.

RELATED: How to Back Up Your Mac and Restore Files With Time Machine

How to Factory Reset an Older Mac

If you’re running macOS Big Sur or earlier, or you have a Mac that isn’t running Apple Silicon or doesn’t have a T2 security chip, you’ll need to perform a more complex series of steps to wipe your Mac and reinstall macOS—especially if you are going to sell or give away your Mac to someone else.

First, back up your files using Time Machine and ensure the backup worked by examining the files on the external drive. If you don’t have backups, you will lose all the data stored on the Mac you’re about to wipe.

Next, you’ll need to perform several account sign-outs, which are important if you’re handing over your Mac to someone else. Sign out of iTunes if you have a Pre-Catalina version of macOS (Account > Authorizations > Deauthorize This Computer). Also, sign out of iCloud in System Preferences (System Preferences > Apple ID > Overview > Sign Out), then sign out of iMessage in the Messages app (Messages > Preferences > iMessage > Sign Out).

After that, you’ll need to enter Recovery Mode. Shut down your Mac (Apple Menu > Shut Down), then turn it back on and press Command+R when you see the Apple logo on the screen. Enter an Administrator password if necessary, then click “Disk Utility” in the menu that appears.

Once in Disk Utility, select “Macintosh HD” in the sidebar. Make sure you have backups, then click “Erase” in the toolbar. Warning: You will lose all data on the drive!

Erase "Macintosh HD" in Disk Utility.

When you’re done erasing the drive, quit Disk Utility using the menu bar and select “Reinstall macOS” in the Recovery menu, then follow the on-screen instructions.

If you’re giving your Mac to someone else, press Command+Q at Setup Assistant and shut down the Mac. When you power it back on, press Option+Command+P+R and hold it for about 20 seconds. This will reset the NVRAM, which clears user settings from a special type of memory on your Mac. After that, you can either set up the Mac again or press Command+Q to shut down the Mac, and it’s ready for a new owner. Good luck!

RELATED: What Is NVRAM, and When Should I Reset It On My Mac?

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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