How to Factory Reset Your MacBook Air

Performing a factory reset on any of your tech devices is often recommended as a solution to many issues that may occur. In the case of a MacBook Air, this task can be performed to increase performance and restore your laptop to its former glory.

If you’ve opted to sell your MacBook Air to someone else, a factory reset will ensure that all of your private and personal information is deleted. Ensuring that another user can log in and begin using your former MacBook Air is also important to seller ratings, and it relieves the hassle of having to remove your information after the transaction is completed.

By backing up your MacBook Air with Time Machine and performing a factory reset of your MacBook Air, your machine will feel like you just unboxed it for the first time.

With macOS Mojave available, it’s the perfect time to get your computer back up to date. Mojave is chock full of new enhancements and system changes that will keep your Air running well for years to come. However, keep in mind that macOS Mojave is only compatible with MacBook Airs manufactured after mid-2012.

If you’re unfamiliar with the process of performing a factory reset on your MacBook Air, follow the steps below to ensure that all of your information is backed up and the reset is done properly.

Backing Up Your Data with Time Machine

Apple makes it really easy to back up your data on your MacBook Air. Time Machine and an external hard drive will allow you to back up all of your documents, applications, and other important information.

If you don’t have a dedicated external hard drive, it’s a great time to pick one up. Apple offers the AirPort Time Capsule, built specifically for Time Machine backups.

Alternatively, there are plenty of 1 and 2 terabyte drives on Amazon under $100, and if you’re looking for a recommendation, check out the Western Digital MyPassport drive or the Seagate Backup Plus drive, which are designed to work with macOS directly out of the box.

  1. Plug your external drive into your computer and open the Time Machine application on your Mac (this is accessible either through Launchpad or in System Preferences).
  2. Click on Select Backup Disk and choose your external hard drive.
  3. Select Use Disk; this will save your hard drive as a time machine backup drive.
  4. Choose Back Up Now from your Time Machine menu.
  5. If you want to control what is and isn’t being backed up, hit the Options button inside System Preferences in the Time Machine menu (If this is your first time doing a Time Machine backup, it may take a while).

Once you’ve finished your backup, make sure to safely eject your drive from your MacBook Air before unplugging the drive.

To properly eject your external hard drive: Open Finder and tap on the name of the device. Click on the Eject icon (an arrow with a line underneath). If your MacBook won’t allow you to perform this task, it’s likely the backup isn’t complete, or another application is still using your external hard drive.

Factory Resetting Your MacBook Air

Once you’ve backed up your user data to either Time Machine or the backup application of your choice, it’s time to factory reset your MacBook Air. This process can help you solve most sorts of bugs and problems with your MacBook, including issues with slowdowns and frozen applications.

A reset will generally increase the speed of your machine back to what it was when you first got your machine in its original state. A factory reset’s also a necessary process if you’re looking to sell your MacBook Air in order to remove any and all user data left on the computer.

MacOS has a built-in recovery disk utility to help you erase and reinstall the operating system, which you can redownload from inside the boot display on your Mac.

Alternatively, you can also choose to download macOS Mojave from the Mac App Store on your device, creating a bootable USB drive from the download file. You can find instructions for that here. But for now, we’ll be looking at how to reset your MacBook Air from the boot screen on your device. Please note that this does require an active internet connection.

  1. Hit the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your MacBook’s display.
    Screen Shot 2020 09 25 at 8 34 21 PM
  2. Choose Restart from the drop-down menu and be ready to press some keys on your keyboard.
    Screen Shot 2020 09 25 at 8 34 32 PM
  3. When the Apple logo reappears on your MacBook Air’s display, press and hold down Command + R on your keyboard. Don’t let go until you see the macOS Utilities window appear on your display.
    • If you want to reinstall macOS over your current file system, click Reinstall macOS.
  4. To factory reset your device, however, click Disk Utility at the bottom of the list.
  5. Once Disk Utility has opened, Locate and select your MacBook Air’s Startup Disk on the left-hand side. For most users, this is the main and only disk listed.
  6. Click the Erase button inside Disk Utility.
  7. Select the Format pop-up window and choose Mac OS Extended.
  8. Give your reformatted disk a name and click Erase to confirm your erasure.

You’ll now see a display begin to erase your MacBook Air’s drive and data. When this process is complete, your disk is successfully wiped—but you aren’t done yet.

Your computer no longer has an installed operating system on it, meaning no matter whether you’re selling your laptop or simply reformatting the drive to improve the speed or performance of your computer, you’ll still have to reinstall your operating system.

Reinstalling macOS On Your MacBook Air

  1. With your newly-reset MacBook Air, start by quitting out of Disk Utility by selecting Disk Utility, then Quit.
  2. Select Reinstall macOS from the list of macOS Utilities and follow the prompts to reinstall the newest version of macOS
  3. When it asks you to choose the disk you want to install, select (as most MacBook Airs have only one storage drive built into their systems unless you’ve personally added another) the default drive.
  4. When you click Install, you may be asked to allow some permissions, after which your computer will begin to download macOS. This download will take some time, especially if you’re on a slower internet connection. Be patient while the reinstall is completed. This may take a few hours, so be sure to allow yourself time to reboot the system and get back to work.
  5. When macOS has finished downloading, you may need to start the installation manually by accepting the installation on your computer. Once the laptop has finished installing your operating system, it should automatically restart and boot into the macOS Welcome screen, prompting you to start a new account on the system and set up your system.

If you’re planning on selling your laptop, you can more or less power off the device here; your MacBook Air has been returned to its factory state and is safe to be shipped off to another user. This also prevents the purchaser from accessing any of your personal or private information.

Restoring a Time Machine Backup

When you’ve finished setting up your reformatted Mac, you’ll need to restore the files you saved onto your external hard drive using a Time Machine backup. Time Machine makes it easy to restore from any of the saved backups on your device, and this includes performing this action on newly-formatted computers. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Start by opening up Time Machine, either from your dock or, if you’ve removed the shortcut from your dock, by clicking the Apple icon in the menu bar on the top of your display, selecting System Preferences, and selecting Time Machine.
  2. With your external hard drive plugged into your MacBook Air, you can use Time Machine to browse through your files to find what you want to restore. The timeline on the right side of your MacBook’s display will show the date and time of each backup, allowing you to slide through the list and find the correct or most recent backup to restore from.

As you select the file or files, you can hit the restore button to restore them back to your device. To preview a file, select a specific file and tap on the spacebar key on your keyboard.


Alternatively, if you want to restore everything from your Time Machine backup, you can use the same macOS recovery display we used earlier in this guide to format and reinstall macOS.

  1. Simply hit Restart on your device in the Apple logo, wait for your machine to power back on, and hold Command + R on your keyboard when the Apple icon appears on your display.
  2. When you’re back in the macOS Utilities display, select Restore from Disk Utility, and follow the instructions on the screen to restore your backed-up apps and files to your computer.

Errors When Restoring

While this isn’t something you’ll want to do regularly, it is rather surprising how a simple reinstall can make your aging Mac feel brand new again. To keep your MacBook Air running smoothly, perform this reset every couple of years.

If you run into any issues with restoral, contact Apple Support. Some users have reported a No Bag Entry error when trying to restore older software. If this happens, your MacBook Air is having trouble connecting to the App Store and therefore is unable to reinstall macOS.

You’ll want to make sure that your MacBook Air is connected to a strong wifi source. Users have reported that public wifi will not allow their MacBook to perform the restoration.

Factory Resets

Whether you’re looking to restore your device’s former functionality, trading in MacBook for a new one, or selling an old laptop, you now know how to factory reset your MacBook Air.

Share your thoughts and experiences on factory resetting MacBooks below.


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