Reformat Macbook Pro to make brand new again

Update! I have updated this tutorial to include MacOS Sierra which is a free download from Apple for all Mac users.

I’ve owned many Macs. And thanks to my endless knack for figuring things out on my own, I’ve clogged up the majority of them with useless software, damaging commands, adware, duplicate files and just about anything else you can add to a hard drive to slow it to a crawwwwl.

If you want to reformat Macbook Pro and get it back to what it was like right off the shelf, you’ve come to the right place. I just applied this process a few days ago and my laptop is running like I just opened the box from Apple. This step-by-step guide will help you preserve what’s currently on the drive (for safety sake), wipe it completely clean, reinstall OS X Yosemite (or Mavericks) and make it run like the champion it should be.

This post serves as the table of the contents of this series: Reformat Macbook Pro to make brand new. You can always refer back to this table of contents for each step.

  1. What you need to reformat Macbook Pro (this post)
  2. Back up your Macbook hard drive with Time Machine
    1. Create an OS X Mavericks boot drive
    2. Create an OS X Yosemite boot drive
    3. Create a MacOS Sierra boot drive
  3. Erase Macbook Pro hard drive securely
    1. Reinstall OS X Mavericks with boot drive
    2. Reinstall OS X Yosemite with boot drive
    3. Reinstall MacOS Sierra with your boot drive

Are you ready? Grab the coffee. It’s go-time.

What you need to reformat Macbook Pro

Disclaimer: Just be careful. Make a backup and you can rest-assured if you blow anything up you have your files. Don’t force it. I’ll make this as easily to understand as I can.

So here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A Macbook Pro (Duh.)
  2. Make sure your Mac has the juice to handle Mavericks (H/T to Neil Gee for this breakdown if you’re unsure)
  3. Time Machine (included on all Macs)
  4. An external hard drive (300GB or more) with power cord and Firewire cord (or USB, Thunderbolt, etc.)
  5. An 8GB flash/thumb drive
  6. A cup of coffee (or beer, water, what have you).
  7. About 4 hours of your life

Once you’ve gathered up these things, or borrowed them from a friend, coworker or man on the street, then you’re set. Keep in mind, this tutorial works for any Mac per se, it’s not just a guide for Macbook Pro since the rules are generally the same. But for the sake of simpicity, and for the sake that I desperately needed to clean up my Macbook Pro, that’s why we’re focusing on it.

Collect the following items and you’re ready for success:

Some final added notes before we begin…

WARNING: A part of the following process will not work with Snow Leopard. It works only in Lion, 
Mountain Lion, or Mavericks. If you need to create a Mavericks install drive while booted into 
Snow Leopard, you should use Disk Utility instructions found here.

Thanks, MacWorld…here’s a hat tip.

Okay. I think we’re ready. Click on this link to start in by backing up your data with Time Machine. It’s time to make your Macbook Pro brand new again. That new computer smell? I can’t help you with that. But we will make it sing like the birdies. See you on the other side.

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About the author

Josh Benson


  • Starting this process. FYI: you need more than 4 hours. The time machine backup alone took six. 😉 I’m also surprised that you don’t suggest we have all our systems and software disks handy… (but I haven’t gotten there yet).

    • What software disk, there is no such for the Mac. Or at least, I did not receive one with my iMac or my Mac book Pro.

      • Thinking she has an older Mac. Apple shipped disks until Lion (I think 2011 maybe?). Snow Leopard (10.6) was the last OS that shipped with a Mac on a disk. I’m not sure, but I do not think that you could even buy a Lion (10.7) disk. Someone please correct me if the is not right.

  • Jillaine: It took me about 4. But that’s why you have plenty of coffee or booze on hand. Different times for different situations. You must have a lot of data. (:

  • Thanks a lot for this Josh. Really well explained, and the process worked perfectly first time. A Macbook I thought was decrepit beyond redemption is now skipping around my desk like a foal, full of the joys of declutteredness. Cheers!

    • Thanks, Dylan. Appreciate the feedback. Perhaps the step isn’t needed anymore. So I will confirm and add that as a side note. But that’s great to know. Glad it all worked out!

  • Hi Josh, You may have been asked before and sorry if you have. I did this on My macbook and it worked great, thank you. I also want to do my iMac would this be the same instructions?

  • Hi Josh, I just bought this from my cousin, so I don’t want any of his old files, so do I still need an external hard drive for the factory reset?

  • Josh ~ this was an excellent tutorial. It gave me the confidence to go at it myself. Still, I don’t recommend this for the faint of heart or technophobes.
    All worked well for me. I must have a ton of data (200+Gb) because the entire process took me no less than 12 hrs; this includes reinstalling the data from Time Machine. Admittedly, I now learned that I wasted another 12+ hrs performing specific backup of my data and also exporting all of my email only to learn afterward that I didn’t need to – Time Machine had it all backed already! I didn’t trust Time Machine. I also backed my data to a different external 1TB hard drive connected directly to my Mac. Since I was gambling with ALL OF MY DATA I don’t regret the lost time. Anyway, I use a WD My Cloud (3TB) as my Time Machine. I have a 2009 MacBookPro. All is connected via my wireless network (Apple Airport). Maybe the wireless aspect slowed the restore process down?
    All appears to be working properly now. I didn’t have to pay Apple or somebody else. Now I have the confidence and know how to do this myself again.
    Thank you Josh.

  • Hi Josh, do I really have to do use a pen to make a boot drive? Can’t I use an HDD? Thank you.

  • Hi Josh,

    Trying to reformat my MacBook. Followed instructions, including making a boot USB. Started this around 8 this morning, running for almost 4 hours. How long should it take to install the new Yosemite OS?

  • Just bought a MacBookPro(mid 2010) from eBay. The previous owner failed to wipe his stuff off the drive, or whatever its called in Mac. First time for me for MacBookPro or any Apple thing. I’m not saving anything I don’t need for me, which should be almost everything on the unit. I’d like to clean it up to start over, like it was new. Input all my info, etc. Do I need the external hard drive, the usb thumb drive, how do I know if I have the juice to handle Mavericks(?) and Time Machine. This machine came with nothing in the way of manual or discs. Appreciate your input. Some stuff seems to be password protected with no way to contact the original owner. Problem?

  • You don’t need to reformat your Mac to make it run like new again. Don’t panic if your Mac starts going slow sometimes. It’s 100% annoying 100% of the time, but it can be easily fixed. There’s free software available on that will make it run like new again and maintain it 🙂 It’s the same software the Apple store employees use when a customer comes in complaining about a slow Mac. How do I know this? Because I was one of those customers lol. Best of luck to you!

  • Hi. I did not use the time machine because there really wasnt anything to save – or so I thought. Which apparently wasnt too much BECAUSE after is did a command R – waited, then restarted, and the applet popped up giving me the choice to select the os. I select it – and…. ta da….. it says I can’t use it- not enough memory on the hard drive. Its hard wired into the internet, Safari shows up. I am totally lost.

  • Hi,
    I am about ready to wipe my MACBOOK PRO disk clean. I bought the computer in 2011 and as requested, have upgraded the IOS many times . My question is: once of reboot my ‘new’ disk, is there any problem upgrading to my current iOS which is El Capitan 10.11.6?

Josh Benson


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