How to Reset Macbook Pro without Losing Data (a Step-by-Step Guide)

factory reset mac without losing data

After a few years of enjoying your MacBook, you’re eventually going to have to reset it. Maybe you’re encountering slowdowns or some apps are not installing properly. A reset returns it to factory settings, essentially to the state it was when you first bought it.

Resetting a MacBook is easy, but can be intimidating for users who’ve never experienced resetting or reformatting a computer before – especially if there’s important data on your device. We provided an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide so you can confidently reset your Mac without losing data.

Step 1Backup Your Mac with Time Machine
Step 2Reset Your Mac
Step 3Restore Data From the Backup

Why You May Need to Reset MacBook to Factory Settings

Apple made it easy to factory reset MacBooks for a reason – normal usage will eventually force you to perform a factory reset. Here are a few good reasons why:

🐌 Improve Performance
You might be experiencing slowdowns or freezing whenever you use your Mac – this isn’t normal, and you don’t have to tolerate it. There could be too much clutter in the filesystem causing conflicts, or you might even have installed unwanted apps and forgot about it.

With older machines, you might find that some apps aren’t running properly, and some don’t even run at all. A factory reset reinstalls the OS, ensuring that the file system is fully optimized to run programs correctly. It also allows you to perform a clean update, so you won’t encounter any software-related problems until the next time you need to reset.

🧹 Clean
If you have any viruses (unlikely, but possible), a factory reset will 99% of the time solve your problem. It completely erases your hard disk, getting rid of any harmful and unoptimized software.

How to Reset Mac Without Losing Data

Resetting a MacBook Pro to factory settings is a straightforward process. However, it’s always better to be precise when important data is involved. Follow these steps restore to factory settings without losing data:

Step 1. Backup Your Mac With Time Machine or Other Backup Solutions.

A factory reset completely erases your hard disk. If you care about the data on your Mac, you need to perform a backup so you can restore it later.

  1. Plug in a separate storage device. If you backup your data to your MacBook, the factory reset will delete it.
  2. Open Time Machine by clicking the Apple symbol on the top left corner of your screen and select System Preferences.
    Apple menu with an outline highlighting the System Preferences option
  3. From the System Preferences window, select Time Machine.
    system preferences window with an outline highlighting the time machine app
  4. Click “Select Backup Disk…”
    Mac time machine initial window with an outline highlighting the select backup disk option
  5. On the popup that appears, select your external storage device, and click “Use Disk.”
    time machine backup disk selection window
  6. Sign out of all your active apps and unplug your external storage device to prepare for the next step.

Step 2. Reset Your Mac

Once you’ve backed up your data, you can safely proceed with the resetting process. It’s easy – just follow these steps so you don’t get lost along the way.

  1. Open your Apple menu > System Preferences.
  2. On the top left corner of your screen beside the Apple menu, click System Preferences > Erase All Content and Settings…
    apple menu bar system preferences dropdown with an outline highlighting the erase all content and settings option
  3. If prompted, enter your password.
  4. On the Erase All Content & Settings window, note everything that will be erased and click the “Continue” button at the bottom right corner.
    erase all content and settings initialization window with an outline highlighting the continue button
  5. Once you click continue, all your apps will close automatically. You’ll be asked to sign out of your iCloud account to proceed.

Step 3. Restore Data From the Backup

Once the reset is complete, you’ll go through a familiar setup process – essentially, how you setup your Mac when you first took it out of the box. Once you’re back on the desktop, you can proceed with restoring your data using an app called Migration Assistant.

  1. Plug in the external storage device where you stored your media.
  2. Open Finder by clicking its icon on your dock.
    Finder icon
  3. Navigate to the Applications folder > Utilities > Migration Assistant app.
    Applications window with a pointer towards the Migration Assistant application icon
  4. Close all your open applications, then click “Continue” on the initial Migration Assistant window.
    Initial Migration Assistant window showing a pointer towards the Continue button
  5. At this point, it’s a straightforward process. Select your Time Machine backup and click “Continue.”
  6. Choose the information you want to transfer – such as user accounts, applications, folders, system settings, etc. – then click Continue.
  7. Simply wait until the process is complete. It can take a few minutes to a few hours, depending on how much data is being transferred.

What to Do if You Lost Data After Factory Resetting

Technology is not always 100% predictable – and as humans, we are even less so. If something went wrong during the backup and reset and you find that your data is missing, you can recover data from your MacBook Pro by yourself with special tools. For this article, we’ll be using the Disk Drill app.

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill.

Step 2. Launch Disk Drill by opening Finder > Applications > Disk Drill app.
Applications window with a pointer towards the Disk Drill application iconStep 3. Select the drive that originally stored your data. Leave all settings to default, then click “Search for lost data.”
Storage devices window showing a list of available drives and a pointer towards the selected drive and option to search for lost dataStep 4. Wait for the scanning process to complete, then click “Review found items.”
A window showing complete recovery and a pointer towards the Review found items buttonStep 5. Browse the files that Disk Drill managed to find by using the search bar, filtering by file type, or by simply scrolling through the results. You can also preview found files by hovering your mouse pointer beside the filenames and clicking the eye button that appears.
All files window showing a pointer towards the eye button beside the file nameStep 6. Select the files you want to recover by ticking the boxes on the left, then click “Recover.”
All files window showing a pointer towards a ticked box beside a file name and another towards the Recover buttonStep 7. On the popup that appears, choose the destination folder for the recovered files. If you’re worried about overwriting other lost data, save your data to an external storage device. But if you already found all the data you want to recover, you can save the files to your internal drive. Click “OK” to start the recovery process.
Disk drill folder destination popup

Disk Drill Basic does not offer free data recovery, but it does offer free unlimited file preview – this is extremely important for gauging if your data can be recovered using DIY software.

Is There Any Difference in the Process for MacBook Air

There is a difference in the process, especially if you’re using a device with an Intel-based chip instead of an Apple Silicon one (M1 and above). Luckily, it’s still very simple. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Plug in the external storage device where you saved your backup.

Step 2. Make sure your MacBook is turned off. Then press CMD + R, then press the power button to initialize macOS Utilities.

Step 3. Click “Restore from Time Machine Backup” and click “Continue.”

Step 4. Review the information presented on the window and click “Continue.”

Step 5. From the list, click your Time Machine backup and click “Continue.”

Step 6. Select your most recent backup and click “Continue.” That’s it!


To restore a MacBook Pro to factory settings is a simple process, especially when working with MacBooks that use the new Apple Silicon chip – but always remember to back up your data first, as any computer process will never be 100% predictable.

Alejandro Santos
Chief Writer
Alejandro is Macgasm’s Chief Writer and Apple ecosystem enthusiast. He pens the majority of troubleshooting guides and software reviews for this website, tapping into his love for technology and extensive background in technical writing. He started his career by helping… Full Bio