How To: Reformat Mac OS X Without a Recovery Disc or Drive

Reformat Mac OS X Without a Recovery Disc or Drive

How to Reformat Mac OS X Without a Recovery Disc or Drive

As I've said before, slowing down is not an option for me. At one point, I realized that there were plenty of files on my Mac that I didn't need any more, but too many to delete individually. In other cases, your Mac can be experiencing some major malfunctions: constant crashing, locked controls, slow boot times, missing files, etc.

Often, the best option to fix these problems would be to reformat your computer and reinstall your OS, but since most of us don't plan on ever taking this drastic measure, we don't obtain a recovery disc or thumb drive.

Thankfully, the geniuses over at Apple have made the process easy for us—no need for a disc; no need for a drive—all you need is a decent internet connection. With just a few clicks of some buttons and your Mac is gonna be running like it did the day you got it. Best of all, this will work with Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, and El Capitan.

Step 1: Back Up Your Files!

Okay, so you may have a lot of files that you want to get rid of, but you definitely have some files you want to keep. In my case, I even have programs I want to keep so I don't have to re-download them after the process is over.

Use a writable CD/DVD, a USB drive, or any of the multitude of cloud options to keep your important files backed up. You could also create a Time Machine backup, but I wouldn't do a full restore later—just pick and choose things you want back after a fresh install—otherwise it could run just as sluggishly or erratic as it did before.

Step 2: Restart Your Computer

Once you've double-, triple-, and quadruple-checked your backups, restart your computer.

Step 3: Press CMD+R

The second you see a grey screen, hold the CMD and R keys down for about 15 seconds, then let go and you'll be taken to OS X Utilities recovery.

Step 4: Open Disk Utility

Double-click on Disk Utility and a menu will pop up.

Step 5: Wipe Your Hard Drive

Then proceed to highlight your computer's hard drive; select the Erase tab, make sure OS X Extended (Journaled) is selected, then hit the Erase button.

What Disk Utility looks like in Lion through Yosemite.

In El Capitan, Disk Utility looks slightly different, as you can see below.

What Disk Utility looks like in El Capitan.

In El Capitan, after you select the Erase tab, a pop up will appear with the details. Keep the default settings and select Erase.

The option to Erase popup in El Capitan.

Once erased, exit Disk Utility.

Step 6: Reinstall OS X

Click the Reinstall OS X option in the menu and proceed to follow the directions. You will need to be connected to the Internet, so make sure you're plugged in via Ethernet, or are connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Voilà! You Have a Fresh Install of OS X

You should now have a fresh copy of Mac OS X installed, and your computer is back to its factory settings. All without the need for a recovery disc or thumb drive. If you want to play it safe and create a bootable install drive for Mac OS X, you can do so using our guides here for Lion/Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, and El Capitan.

Cover image via Shutterstock

32 Comments

Thank you, a friend asked me to get a new install OS X and this seems easy, but just one question. in the last step, do we require some sort of key or login to identify that you own the mac? or it auto copies the information from the previous installment?

It's downloading a fresh copy from Apple's servers. Apple OS's are now free, so they're not too concerned about verifying.

Thank you for the steps, i was wondering, we need to be connected to the internet as it will download the osx again? I'm currently running the new Yosemite.

thank you

When erasing the harddrive, which format is ideal?

Thanks!

hi do this need to download os x ? (for the reinstall)

Ugh how frustrating...I backed up my files and was already to go and restarted twice and could not get this menu to come up....Is this not possible on Snow Leopard?

This only works for Lion and higher. For Snow Leopard, you need the installation DVD to do this (more info here).

If my computer originally came with Snow Leopard but has since been upgraded to Mavericks, will I be able to do the factory reset back to Mavericks? Or will it revert all the way back to Snow Leopard, requiring the discs?

Yes, it should work just fine. The only reason Snow Leopard needs the DVD is because the Recovery is not built-in. Lion through El Capitan has the Recovery built-in, and it will reinstall OS X using whatever current version you are on. If not, you might need to download the firmware to use the Internet Recovery version, but this installs whatever was originally on the computer, so you'd have to update your OS again from the Mac App Store.

I am trying to reimage a MacBook Pro Lion OSX.

Everything works fine up until the last step after entering my ID and Password... then it looks like it is going to reload but then responds "This Item is temporarily unavailable. Try again later."

I have tried for 4 days now. Could there be a problem with the Apple servers or what?

My hard drive crashed on my Imac took it to computer repair they installed new hard drive, tried to recover data but could not, when we presented the imac to the apple store they told me i would have to buy back my old hd from them um hello no way, so thats why we went to another place that works on macs, so apple said i had lion on the mac, i couldnt remeber but now i remember i had leopard, the computer place installed lion, well now I cannot get any of my programs installed from the dics i have, like my photo software, etc, any cd i put in stays in for a minute then pops back out

any help on this?

I have tried to do step 3 to get to the OS-X utilities screen. I cannot do it.

I turn on the computer, hold the command and r keys for 15 sec. and release, the computer keeps on with the regular reboot and does not go to the utilities scree.

Help needed.

I got screwed over when I clicked on Reinstall OS X. Oh the joy of reading Service currently not available when it tries to download Mavericks online and all the while having only windows computer working.

Opss almost forgot! Not even the dvd drive is working for the iMac. Happy days indeed.

My late 2006 Mac Pro would not boot this AM. Would not let me reinstall OS X. Would any think it is more than a bad internal drive 1 ?

I pulled the drive 1 out, checked all the pins and reinstalled into its slot firmly. It goes to grey screen and first tone ...and stays there.

Could it be worst than a bad drive ?

Help! There is not the "Reinstall the OS X" in my computer. Why not? Now what can I do? Please help me. I really need my computer for work.

Also, I don't have a MAC keyboard. I have a Window that works with MAC. Please help me.

If you have a Windows keyboard, to use "Command R," you should try using Windows R. If that doesn't work, try using just Alt (which is Option on Macs) to access your Recovery HD. Boot up that drive and you should see the Mac OS X Utilities screen.

PLEASE HELP!!

Hi! Whenever I turn on my iMac, it would load up to the apple logo and shut down after a few seconds. This happened ever time i tried to turn it back on again. I had a bit of hope but nothing ever changed so I decided to erase my disk and was immediately promoted me to restart my computer. When I did, it brought me a a symbol of a folder with a question mark which flashed forever. I held the power button to turn it off and hit it to turn it on again while pressing command and R keys at the same time, it brings me a sign of a spinning globe that loads forever. When I restart it and immediately insert its installation DVD while pressing key C, it brings me the apple logo and stays like that for ages. This is freaking me out. I have read and tried so may solutions online but nothing has changed. Please help me with another way.

In summery, my computer has no files and I won't install a new OS.
Thank you.

hi this has just happened to me all i have is a folder with a ?
and it will not let me do anything at all did you manage to get yours sorted ? if so any ideas to help me please

If I am currently running a public beta of El Capitan, will this method still work and install the official release of El Capitan? Thanks!

There's a good chance that it will re-install the public beta version, since it was the most recent OS installed on your Mac. Apple suggests installing from the Mac App Store instead.

I have a Mac Mini, but not a Mac keyboard...

How do I press the 'command' key on a normal keyboard?

replaced the crashed HD in my MacBook Pro with a Seagate 1 TB. Now I need to format the new HD. Do I need a utility disk? I never created one on this Macbook Pro can I create a utility disk from a newer iMac?

You can create a bootable USB drive (here are instructions for Yosemite, El Capitan, or older systems) from your iMac, then boot into it on your MacBook Pro using the Option key. Select the disk from the menu, select your language, then choose Disk Utility from the Utility drop-down menu and proceed to reformat it to the right settings. Then you can go back and install the OS.

when i try to reinstall lion, it says it's remporaily unavailable

I erased everything from my Macbook 4,1 without backing it up so when I tried to reinstall the Mac OSX Lion but I'm getting this message (Item is not available. Try again later) can anyone help me how to recover all the apps without recovery disc and without back up?

HI. I'm using Macbook Air with OS X Yosemite. I am just wondering. If I reinstall the OS, will my Macbook start up again with OS X Yosemite? or will it back to the default OS (what I mean here is the OS from factory)?

Thank you.

It should reinstall whatever version you currently have.

Hey Adriel. So I'm having a slightly different issue. I've followed your steps, but every time I hit "erase," it brings up a notice saying: "Disk Erase failed with the error: Couldn't unmount disk."

I've attached a pic of the error. However, on the left one can clearly see the main "500.11 GB Toshiba MK5," and below it, the "Macintosh HD" option.

This error pops up ONLY when I try to erase the Toshiba drive. But it allowed me to erase the Macintosh HD option. Why is that? Has my drive been erased nonetheless? Or do I still need to do something else? Is all hope lost?

FYI: was running Mountain Lion. My original install discs are probably lost for good.

backed everything up and erased to send back for repair. Have received it back and clicked on 'reinstall Mac OSX Lion'. I'm now stuck on the pop up window which says "To download and restore Mac OS X, your computer's eliegiiilty will have to be verified with Apple. Loading Installation information... (scrolling)"

how long should I leave it at this screen?

It shouldn't be too long. If it's still not working, some users have found success by correcting the system time by opening Terminal from the Utilities in the Recovery partition, then type out the current date/time using the following format.

date mmddHHMMyy

Replace mmddHHMMyy with the month, day, hour, minute, and year (only two digits each), hit enter, then try and reinstall OS X again.

If that doesn't do the trick, there's another more complicated course of action you could try.

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