How to use the built-in Recovery Mode for macOS

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There are lots of reasons why you might want to boot into Apple’s Recovery Mode. Maybe you’re seeing the dreaded flashing question mark when you booted your Mac. Maybe you’re preparing to sell your old MacBook (say, to a certain company that will give you a good price for it. Wink, wink) and you want to wipe your drive. Maybe you need a fresh start after upgrading your SSD. Whatever your reason, we’ll show you the steps to to start the built-in Recovery Mode and explain all that it’s capable of.

Recovery Mode is a lot more than a simple way to restore your Mac to it’s factory state. It provides three separate options for recovery, allowing you quite a bit of flexibility in the event that you encounter a boot problem. The option you should choose depends on your situation.

  1. You can roll back to an earlier state using Time Machine.
  2. Reinstall OS X system files while preserving your personal files.
  3. Erase all contents of the internal storage and then install macOS with a clean slate.


First things first. If you can, backup any files that might be important to you. It is very likely that you will lose them in this process.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is turn your computer off.  There are different options, depending on why you want to enter recovery mode.  You can choose to simply restore the exact OS that is on your computer already, or install the latest available version.  Which option you choose is up to you but it will determine the first step for you.  Some older computers (2010-2011 MacBooks and iMacs) need to download an EFI update in order to use internet recovery.

The Steps

  1. Push the power button then hold down the appropriate keys to enter recovery.
  2. In order to get the Mac OS already on your system hold Command+R
  3. To use the update version hold Option+Command+R

When it boots you will see a screen that looks like this:

The macOS recovery boot menu

The next step in many cases is going to be to click on Disk Utility.  Here you will find options to repair your drive or erase it. If you are having problems with your hard drive trying to repair is definitely the first step.

  1. Choose the “Disk Utility” option from the startup window.
  2. Click on your hard drive, which will be displayed in the upper left corner.
  3. CLick on “First Aid” from the options on the top of the window.
  • Click “Run” and allow the Disk Utility to do its work.
  • It will let you know if there are errors and if they were fixed.

Now is the time to decide if you are erasing your disk or not. If you are selling the computer, you’ll want to erase the disk so that you can wipe your personal information before handing it off to someone else. If  you just had a problem booting into the OS and want to keep your files, but Disk Repair could not fix the problem, you may be forced to erase the disk. All data on the drive will be deleted, so hopefully you have a backup.

  1. Choose the Disk Utility from the startup window if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Click on your hard drive, which will be displayed in the upper left corner.
  3. Choose “Erase” from the options.

About The Author

Brite Cheney

I am an English major at CSU, Chico with a lifelong interest in computers and technology, and joy for writing about all things tech.

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