Want to get a fresh start with your Mac (as if you’ve just purchased a brand new Mac)? You definitely can! All you need to do is wipe your device clean and reinstall macOS. Performing a clean install on your Mac can also be helpful in case your device is running slow, has gathered a lot of data debris, or is behaving strangely.
But what do you need for a Mac clean install, and how to do it? This article covers everything that you need to know, as well as provides you with easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions on how to perform a clean install of macOS Monterey. So let’s get right to it.
What Is Clean Install: Clean vs. Upgrade Install
When a new macOS version arrives, you have two choices for installing it: either do a clean install or an upgrade install. The same applies to macOS Monterey. Since it is already available for everyone, you can easily install it whenever you want. But which install option to choose?
- Performing a clean install entails wiping your Mac clean and then reinstalling its operating system. By doing so, all of your documents, photos, apps, and other data located on your Mac prior to this will be gone, and your Mac will be restored to factory settings. After that, the new OS will get installed on a clean and reformatted drive, allowing you to enjoy your “utterly new Mac.”
Since doing a clean install involves deleting all of the data from your Mac, it is essential to make a fresh backup before moving further.
- Upgrade install means that you’ll be installing the new OS over your old one. Many people choose this option since it is much easier than a clean install. However, sometimes an upgrade install may cause glitches and make your Mac run slow. This is why it may be better to go the harder way but thus avoid such issues.
macOS Clean Install Types
When it comes to performing a clean install of macOS, you have two options: doing it on a non-startup drive or on your Mac’s startup drive:
- Non-startup drive: Performing a clean install on a non-startup drive is a bit easier compared to the other type since it doesn’t require you to create a macOS bootable USB drive. However, for this method, you’ll need an additional external drive (aside from your Mac’s startup drive). This method allows you to keep your older macOS version and, at the same time, try out the new one.
- Startup drive: If your Mac is having startup issues, running slow, or is behaving strangely, doing a clean install directly on your Mac’s startup drive can solve those issues. Also, this type of clean macOS install involves completely erasing your Mac and restoring it to factory settings. Therefore, it gives you the chance of a second fresh start with your device.
The first method is generally used with beta macOS versions since it allows you to try out the operating system without making any changes to the main startup drive.
What You Will Need and Is Your Computer Suitable
To install macOS Monterey on your Mac, you need to make sure that your device is compatible with this operating system version. Luckily, Apple made it clear which Mac models can run the new macOS.
Here’s a list of the Mac models that support macOS Monterey:
- iMac – late 2015 and later
- iMac Pro – 2017 and later
- Mac Pro – 2013 and later
- MacBook – 2016 and later
- MacBook Air – 2015 and later
- MacBook Pro – 2015 and later
- Mac Mini – 2014 and later
Also, to make it easier for you, here’s a list of Macs that are not compatible with macOS Monterey:
- MacBook – early 2015
- iMac – 2014 and early 2015
- MacBook Air – 2013 and early 2014
- MacBook Pro – 2013 and 2014
If you’re not sure which Mac model you have, it’s easy to find that out. Just open the Apple menu in the top-left corner of your screen and click About this Mac. Under the Overview tab, you’ll see your Mac’s type and year.
Now that you’ve figured out whether your Mac is compatible with the new operating system or not, it’s time to go through the things that you’ll need to make a clean install:
- 💻 Your Mac — it’s pretty obvious, but still.
- 📁 macOS Monterey installation file — just download the operating system without installing it right away.
- 💽 USB flash drive — you’ll need it to load the macOS Monterey install file and then use it to reinstall the operating system on your Mac (it should be at least 16GB).
- 💾 External drive — you’ll need it for your backup (make sure that it has enough space for all your files).
- 🌐 Internet connection — it is necessary for downloading the macOS installation file.
Steps to Clean Install macOS 12 Monterey
Now that you’ve figured out whether your Mac is compatible with the new operating system, you’re ready to move forward. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to do a clean install of macOS.
Step #1: Back Up Your Mac
When it comes to backing up your Mac, there are two options that you can choose from: using Time Machine or a third-party app. Even though Time Machine is a great app, it lacks some backup features and takes more time to create a backup.
So it is best to go with a third-party app that contains all of the features needed for an effective backup strategy. There are many apps on the market that can help you back up your Mac. However, after testing a few of the most efficient ones out there, we’ve figured that Disk Drill is best for this job.
The biggest advantage of Disk Drill is that it not just backs up your Mac but creates a byte-to-byte disk image out of your hard drive. In other words, this app clones your Mac and fits all of the data (and even files that can potentially contain deleted data) from your device into a DMG. This way, you’ll be able to preserve all of your files even after you’ve completed the clean macOS installation and use the app to recover any missing data.
You can read about byte-to-byte backups and many other features Disk Drill has to offer in this full review.
Now that you’ve installed the app, follow these steps to back up your Mac with Disk Drill:
- Plug in the external drive that you wish to use for the backup.
- Head to Launchpad and click Disk Drill to launch the app.
- From the left-side menu, choose Byte-to-byte Backup. Then click OK, let’s do it (if it’s your first time using this feature) to move forward.
- Choose the name of your drive.
- Click Continue on the bottom right of the app’s screen. And then click Create backup.
- Type in a name for your backup and choose where you want to store it (make sure that you have enough space on the destination drive). Click Save whenever ready.
Once the backup is finished, you’ll get a popup window saying, “Disk image created!“. Click Done, and eject your external drive whenever ready.
Step #2: Get macOS Monterey
Starting October 25, 2021, macOS Monterey became available to the general public. Therefore, if you want to keep your Mac up-to-date and perform a clean install, you should get the macOS Monterey installation file.
You can easily download macOS Monterey from the App Store. To do it, just click here, and you’ll get redirected to the download page. Then do the following:
- Once the App Store app opens, click Get to start the download.
- A popup window will appear asking you whether you’re sure that you want to download macOS Monterey; click Download to confirm.
- A new window will appear as soon as the file is downloaded, allowing you to install macOS Monterey right away. DO NOT click Continue, but instead quit the installation window. To do it, click with two fingers on the Install macOS Monterey app on the Dock and then click Quit (or press Command + Q).
- A popup will appear asking you whether you’re sure that you wish to quit the application. Click Quit to confirm.
You’ll be able to find the macOS Monterey installation file in your Applications folder.
How to Get an Install File for an Older Version of macOS
If you want to clean install your Mac but use an older version of macOS, you can definitely do so. All of these macOS versions can also be downloaded via App Store. Just click the needed macOS version, and follow the same instructions as in the case of macOS Monterey.
Click on the needed macOS version to download the installation file:
Step #3: Create a Bootable Drive
The next step that you should take is to prepare a bootable macOS drive. Here you have two options: use a third-party app or Terminal.
It is completely up to you to choose which method to use. However, it should be mentioned that using the right third-party app for this job makes creating the bootable drive much easier and quicker, and therefore can save you a lot of nerves.
To create a bootable drive, you’ll need the previously downloaded macOS installer and an external drive of some kind (or a USB flash drive). Keep in mind that you need to format your external drive before loading the macOS installation file onto it.
Make sure that your external drive doesn’t contain any valuable files since after you format it, everything will get erased.
Follow these steps to format your external drive (or USB flash drive):
- Plug in the external drive into your Mac.
- Open Launchpad from the Dock and click Disk Utility.
- Look for the name of your external drive on the sidebar. Click it.
- Click Erase, type in a preferred name for your drive, and choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format for the drive and GUID Partition Map from the Scheme options. Click Erase once again to confirm.
Now that you’ve prepared your external drive, you’re all set to move on to the next step—creating the macOS bootable drive.
Option A: Disk Drill’s macOS Installer
One of the best third-party apps for this job is Disk Drill. All that you’ll need to do to create a bootable macOS drive is make a few clicks and wait a few minutes while the app does all the work for you.
So, here’s how to create a bootable drive via Disk Drill:
- Open Launchpad from Dock on your Mac and click Disk Drill to launch the app.
- Choose macOS Installer from the app’s left-side menu.
- In the next column, you’ll see a list containing all of the downloaded macOS installation files. Click Install macOS Monterey to select it.
- In the Choose destination column, click on the external drive you wish to use to create the bootable installer.
- Double-check if you chose everything correctly, and whenever ready, click Create macOS Installer.
- When a popup window appears, click Yes to confirm that you’re aware of the fact that all of the data from the destination disk will be erased.
That’s it! Once the app is finished, you’ll see a popup saying, “macOS installer created!“. Click Done, eject the drive, and you are ready to move on to the next step.
Option B: Manually
If you don’t want to download a third-party app, you can create a macOS bootable installer manually via Terminal. But if compare this method with the previous one, this one is a bit more complicated since it entails using createinstallmedia commands.
So, if you are more comfortable using Terminal for this job, check out this article on how to make a macOS bootable USB directly on your Mac.
Step #4: Wipe Your Mac
To be able to clean install macOS, it is essential to wipe your Mac, or in other words, reset it to factory settings.
But before you do this, make sure that you’ve made a backup of your Mac (we covered this in step 1 of this article). It is also important to emphasize the fact that after you wipe your Mac clean, it’s impossible to go back. That’s why you need a backup version of your Mac so that you’ll be able to access any of your files even after the reset.
Now that you’re ready, let’s wipe your Mac clean.
If you’re using an Intel-based Mac, here’s what you should do to reset it to factory settings:
- Boot your Mac into Recovery Mode. Turn off your Mac, press the power button to turn it back on, and immediately after that, press and hold Command + R keys until the Apple logo appears.
- When the Recovery Mode menu appears, click Disk Utility.
- From the sidebar, choose the name of your startup disk (if you’ve never renamed it, the chances are it’s still listed as Macintosh HD) and click Erase.
- Type in a new name for your system volume and select APFS as the system’s format.
- Click Erase Volume Group or Erase and let your Mac do the rest.
- Once it is done, quit Disk Utility.
Macs With an M1 Chip
If you’re trying to wipe clean an M1-based Mac, follow these steps:
- Boot your Mac into Recovery Mode. Turn off your Mac, then turn it back on by pressing and holding the power button until you see the Startup Options window, then click Options and Continue.
- Click Disk Utility on the Utilities window.
- Choose the name of your startup disk in the sidebar (it’s usually listed as Macintosh HD).
- Click Erase.
- Choose the format for your startup disk (APFS) and type in a name for it.
- Click Erase Volume Group.
- Once the process is finished, quit Disk Utility.
Step #5: Reinstall macOS
There is one more thing that you should do before reinstalling macOS, which is changing your Mac’s security settings. If you don’t do this, your Mac won’t let you boot from your external drive.
So, first, boot your Mac into Recovery Mode. For M1-based Macs, press and hold the power button until the Startup Options screen appears. With all other Macs, press the power button to turn on your Mac and hold down Command + R until you see the Apple logo.
Then, depending on the type of your Mac, do the following:
- For M1-based Macs — click Options > Continue. Then from the top menu bar, head to Utilities > Startup Security Utility. Choose your system drive and click Security Policy. From all of the options, click Reduced Security and then OK to confirm.
- For Macs with T2-powered chips — click Utilities > Startup Security Utility. Then click Enter macOS password and type it in. From the available options, click Medium Security and Allow booting from external or removable media.
- For Macs without a security chip — click User Account and type in your password when prompted. Then click Utilities > Startup Security Utility. Click Turn Off Firmware Password.
Now you are finally ready to move on to the final step of the clean install macOS process. Here’s what you should do to clean install macOS Monterey on your Mac:
- Turn off your Mac.
- Plug in the USB flash drive containing the macOS installation file into your Mac.
- Press the power button to turn your Mac back on, and while it’s booting up, press and hold the Option/Alt key (for Intel-based Macs), or hold the power button until you see options (for M1-based Macs).
- A Startup Manager screen should appear. Click Install macOS Monterey (or click the drive containing the name of whatever macOS version you’re installing). Click Continue to confirm.
- After this, macOS Recovery window should open. Click Install macOS and then Continue to start the installation process. Follow the on-screen instructions to set up your Mac.
That’s it! Enjoy your squeaky clean and upgraded Mac.
Now that macOS Monterey is out, there’s nothing stopping you from using the new operating system for performing a clean install of your Mac. It is an excellent way to both keep your Mac up-to-date and declutter it from unnecessary apps and files. And by doing a backup of the data stored on your device before that, you’ll be able to access all of your files from your Mac whenever you want (even after the clean install).
Romana is a freelance content writer driven by a strong passion for everything tech. Since her childhood, she has been striving to keep up with the constantly emerging technology trends and learning how to make the most of them. Most of all, she enjoys writing about Mac, data recovery, and cybersecurity.
Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team.