Sometimes it’s a good idea to do a clean install of a new Mac operating system version. What’s a clean install? That means that the hard drive is erased completely and reformatted, which removes not only the current Mac operating system but all data, files, applications, you name it… Just think of it as a brand new computer having the operating system installed on it for the first time. In this post, we’ll describe how to do a clean install of macOS 10.13 High Sierra.
Reasons to Perform a Clean Install
Before we get started, make a decision as to whether you want to do a regular update or a clean install, because a regular update is much easier to perform than a clean install.
The idea behind a clean install is to start with a completely bare machine, getting rid of any old data, files, preferences, settings, old drivers, apps you no longer use, and so on. In many cases, a clean install can improve the performance of a sluggish Mac. Clean installs are also useful if a software or system software update has somehow trashed your existing operating system or if you have replaced a hard drive.
Be sure you have plenty of time available to complete the complete install, as it can sometimes take as much as a day to go through all the steps.
Step 1: Backup Your Mac
As noted, we’re going to completely erase everything on the Mac. Make sure that you have access to all installation media for your apps (developer websites, Mac App Store, DVD or CD), and it’s a good idea to make a Note of all apps that you wish to re-install. In addition, be sure that you know all of your online account passwords and logins — for this, a password manager like 1Password can be very useful.
It’s very useful to also have copies of all of your license information for Mac apps, since those that require a license or activation will need to be set up after your clean install.
Now, what kind of backup to you want to do? A Time Machine backup of your entire system is quite acceptable, or you can use an app like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! to create a bootable clone of your Mac.
For those really important files, such as important documents, photos, videos, and so on, you may want to make a separate backup onto other media or to a cloud service like iCloud Drive or Dropbox.
Do NOT go further without making a backup. Remember, your Mac will be completely erased and if you have not copied your information to another location, you will lose it.
Step 2: Create a Bootable macOS High Sierra Installer
You can create a bootable macOS High Sierra install disk by knowing just what Terminal commands to use. However, there’s an easy way to do this step, and that’s to use DiskMaker X 7. We just published a step-by-step process for creating your bootable macOS High Sierra installer using this free application, so take time to read the process and to make your installer disk
When you’re done with steps 1 and 2, you can proceed to the scary part — erasing and reformatting your Mac’s boot drive.
Step 3: Erase and Reformat the Mac’s Boot Drive
Make sure that the bootable macOS High Sierra installer you just created is connected to your Mac, whether it’s a USB flash drive or an external hard disk. Reboot your Mac, and hold down the Option/Alt key on the keyboard until the macOS Startup Manager Screen appears. It looks something like this:
While the image above shows the Mac’s boot drive “Macintosh HD” as selected for boot, we do not want to use that drive; instead, use the arrow keys or your trackpad to point the cursor at “Install macOS High Sierra”, then press Return.
The Mac boots off of the High Sierra installer into the macOS Utilities screen (image below is from a photograph of an actual Mac display):
Click Continue to proceed to Disk Utility. Once Disk Utility is on your screen, select your boot drive (it’s usually named Macintosh HD, as in the screenshot below) and then click the Erase button in the menu bar.
When promoted, select “Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as the format type, with GUID Partition Map as the scheme. Note that if your Mac can be converted to the new APFS file system, it will happen during the macOS High Sierra installation. At this point, it’s perfectly fine to use the “old” format defaults.
Once you’ve selected the format type and scheme, click the Erase button. Remember, this erases everything on the Mac, so if you ignored the repeated reminders earlier to have complete backups of your Mac, you’re going to lose everything.
As soon as the drive formatting is completed, quit out of Disk Utility. You will be returned to the macOS Utilities screen.
Step 4: Install macOS High Sierra
The second item from the top of the macOS Utilities screen is “Install macOS”. Select this item by clicking on it, then click on Continue. In the installer screen, select “Macintosh HD” (or whatever your boot drive is actually named) as the disk for macOS High Sierra to be installed on.
The installation of macOS High Sierra will take a while, and when it’s completed the Mac reboots and goes through the setup procedure that is familiar to anyone who has owned a new Mac. You’re asked to enter your Apple ID, create a user account, and setup iCloud. At this point, you have a clean version of macOS High Sierra on your Mac.
Step 5: Restore Data, Files and Apps
This step is probably the most time-consuming one in the entire clean install process. Copy your document files to the newly-cleaned Mac from an external drive or cloud service — note that if you have chosen to save all of your documents in your iCloud Drive, there’s no need to perform this step.
App reinstalls are done quickly from the Mac App Store, and installers for other apps can be downloaded from the developers.
You may need to set up your email accounts again, particularly for accounts that are on servers that aren’t associated with Apple or Google. If you use a cloud backup service like Backblaze, be sure to set up the Mac client again so that you can begin your backups as soon as possible.
That’s it! You now have a squeaky clean installation of macOS High Sierra on your Mac. You may find, as I did when I installed macOS High Sierra on my iMac using this process, that you suddenly have a lot more space available on your computer and that it runs a bit more smoothly. Let us know how your clean install went by leaving a note in the comments section below.