How To + Security & Privacy

How to Securely Dispose of Your Old Mac

Posted on October 21st, 2021 by

How to Securely Dispose an Old Mac

So it’s time to move on and end your relationship with your Mac. You had good times together; you’ll always have memories of the best moments you shared. But there’s a better Mac now, it may be faster, have a better display, or be lighter and more portable. While break-ups are always tough, it’s a good idea to make this one as smooth as possible.

Your Mac contains a lot of personal information, and is connected to a number of Apple accounts. When you plan to dispose of your Mac — whether you sell it, give it away, or send it for recycling — there several things you should do to make sure your data remain secure. There are also a few steps you need to take to remove that Mac from Apple’s accounts.

In this article, I discuss the 10 steps you should take before getting rid of a Mac.

New Erase All Content and Settings feature in macOS Monterey

The ten steps below are valid for any Mac, but with macOS Monterey, released in October 2021, there is a new, streamlined way to erase everything on your Mac. If you open System Preferences, then choose System Preferences > Erase All Content and Settings, the Erase Assistant in macOS Monterey will sign you out of your Apple ID and iCloud, remove your Touch ID fingerprints (if any), unpair any Bluetooth accessories, remove all items from your Mac’s Apple Wallet, and turn off Find My and the Activation Lock. Erase Assistant can perform these actions for all user accounts on your Mac.

This feature handles several of the steps I explain below, if you have a Mac with a T2 security chip, which includes most Macs since 2018. The Erase Assistant will also prompt you to make a Time Machine backup, so if you follow this procedure, you only need to perform a couple of the steps below.

Because of this, if you have a Mac that supports this feature, and you are planning to dispose of it, you should first update to macOS Monterey so you can use the Erase Assistant. If not, read on for the steps you will need to perform on older Macs.

1. Back up Your Mac

Before you do anything else, back up your Mac. You should back up all your files, and you should even clone your Mac’s drive. You may have a Time Machine backup, and that’s great, but if you clone your drive using Intego Personal Backup, you can copy that clone back to your new Mac to start using your new computer quickly. You won’t need to download or reinstall apps, and you’ll have all the settings you’ve been using on your Mac. Of course, you may want to do a clean installation; there are good reasons for that. In fact, we have an article that discusses this question: Setting Up a New Mac: Should You Migrate or Do a Clean Installation? But a clone is the most secure way to save all the data on your Mac.

2. Sign out of iCloud

Once you’ve made your backups, you should sign out of your iCloud account. To do this, go to System Preferences > iCloud, and click Sign Out. If you have Find My Mac active, you’ll have to turn this off first. Signing out of iCloud will remove your device from Apple’s servers, but not from the iTunes Store…

3. De-authorize Your Mac with the iTunes Store

The next step is to deauthorize your Mac with the iTunes Store. This is easy; go to the Music app (if you’re using macOS Catalina or later) or iTunes, choose Account > Authorizations > Deauthorize This Computer and follow the instructions. This is important, because you can only authorize five Macs with an iTunes Store account, so if you have other computers, it’s best to make sure the one you’re getting rid of is no longer linked to your account. If you have an account with Audible, the audiobook vendor, you can also deauthorize that account from the Account > Authorizations menu.

4. Sign out of Your iMessages Account

There’s one more account you need to sign out of: your iMessages account. In Messages, choose Preferences > Accounts, click your iMessages account, and then click Sign Out.

5. Reset your Mac’s NVRAM

Your Mac has NVRAM (non-volatile RAM) that stores certain settings, and may also have some changes made to security features on the computer. It’s easy to reset this, but it requires a restart. Shut down your Mac, then turn it on and immediately hold down the Command, Option, P, and R keys. Hold them for about 20 seconds, and you’ll see the Apple logo come up again.

6. Unpair Bluetooth devices

This is only necessary if you’re selling or giving your Mac to someone who you might be near in the future. If your devices – keyboard, mouse, or AirPods – are still paired with the old computer, and you’re within Bluetooth range of it, they may because active. Go to System Preferences > Bluetooth, hover your pointer over each device you want to unpair, then click the x. Note that you’ll need to have a wired keyboard and mouse to go to the final step.

7. Erase Your Mac’s Drive

Once you’ve signed out of all your accounts, and you’re sure you’ve got a reliable backup – and two backups is even better – it’s time to erase your Mac’s drive. You can’t just delete your files; anyone who uses disk recovery software on the drive would be able to recover a lot of your files. Read this article to learn how to securely erase your hard drive. There may be a shortcut to this process, however. If you use Apple’s File Vault to encrypt your drive, you can simply erase the drive. Since the drive was already encrypted, it won’t be possible to recover files. Note that you can do this easily if you install macOS, in the next step, from the Recovery partition. On reboot, your Mac displays a macOS Utilities window. Choose Disk Utility and erase the drive from there before installing macOS.

8. Install macOS

If you’re planning to sell this Mac or pass it on to someone, it’s a good idea to install macOS. You can do this by connecting your clone drive, if you have saved the installer, or by using the macOS Recovery partition. If you do the latter, you’ll be downloading the full installer from the App Store. If you have limited bandwidth, this could take a while. I generally find it best to save the installer when I use it on my Mac, then, when I’m disposing of a Mac, I connect my clone, boot from that drive (press the Option key when you start up the Mac to select the startup drive), and run the installer from there. If not, follow Apple’s instructions to reinstall macOS. Note that, unlike specific apps you may download from the App Store, macOS is not linked to your Apple ID. So you can install it on the Mac and anyone can use it without needing to sign into your account.

9. Clean Your Mac

If you’re selling your Mac, or handing it down to a family member or friend, then a good cleaning is in order. I discuss cleaning a Mac at the end of this article about spring cleaning. Be especially careful about cleaning your Mac’s display, so you don’t damage it, but give it a good clean to make sure it looks as good as possible.

10. Recycle Your Mac

If the Mac is no longer functional, or if it’s too old, you can recycle it. Apple’s recycling program will take any of your devices and recycle them. They may even give you a gift card if the computer still has some value. You won’t get a lot, and lately Apple’s prices for Mac trade-ins have been very low. I suggest you only use this for a truly old device, however; you won’t get enough for a recent Mac to make it worthwhile. And even if the computer doesn’t work, Apple’s partner will make sure the Mac is recycled as much as possible. You can also take an old Mac to an Apple Store to have it recycled.

With this in mind, you can welcome your new Mac into your household. Set it up and get to work, and appreciate your new computer!


How can I learn more?

Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, security and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.

We discussed securely disposing a Mac and more in episode 163 of the Intego Mac Podcast.

You can also subscribe to our e-mail newsletter and keep an eye here on Mac Security Blog for the latest Apple security and privacy news. And don’t forget to follow Intego on your favorite social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

About Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about Apple products and more on his blog Kirkville. He is co-host of the Intego Mac Podcast, as well as several other podcasts, and is a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS, and several other websites and publications. Kirk has written more than two dozen books, including Take Control books about Apple's media apps, Scrivener, and LaunchBar. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →