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How to boot your Mac in safe mode

Trying to heal an ailing Mac can seem like a Sisyphean task — the device feels sluggish, the mouse stutters, and the apps keep crashing. The very environment seems to be set against you. Never fear — in this article, we’ll discuss how you can use safe mode to cure your Mac in a clean environment.

How to boot your Mac in safe mode

What is safe mode on Mac?

Safe mode (also known as “safe boot” on Mac) is a special boot mode that loads only essential kernel extensions and startup apps. Mac safe mode also lets you run maintenance, clean up folders, and hunt for viruses in an uncontaminated environment.

Safe mode lets you determine if a particular issue was caused by software — if your device runs without trouble in safe mode, then a recently installed program might just be the culprit. This useful tool is not exclusive to Macs — in fact, we also have articles on how to start safe mode on Windows and how to launch safe mode on Android.

How to start a Mac in safe mode

Depending on your Mac type, you can start your device in safe mode using one of two ways. Follow these steps to make sure your Mac boots correctly.

Figure out your Mac type

To begin the process, you need to know what type of Mac you have. You can do this by clicking on the “Apple” logo on your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or any other Mac device and selecting “About this Mac.” This will open a window with the information you require.

If you see an item labeled “Chip” followed by a name (such as Apple M1 or Apple M2 Pro), then you should follow the instructions for devices with Apple Silicon. On the other hand, if you see an item called “Processor” followed by a name (such as “Intel Core i9”), then skip to the steps for Macs with Intel processors.

Start Mac in safe mode (Apple silicon)

Here’s what you need to do to start a Mac with Apple silicon in safe mode:

  1. Click on the “Apple” logo on your Mac and select “Shut down.” Wait for the screen to go black and the lights (including the “Touch bar”) to switch off.
  2. Press and hold your device’s power button until “Loading startup options” appears.
  3. Choose a boot volume (drive), then press and hold the “Shift” key.
  4. Select “Continue in safe mode” under the chosen boot volume. Your device will restart automatically.

Start Mac in safe mode (Intel)

To start a Mac device with an Intel processor in safe mode, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your Mac — click on the “Apple” logo on your screen and select “Shut down.”
  2. Turn on your Mac and immediately hold down the “Shift” key. Release the key when the login window appears.
  3. Enter your credentials in the login screen. In some cases, you might be asked to log in again — this is normal.

Verify that your Mac is in safe mode

There is one simple way to tell if your Mac is in safe mode — if you’ve followed the process correctly, you should see “Safe boot” written in red letters in the menu bar. This means that you’re free to modify system settings and start looking for the root cause of your problems.

You can also check if your Mac is in safe mode using the “System information” app:

  1. Press and hold the “Option key,” then choose the “Apple” menu and select “System information.”
  2. Click on “Software” in the sidebar and look at the system software overview.
  3. Check out the value next to “Boot mode” — if it says “Safe,” you are currently in safe mode.

What if Mac safe mode hasn’t solved the problem?

Mac safe mode is a great diagnostic tool, but it’s not a cure-all for every situation. If your problem still persists, you can try the following solutions to get your device back on track.

Edit the startup list

Instead of turning off all extra applications on startup, you can choose which specific processes you want to block. By selectively disabling applications and testing out different configurations, you will eventually be able to hone in on the problem. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Open the main “Apple” menu by clicking the “Apple” logo and select “System preferences.”
  2. Click on “Users and groups,” then select your username.
  3. Navigate to the “Login items” tab.
  4. Select a process and click the “-” button to remove it. Repeat this for all items you want gone.
  5. Once you’re done, restart your Mac.

Restore from a Time Machine backup

Can’t pinpoint the problem? Go back in time to when your machine worked. Time Machine is Mac’s built-in backup solution, being able to periodically take snapshots of your system and data. Here’s how you can restore your system from a Time Machine backup.

How to restore a Time Machine backup (Apple silicon Mac)

Restoring a Time Machine backup on Mac devices with Apple silicon is easy — all you have to do is:

  1. Turn off your device.
  2. Press and hold the Mac’s power button until the startup options appear.
  3. Click “Options,” then enter your admin username and password.
  4. Select “Restore from Time Machine Backup.”

How to restore a Time Machine backup (Intel Mac)

If you have a Mac with an Intel processor, the procedure is a little different. Here’s how you can restore a Time Machine backup:

  1. Turn off your device.
  2. Press the power button, then immediately hold down the command key and “R” on your keyboard. You can let go when you see the Apple logo or a spinning globe appear.
  3. Select “Restore from Time Machine backup” and click “Continue.”
  4. Follow the instructions to open the recovery app.
  5. Select a Time Machine backup from a date before the problem appeared and click “Continue.”

Do a factory reset

If you can’t remember when the issue first appeared or simply don’t have a Time Machine backup handy, you may need to go even further back in time — all the way to the beginning. A factory reset scrubs your device clean and restores it to a fresh state.

Be warned — a factory reset will wipe out all of the data, including documents, pictures, and games. Use it only as a last resort if every other method has failed. We highly recommend that you read our detailed article on how to factory reset a MacBook Air/Pro to perform the procedure correctly.