How to Perform a Clean Install of OS X Mavericks (Update)

OS X Mavericks is officially out and ready for the public. It’s the latest OS X version from Apple and it comes with a heap of new features, including improved support for multiple displays, desktop versions of the Maps and iBooks apps, an improved Safari browser and much more. It’s available now in the Mac App Store for free.

While most users will be fine with the easy upgrade process that OS X has, some users prefer to start from scratch with a clean OS install whenever they’re upgrading to a new version. A fresh and clean install means your computer’s hard drive is completely erased and OS X Mavericks is installed to factory settings. This means that no apps are installed and no files are stored — just the default apps and files that come with OS X Mavericks.

Personally, I always do a clean install. There are just too many problems that could happen when simply just upgrading, and I have so many files that they could get disorganized and cause unnecessary slowdowns on the upgrade. Essentially, when you do a simple upgrade, the new OS gets installed, and then the installer picks up all the old files and dumps it on top of the newly installed OS, which could easily cause problems.

2013-10-08 17.15.25

With that said, here’s how you can install a fresh copy of OS X Mavericks and start with a clean slate. Be warned, though: Performing a clean install of OS X requires you to make a bootable install drive using a USB flash drive. You’ll be moving a lot of files around and dealing with Terminal. If this isn’t something you’re comfortable doing yourself, we’d suggest simply upgrading, or finding a friend who can perform a clean install for you.


Preparing for the Clean Install

First, you’ll want to make sure that OS X Mavericks is supported by your Mac. Some Macs as far back as 2007 support OS X Mavericks, but for a full list of supported Mac models, check out this list.

You’ll also want to backup everything before you begin the clean install. You can either use Time Machine to easily backup all of your files to an external hard drive, or you can manually pick and choose files that you want to keep, and transfer them to an external hard drive or USB flash drive.

Next, download OS X Mavericks from the Mac App Store. It’ll download and save to the Applications folder automatically. Furthermore, after it’s finished downloading, it may automatically begin the install process. If this happens, just quickly cancel it.

Making the Bootable USB Drive

In order to install a clean and fresh copy of OS X Mavericks, you have to create a bootable install drive using either a DVD, USB flash drive or an external hard drive. For this tutorial, we’ll be using a USB flash drive, since not everyone has an optical drive on their Mac, and you most likely have a USB flash drive anyway. Just make sure it’s at least 8GB in size.

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UPDATE: Reader Jason pointed out a quicker method for creating a USB boot drive of OS X Mavericks. Follow it below, especially if our initial method doesn’t work for you.

  1. Plug in your USB drive and open Disk Utility.
  2. Select the USB drive in the sidebar and click on the Erase tab.
  3. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) in the Format box and name it Untitled.
  4. Click Erase and wait for the format to finish.
  5. When it’s done, close Disk Utility and open Terminal. Type in the following command and press Enter:

sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ --nointeraction

This command will officially make the USB boot drive and it’ll take about 20 minutes. While it’s doing its thing, don’t mess with Terminal or eject the flash drive. Once done, it’ll say Copy complete. Done.

Next, scroll down to the Installing OS X Mavericks section in this guide to finish the install.

Our initial method (if the above method doesn’t work):

Follow these steps in order to successfully create your OS X Mavericks USB boot disk.

  1. Plug in your USB flash drive and open up Disk Utility.
  2. Click on the USB drive from the left-side menu.
  3. Click on the Partition tab.
  4. Select 1 Partition from the drop-down menu.
  5. Click the Options button and select GUID as the partition type.
  6. Click OK to close that window, and then hit Apply. This will format the USB flash drive and prepare it for OS X Mavericks.

Next, you’ll want to launch Terminal because you’ll be entering in a couple of commands in order to show hidden files in Finder (you’ll be moving around some hidden files later on). Enter these two commands as seen below and press Enter after each one. After you’ve entered these in, you can close out of Terminal.

  1. defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
  2. killall Finder
After you've made the USB boot drive, it should look like this.
After you’ve made the USB boot drive, it should look like this.

Hidden files will now be viewable in Finder, and they’ll appear as slightly faded out. After you enter those two commands, you can close out of Terminal. However, this is only the beginning of making the bootable USB install drive.

  1. Open up Macintosh HD from Finder and open the Applications folder. Locate the file labeled Install OS X
  2. Right click on it and choose Show Package Contents. A new folder window will appear.
  3. Choose Contents and open SharedSupport.
  4. Double-click on InstallESD.dmg. This should open another folder window. If not click on OS X Install ESD in the Finder sidebar.
  5. Once inside that, double-click on BaseSystem.dmg. (BaseSystem.dmg is a hidden file, which is why we put in those Terminal commands earlier). If double-clicking doesn’t, right-click on it and choose Open.
  6. Open up Disk Utility again and choose BaseSystem.dmg from the sidebar. Click the Restore tab.
  7. Next, with Source set to BaseSystem.dmg, set Destination to the USB drive by dragging the USB drive into the Destination box.
  8. Click Restore to begin the process and confirm that contents of the drive will be completely erased. This process will take 5-10 minutes

Sadly, I wish that was all there was to it, but you’ll have to do just a couple more things to get your bootable USB install drive ready to go; you’re in the homestretch, though!

When the restore process is finished, open up Finder and navigate within the newly-created USB drive to System > Installation and delete the file labeled Packages. Keep this window open, though, as you’ll come back to it and be replacing the file you just deleted with a folder also named “Packages.”

Go back to the OS X Install ESD mounted image and drag & drop the Packages folder into the that same folder that you just deleted the file from. Be sure to copy it over and not cut & paste. It’s a large folder, so it’ll take a little bit of time. However, after that’s done copying over, the bootable USB install drive is done and ready to go! It’s just smooth sailing from here, hopefully.


Installing OS X Mavericks

Now that you have a bootable USB stick with OS X Mavericks on it, it’s time to install it. With the USB drive connected, reboot your Mac and hold down the Option/Alt key. This will bring up a menu where you’ll select an install drive. Choose the USB drive that you just made (usually called OS X Base System in this case and will be colored orange). Click on the arrow pointing upwards below the drive icon to get started.

Now, before you install Mavericks, you’ll want to erase and reformat your hard drive, so at the “Install OS X” screen, go up to the menu bar at the top and click on Utilities > Disk Utility.

  1. Next, click on your main hard drive in the left-hand sidebar.
  2. Click on the Erase tab and make sure Mac OS Extended (Journaled) is selected in the Format field.
  3. Give the hard drive a name. If you want to stick with the Mac naming convention, go with Macintosh HD.
  4. Click Erase in the lower-right corner to begin the wiping process.
  5. After that’s done, close out of Disk Utility, where you’ll be brought back to the “Install OS X” screen.
  6. Click Continue to begin the OS X Mavericks installation process and follow the steps provided.
  7. Enjoy OS X Mavericks!

This is a pretty complicated method for creating a bootable install drive, but we’re guessing that once Mavericks has been out for a few months, there will be third-party tools released that will make the creation process easier, similar to that of OS X Mountain Lion tools that easily created a USB install drive for you. For now, though, this seems to be the only way that works.


  1. The Mavericks app is easy to find simply search ‘Install OS X’ on your computer search bar and then click ‘show all in finder’ to display the app. don’t have to do all the coding.

    • You can also just burn InstallESD.dmg onto the USB stick (useful for Macs without optical drives). I used this method back when upgrading to Mountain Lion on the rMBP.

      It’s an extra step to enable hidden files and look for BaseSystem.dmg.

    • InstallESD.dmg is 5.29GB and standard DVD’s are 4.7GB so no way of burning it to standard DVD. So I guess it will have to be Double Layer dvd. Did anyone try this with double layer DVD?

  2. Good article! After several failed attempts at using the old Mountain Lion method, this worked just fine.

    • If you’re installing from scratch, you won’t get those back. You’ll have to set up everything and re-download your apps. It’s tedious, but it’s also a great way to audit all of your stuff.

    • time machine – if you already have a backup from the previous. otherwise you can either reistall all your apps or just copy/export all your settings and files to another source

  3. Will this allow you to upgrade from the bootable USB drive as well? (assuming you don’t wipe the drive prior to the install?)

  4. OK – I got a question. The Packages file I deleted from the USB drive was an alias. Is this what I was supposed to get rid of?

  5. Does this require an internet connection once Mavericks is downloaded…ie-once you have your USB drive ready to go, when you install Mavericks does it go online to download a bunch of stuff or is everything truly on the thumb drive?

  6. i have a question, if i downloaded it from my apple id, can i use it for another macs. i mean if i want to install it to a friend of mine having another apple id, does it work?

    • Should work. The “Install OS X” is what’s technically signed to your account. The DMG you burn to your USB drive isn’t signed to anyone. I did this with Mountain Lion to install on multiple machines.

  7. Hi,

    I used this method to create the USB, but mid-way through the installation, it aborts saying install failed. I’ve tried this about 3 times.

    I’m now stuck with a Mac that doesn’t have an OS. There isn’t an option for recovery because I’d formatted my drive.

    I’m using a MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display. Any information would help right now.


  8. What if I am using a 1TB external HDD to create the boot disc but have stuff on it that I want to keep. The steps require that the usb drive be formatted completely. Can this be avoided if using an external HDD as I currently do not have access to a working usb drive.

  9. terminal won’t let me run those commands. I already have Mavericks on here, but I want a clean install.

    • You need to re download Maverick most likely. The App isn’t there once you install it. So re download it and it’ll be back in the apps section.

  10. On my ML machine I had to change:

    defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
    defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

    I’m not sure if it is because my filesystem is case-sensitive or not… Other than that, this is a great tutorial! Thanks!

  11. I have Windows installed on the BootCamp partition. Should this remain accessible after carrying out a clean install of Mavericks on the OS X partition. I’ve already created an image of BootCamp using WinClone.

  12. We have 3 MacBook’s in my family. Can I reuse this first bootable USB drive for the two next clean installs or do I have to go through the download process and the above for each machine?

      • So for the next two mac’s, all I have to do is boot from the USB, erase and format my existing HDD and then continue the install process. When installed, can I just enter my Apple ID at startup and expect the license to work or approved by apple?

          • I am running a danish Mac OS version and folders are named differently. I have tried to replace “Applications” with “Programmer” in the command above, but that results in “command not found”. Do I need to replace anything else, to make this work with my local language version of Mac OS?

  13. @Anan Banka

    Just reboot and hold the option key, then choose your internet connection and you should be able to download the OS that came with your Mac directly from Apple.

    After that you should redo the steps in this article because apparently your Mavericks USB is corrupted or you could try reformatting your drive prior to the above.

  14. I used your instructions to create a bootable USB drive, but I am not performing a clean install (the USB drive is a backup if I need to reformat for some reason) What are the proper commands to reverse the “show all files” back to the default setting?

    Thanks for the tutorial! Great info.

  15. The default naming for the Boot Camp partition is “Untitled”, and the system actually labeled my flash drive as “Untitled 1″. Didn’t realize this until my boot camp partition was erased….

  16. I did everything fine but when install I get error message “cannot connect to /var/run/systemkeychaincheck.socket: no such file or directory maverick”

    • I’m getting the same issue, at the very end of the install on a Mini. I hangs with ‘About a second remaining’. Upon hard reboot it does not show the target drive as bootable, I had to boot the installer usb drive again just to see what was going on. It happened a few times now, I can’t seem to get past this. My comp is useless.

  17. Upon successfully creating a USB I attempted to install from scratch how it sticks with “about one second left” and has showed this for over an hour – has happened three times now :(

  18. When it asks for a pasword during the terminal command to copy to bootable usb disk…this is your Rootpasw…for the people not familiar with terminal…

  19. there were an error when terminal tried to make the usb-stick bootable. Now i can not format (and delete) the usb-stick again with disk utility. It says, that the usb-stick can’t be deactived. any help?

  20. Hey guys when it asks for the password in terminal, i try to enter it but no characters are shown, i click enter and it says its wrong password. It’s blank and looks like I havent typed a password…why is it like that? What do i do

  21. Nevermind, its supposed to be blank. Although, I forgot my root password so i tried to restore it by rebooting the system and pressing cmd+r and then going to terminal and typing resetpassword and choosing the root user and a new password. When i reboot the computer afterwards and go back to terminal inside the OS, and write the password down after the sudo command it says that it is the wrong password. What can the problem be? How do i reset my damn root password?

  22. With first method, while launching command line
    “sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\…….”
    If you get error “error erasing disk error… An error occuring when erasing the disk”
    Just change acces for every one as read and write with your USB key.

  23. graig, i don’t understand your method here.

    1) i have mountain lion installed and it was clean installed without having to attach bootable USB drive. i was able to erase everything and clean install. but you mentioned i need to have bootable drive. why different in OS maverick?

    2) also you mentioned that ” Choose the USB drive that you just made (usually called OS X Base System in this case and will be colored orange). Click on the arrow pointing upwards below the drive icon to get started.”
    why click on USB drive when you about to install new OS maverick? it sounds like this will install new OS maverick onto USB drive instead of installing on Mac hard drive. I’m confused here.


  24. Hi There help me
    I have just simply upgraded and it’s running fine .. Now where i can locate that 5.69 GB image . i don’t want to download again for another mac.

  25. Hi, quick question: Will this “clean slate protocol” work if I use disk utility to create a new partition (50GB) so Mavericks can be installed there??? After the installation I would just transfer the files I want from the old partition and then do the format of this disk partition and then merge the old partition with the new one. The reason for this is that I dont have any external hard drive. Thank you very much for your response !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. Thanks for posting such detailed instructions. Everything worked like a champ.

    EXCEPT that when formatting the hard drive, I chose the physical drive instead of the logical drive, and I lost my recovery partition. This means, among other things, that I can’t turn on File Vault 2. Does anyone know how to set up the destination drive so that it has the proper partitioning to allow File Vault 2 (and the bootable recovery drive)?


  27. Hi, thanks for the guide. I managed to install Maverick. Now my problem is that I’m trying to restore a backup done on the time capsule and that time machine doesn’t recognise. I think it happening because I renewed the hard disk. Have you got any idea how I can fix this problem?

  28. Be VERY VERY VERY careful to use that “sudo /Applications/Install” command, especially if you have bootcamp installed. My bootcamp Windows 7 drive was called Untitled, so this wiped out everything on that drive.

  29. Update: I went to all the trouble of installing Lion, verified that the Recovery HD partition had been created, then erased just the main partition of my physical drive and installed Mavericks. The Recovery HD partition is gone and I’m right back where I started, 12 hours later.

  30. You know the issue is after having a clean install, the music, pictures and movies icon don’t appear at the sidebar in finder favourites. I doubt that whether the clean install is correct as on the contrary the apple website in the mavericks pictures gallery have the folders in the finder sidebar.

    Please Help!!!!

    PS: I know how to put icons there.

  31. Anyone getting the /var/run/systemkeychaincheck.socket error just be patient, it hands on one second left for about 35 minutes – just as I was about to give up the system rebooted and it was fine

    • Also I had the same thing happen. It hang and hang on the one second for about 30 mins. While I was here Googling about trying to see the cause of the error it sent to 0 Seconds Remaining and hung there for another 2-3 minutes. Then rebooted and seems to be installing Mavericks “normally”.

      Whatever the App is Apple is using to stretch time like that, I could really use some days ;)

  32. I’m already on Maverick. Apparently the install file was deleted after the upgrade. Where can I download the install file. Don’t tell me to go to the App Store because I have tried and failed to download.

    • So I won’t tell you to go to the App Store (since you already have tried and failed!).
      Instead let me just point out that I already installed Mavericks, then decided to do a clean install, so I had to go to the App Store and downloaded the install file (it works!).

      FYI: the cnet website shows instructions about a clean install of Mavericks and the first step is:

      Step 1: Download the OS X Mavericks installer from the App Store, but don’t run the installer yet. If you’ve already upgraded, you’ll have to download the installer again from the App Store, since it deletes itself after the upgrade. Make sure the installer is located in the Applications folder.

  33. Hey guyz i made a usb drive with installer following these terminal command and now im in between clean install after agree selecting my formated main HDD, on installing windoe blue line keeps filling and in the end its saying about a sec remain but its still working since 20 minutes, is it normal or there is something wrong, no error msg is there its showing blue line and installing.

  34. Worked perfectly on my MBA mid-2012 using a partitioned external hard-drive. Writing this on Mavericks!

    Thanks to you.

  35. Now that I have installed mavericks as a clean install I can no longer access old time machine backups from mountain lion. I physically want to go inside my backups so I can pick and choose what I wan to restore. IE just photos or just music. Any thoughts?

    • Hi, I’ve got the same problem. I can use the automatic process but fortunately I can still access manually to each single backup folder. I think it happened baca use I renamed the hard disk ;) at the end I will restore my file, format the time capsule and start again :(

    • Use the Migration Assistant to restore accounts (&ID’s) and settings from Time Machine. Make sure the check-box to restore all your data is blank.
      With the ‘proper’ accounts restored you can access the Time Machine to pick & choose what you want to restore.

  36. getting this in finder after copying and pasting the command:

    /Volumes/Untitled is not a valid volume mount point.

    verified that /Volumes/Untitled exists…. what could be wrong here?

    • Type “cd /Volumes” in Terminal and press return. then type “ls” and press return. A list should pop up of all valid entries – if your drive is not there, it may not be correctly mounted. unplug it, plug it back in, and if still not mounting, try using Disk Utility to see if it can mount it.

  37. There is no Recovery partition created in the second method, and the first method (would probably do this as well), unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me.

  38. Basically perfect how-to. In the copying of the dmg onto the formatted drive you may want to specify that it’s the volume/single partition that you created you have to use. If you try the drive itself it flips

  39. Having issues with just installing mavericks over 10.7 so I want to do a fresh install. I can only run 10.9 in safe mode. Question about the bootable disk. I formatted one last night but didn’t make it bootable. I then copied all of the files I wanted to keep to it. Can I still make this USB bootable with the new OS on it? It is my first Mac and I’ve never had any issues until now.

    I have a 15 inch early 2011 MacBook Pro.

  40. So if I’m understanding this, the main reasons to create a bootable Mavericks installer are:

    1) Easier to upgrade multiple Macs
    2) It’s a great emergency tool in case of drive problems
    3) Easy way to do a clean install since that’s no longer a built-in option.

    Great, but if you’re only interested in option 3), will the following work?

    1) Download the Mavericks Installer but do not run it.
    2) Make a bootable copy of your computer on a backup USB/Thunderbolt drive using a tool like CCC or Super Duper.
    3) Boot from the backup drive
    4) Run Disk Utility and erase your original drive
    5) Run the Mavericks Installer and select your original drive as the install destination.

  41. I did this today and it worked beautifully. Now I have a question. How can we do this for Mountain Lion using terminal as I would like partition my drive and run Mountain Lion also.

  42. Another option if you don’t want to make an external boot drive with Mavericks is to do a clean reinstall of Mountain Lion from the already existing boot partition and then just upgrade to mavericks once that has been done…

  43. 1.Open up Disk Utility again and choose BaseSystem.dmg from the sidebar. Click the Restore tab.
    2.Next, with Source set to BaseSystem.dmg, set Destination to the USB drive by dragging the USB drive into the Destination box.

    I can only drag to the Source the OSX Base System. not the basesystem.dmg. What I’m doing wrong?

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