How to Perform a Clean Install of OS X El Capitan

As expected, OS X El Capitan has been released and can be downloaded right now from the Mac App Store. Here’s how to perform a clean install of OS X El Capitan.

While OS X El Capitan keeps the same overall look and feel as OS X Yosemite, it comes with a handful of new features, including the ability to snap windows so that you can take advantage of Split View multitasking (similar to Windows’ Aero Snap feature).

You can also take advantage of some new swipe gestures, where you can quickly swipe to delete email in the Mail app, as well as swipe to pin tabs in Safari and save them for later.

There are also a handful of Spotlight Search improvements that give you better and more results when you search for something. In El Capitan, Spotlight Search will now show you weather, sports scores, calendar events, and other stuff that you wouldn’t have been able to search for before.

Read: OS X El Capitan on an Older Mac: First Impressions

Also, just like on iOS 9, OS X El Capitan comes with an updated Maps and Notes app that includes transit directions and the ability to do a whole lot more in the app, respectively.


And of course, let’s not forget about the overall performance improvements that Apple is boasting with OS X El Capitan, claiming to give users up to 1.4x the speed when launching apps and 2x the speed when switching between apps.

If you’re interested in installing OS X El Capitan, here’s how to perform a clean install.

Clean Install vs Simple Update

When you perform a clean install of OS X, you’re wiping your entire Mac first and then installing a fresh copy of OS X, meaning that you’re starting from scratch.

El Capitan

Apple allows you to just simply update OS X and keep all of your files and apps intact, but some users like to start fresh whenever a new version of OS X releases, just like when they first got their Mac and have a clean slate to work with.

Read: 10 Hidden OS X El Capitan Features

Of course, you need to back up your important files before you perform a clean install, but everything else gets wiped. It’s an easy way to remove the clutter that has built up from the last time that you started with a clean slate.


Before you get too carried away and dig deep into the OS X El Capitan installation process, you’ll first want to make sure that the new operating system is supported on your specific Mac model.

You can now get transit directions in Apple Maps, just like on iOS 9.

You can now get transit directions in Apple Maps, just like on iOS 9.

Luckily, any Mac that was able to run OS X Yosemite can also run OS X El Capitan, but for your reference, here’s a list of Macs that support OS X El Capitan:

  • iMac (Mid-2007 or newer)
  • MacBook (13-inch Aluminum, Late 2008), (13-inch, Early 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2009 or newer), (15-inch, Mid / Late 2007 or newer), (17-inch, Late 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • Mac Mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

Performing a Clean Install

The process for performing a clean install of OS X is actually really easy, thanks to an app called DiskMaker X, which creates a bootable USB drive for you. In the past, this was the most difficult part, but now it’s completely automated.

OS X El Capitan New Features - 5

First off, you’ll want to download OS X El Capitan from the Mac App Store, and after it downloads, it may automatically start up, but simply just close out of it.

Next, plug in a USB flash drive that’s at least 8GB in size and open up DiskMaker X. Click on OS X El Capitan 10.11 and let the app do the rest. You’ll be left with a bootable USB drive when it’s done.


If you still want to create a bootable USB drive the old-fashioned way with Terminal, here’s how to do that.

Plug in your USB drive and open up Disk Utility. Select your USB drive in the sidebar and click on the Erase tab.

From there, select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) in the Format box and name it Untitled (although it should already be named that). Click Erase and wait for the format to finish.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.08.05 AM

When it’s done, close out of Disk Utility and open Terminal, which is found in the Utilities folder in Applications. Type in the following command (or copy and paste it) and press Enter:

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

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.09.26 AM

This command will make the USB boot drive and will take around 20 minutes to complete, depending on how fast your flash drive is (USB 3.0 is ideal). While it’s doing its thing, don’t mess with Terminal or eject the flash drive. Once it’s done, it’ll say Copy complete. Done.

You’ll now have a bootable USB flash drive with OS X El Capitan ready to go, and it’s time to install it on your Mac.

Installing OS X El Capitan

With the USB drive plugged in, restart 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. Click on the arrow pointing upwards below the drive icon to get started.

Instead of "OS X Yosemite" it will say "OS X El Capitan"

Instead of “OS X Yosemite” it will say “OS X El Capitan”

This next step is important as far as performing a clean install. You’ll want to erase and reformat your hard drive, so when you get to the Install OS X screen, go up to the menu bar at the top and navigate to Utilities > Disk Utility.

Once you’re there, follow these steps:

Click on your main hard drive in the left-hand sidebar (usually called Macintosh HD) and then click on the Erase tab. Make sure Mac OS Extended (Journaled) is selected in the Format field.


Give the hard drive a name. If you want to stick with the traditional Mac naming convention, go with Macintosh HD, but you can name it anything if you’re feeling creative.

Click Erase in the lower-right corner to begin the wiping process. After it’s done, close out of Disk Utility, where you’ll be brought back to the Install OS X screen.


Click Continue to begin the OS X El Capitan installation process and follow the steps on the screen.

As you may have noticed, this is a fairly complicated method, but once DiskMaker X releases its final OS X El Capitan version, the process will be a lot easier, and we’ll update this article when that happens.

For now, enjoy this process and have fun with OS X El Capitan!