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.

OS-X-El-Capitan

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.

Preparation

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.

diskmaker-x

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\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app --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.

IMG_0252

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.

OS-X-El-Capitan-Install

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!

23 Comments

  1. nintja

    10/01/2015 at 1:15 am

    There was no DiskMaker X to be found anywhere. Had to create the bootable usb drive via the Terminal command.

    Reply

    • Caden mccurry

      08/02/2017 at 3:07 am

      I can’t find the OS X El Capitan in the app store

      Reply

  2. Georgiaarapier

    10/01/2015 at 8:15 am

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    Reply

  3. A Viescas (@cromage)

    10/01/2015 at 1:14 pm

    FYI, you can’t “close out” of the El Capitan install as the close button is greyed out (not to mention you only have 30 seconds to stop the process!). Don’t do this on a computer you don’t want to upgrade!

    Reply

  4. HappyCamper

    10/08/2015 at 3:04 am

    Went pretty smoothly. Thanks for the article.

    Reply

  5. mad

    10/10/2015 at 6:48 am

    This works, but if you have a fusion drive, it doesn’t! Thanks for making that crystal clear! Fusion drives have been around long enough to deal with this!!!

    Reply

    • Jim

      10/23/2015 at 8:32 am

      I have a fusion drive, it worked for me.

      Reply

      • Aviva

        12/24/2015 at 4:07 pm

        Jim, which way did you use it? With the USB or Terminal. I had an Apple Technician do it on mine with Terminal over the phone and it ruined my Fusion drive and had to take it into the store to be fixed. Is there a way to do a complete erase and reinstall of El Capitan without Terminal or a USB?

        Reply

    • caden mccurry

      08/02/2017 at 9:53 pm

      what dose it do when you don’t have a fusion drive?

      Reply

  6. Tony keyworth

    10/28/2015 at 4:19 am

    I followed this route with my early 2011 MacBook Pro (I had a Carbon Copy Clone back up on an external hard drive just in case) and would thoroughly recommend it.

    Effectively you start again at square one and the process of deciding which files and software I wanted to copy across
    from the external drive after erasing the internal hd and installing El Capitan enabled me to get rid of a lot of dross and duplicates freeing up hard drive space in the process.

    Not sure whether El Capitan is a fantastic step forward in itself but it hasn’t brought any problems that I’ve found and Apple has released updates that seem to have addressed those other people have reported but the clean installation process was beneficial in itself and will be the way I go with future OSX updates.

    Reply

  7. Valerie

    11/07/2015 at 5:02 pm

    I personally wouldn’t use 3rd party sw for something as important as this. Making a bootable USB is not intuitive, but really important IMHO. I would stay with the Apple instructions that yes there was a learning curve, but will save you when for whatever reason, you cannot boot from your computer.

    Reply

  8. Aviva

    12/24/2015 at 4:06 pm

    Jim, which way did you use it? With the USB or Terminal. I had an Apple Technician do it on mine with Terminal over the phone and it ruined my Fusion drive and had to take it into the store to be fixed. Is there a way to do a complete erase and reinstall of El Capitan without Terminal or a USB?

    Reply

  9. Roxy

    01/07/2016 at 12:02 pm

    El Capitan is turning out to be a real pain in the ass, I really wish I wouldn’t have upgraded! I left it installing as I went to bed and when I woke up my computer was a piece or shit I wanted to throw out the window. Now, I’m pretty much gonna lose all my files that aren’t on drop box to do a clean install. Thanks apple! Super awesome!

    Reply

  10. Brian

    01/27/2016 at 5:54 am

    6 minutes to go. Formatted a USB stick, used Terminal to copy over the downloaded Install package and followed the instructions after restarting /Alt Key/ erase Hard drive and start the install. 4 minutes to go

    Reply

    • Helmut G

      03/13/2016 at 7:04 am

      took you 2mins to write 3 lines … I’d reconsider

      Reply

  11. Bonnie

    01/28/2016 at 7:52 pm

    It worked well for me but I had to do it twice. The first time it took two days. So slow. And then didn’t work. But I rebuilt the boot USB on a healthy machine and then when I uninstalled did the military grade uninstall that took about 7 hrs. but worked perfectly that time. A lot of used space disappeared from my Google drive when I did that severe uninstall so something going on with some of the programs deep down.

    Reply

  12. Mitchell

    02/10/2016 at 9:56 pm

    Followed it step-by-step including using DiskMaker X. Everything went off without a hitch and my Mac now performs like I just took it out of the box like I did back in the spring of 2012.

    If you’re having performance issues, or just wanna start all over again follow these steps and you wont go wrong!

    Reply

  13. David

    02/14/2016 at 9:31 am

    hi i think you can update the article with the new el capitan “diskmaker x”.

    Reply

  14. Roz

    04/02/2016 at 9:26 pm

    I’m somewhat scared to try this. So if I mess up somehow, I can still try again?

    Reply

  15. Joe

    04/06/2016 at 5:12 am

    Since upgrading to ElCap my iMac doesn’t retain preferences and have to reset every time it goes to sleep which I set not to. Nothing fixes it. It’s possessed. We live in fear for our other devices! I could write a screen play about the poltergeist operating system, thanks Apple!

    Reply

  16. belal

    04/17/2016 at 10:05 pm

    Problem Solved!
    I tried to install El Capitan so many times i tried to make USB, I faced lots of problem, then I found this site

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D1ZBE28

    where I have got ready made USB installer with installation manual. It saved my huge time which
    I can now spend on my own tasks.

    Thanks you MicroTechNA.

    Cheers!!!!!

    Reply

  17. Edward Smith

    09/21/2016 at 1:18 pm

    Since I installed my update I can’t access my yahoo mail and I need it ever day. What happened and how do I fix it? Why doesn’t Apple care about it’s customers?

    Reply

  18. Tyson

    09/23/2016 at 5:35 am

    As of today ((092316)) (I’m not sure just how long ago; but I just checked last night and today) El Capitan is va-moosed. I mean gone. As in, no longer available from the mac store or the downloads. The older downloaded installer I have wont work either. So now, the free upgrade is Sierra w/ Siri… But my older 2011 MacBook Pro doesn’t meet the specs. I want to install Adobe CC today on a fresh install of The Captain. What gives apple?

    Reply

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