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How to Start a Mac in Safe Mode

Start a Mac in Safe Mode

Using Safe Mode on a Mac can be a helpful troubleshooting measure if you’re diagnosing an issue with the Mac, especially if the problem seems to be systemic and not associated with a specific application. Booting a Mac into Safe Mode is easy, but it’s different depending on the system architecture of the Mac, for example an M1 Mac will enter safe mode differently than an Intel Mac – but not to worry, we’ll cover how to do this on every Mac.

Starting a Mac into Safe Mode is often a second step in a troubleshooting process (with the first often being a simple restart), since merely booting into Safe Mode causes a variety of maintenance behaviors that can be beneficial to resolving issues with MacOS.

What happens in Safe Mode?

When you boot a Mac into Safe Mode, the Mac will clear out system caches, kernel caches, and font caches, causing those to regenerate and refresh. Additionally, the Mac does a simple disk check on boot. And finally, some behavior and software does not load during Safe Mode, including anything in the user login items, any system extensions, and any third party fonts. This can help to narrow down issues, because if the problem does not happen when in Safe Mode, you can bet that the issue was either cache related, or associated with one of the aforementioned things that were not loaded during Safe Mode start.

Note that not all Mac applications will work as expected, or work at all, when in Safe Mode. This is particularly true if they rely on components that were not loaded during Safe Boot, like a system extension, or some essential third party font, etc.

How to Start a Mac in Safe Mode

Starting a Mac in Safe Mode varies depending on the physical hardware of the device, with an M-series Apple Silicon chip offering a different and slightly more complex method of booting into Safe Mode when compared to the approach available for safe boot on an Intel Mac (or PowerPC Mac for that matter).

Booting Apple Silicon M-series Mac into Safe Mode

For any M-series Mac, including M1, M1 Pro, M1 Ultra, M1 Max, do the following to start into Safe Mode:

  1. Go to the  Apple menu and choose Shut Down
  2. Allow the Mac to sit off for about 10 seconds
  3. Now press and hold the Power button, until you see the Options screen appear
  4. Now press and hold the Shift key, selecting “Continue in Safe Mode” to start the Mac in Safe Mode

Booting Intel Mac into Safe mode

For all Intel Macs of any Intel era, booting into safe mode is super easy:

  1. Restart the Mac, or turn it on if it is powered down
  2. Immediately hold the Shift key and continue holding Shift key until you see the login screen

Booting PowerPC Mac into Safe Mode

Got an older PowerPC Mac, like a G4 or G5 that you want to boot into Safe Mode? No problem, it’s easy:

  1. Restart the Mac and immediately hold down the SHIFT key until the Mac starts up or you see the desktop or login screen

For what it’s worth, even classic 68k Macs can boot safe mode with the Shift key, which basically turns off extensions loading in those classic Mac OS versions.

Once you’re in Safe Mode, you can proceed with additional troubleshooting steps as necessary. Sometimes the simple act of booting into Safe Mode and then booting the Mac normally again is enough to resolve the problem you experienced.

How to Exit Safe Mode on Mac

Exiting Safe Mode on any Mac is simply a matter as restarting as usual:

  1. Go to the  Apple menu and choose “Restart”
  2. Let the Mac start as usual

Rarely a Mac can get stuck in Safe Mode, in which case you can fix that issue as discussed here.