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How to Format a Drive on Mac: 2 Proven Techniques

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Last updated: September 6, 2023

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Do you feel overwhelmed by the idea of formatting a drive on a Mac? Let me start by saying that I’ve been in your shoes. Formatting a drive on Mac can feel daunting, especially if you’re new to disk utilities. But it’s not as scary as it seems. With a little guidance, you’ll be able to navigate through the tools with ease.

This beginner-friendly guide will show you how to format a drive on Mac using built-in tools. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to reclaim valuable space on your drive and optimize your Mac’s storage.

Before We Begin

Mac users can resolve many system issues by formatting the drive as it clears all data. However, it’s a risky method, and if you’re not experienced I would suggest clearing your space using MacKeeper’s Safe Cleanup tool and removing viruses using its Antivirus scan. It’ll not only save your time but also prevent any mishap. 

What Is Drive Formatting?

Drive formatting is preparing a hard drive or a USB flash drive for data storage. When you format a drive, it removes all the existing data and creates a new file system, which is how data is organized on the drive. This new file system makes the drive compatible with your Mac and enables it to store data.

On a Mac, there are several types of drive formatting you can choose from:

  • 🖥️ Mac OS Extended (Journaled): This is the default file system for Mac computers running macOS. It’s a robust file system compatible with macOS and older versions of Mac OS X. It’s also ideal for use with Time Machine backups.
  • 🚀 APFS (Apple File System): The newer file system was introduced with macOS High Sierra. It’s faster and more efficient than Mac OS Extended and optimized for Solid-State Drives (SSDs).
  • 🔄 ExFAT: This file system is compatible with both macOS and Windows. It’s ideal for use with external hard drives and USB flash drives that need to be accessed by both Mac and Windows computers.
  • ⏮️ FAT32: This is an older file system that is compatible with both Mac and Windows computers. However, it has limitations, such as a maximum file size of 4GB.

Which Drive Format Should You Choose?

Choosing the right format for your drive is an important decision that can significantly impact its performance and functionality. The choice of file system largely depends on your specific needs, which range from backup storage to cross-platform compatibility.

Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a file system for your drive:

  1. ⏰ Time Machine Backups: If you plan to use your drive as a backup for Time Machine, then it’s best to choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format. This format is the default for Time Machine backups and ensures that your backups are reliable and secure.
  2. 💾 Solid-State Drive (SSD): If you have an SSD drive, the recommended format is APFS (Apple File System). This newer file system is designed specifically for SSDs and offers better performance and security features than older formats.
  3. 🌍 Cross-Platform Compatibility: If you need to share your drive between Mac and Windows computers, then ExFAT is the best option. This format is compatible with both operating systems and allows you to transfer files seamlessly.
  4. ⏳ Older Macs: If you have an older Mac, your options may be limited. Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and FAT32 are the most compatible formats for older Macs. However, FAT32 has limitations in terms of file size and is not as secure as other formats.

Prepare Your Mac Before Formatting Drive on Mac

Before you format a drive on Mac, taking technical steps to prepare your system for the process is important. Proper preparation can help ensure that your data is safely backed up, you have enough space to complete the formatting process, and your Mac is protected from viruses.

a. Clear Your Mac

Your Mac’s hard drive can become cluttered with unnecessary files and folders, slowing the formatting process and taking up valuable space on the drive you want to format.

MacKeeper’s Safe Cleanup feature can help you identify and delete these unnecessary files, freeing up space on your Mac’s hard drive and making it easier to transfer files to another drive before formatting.

Follow these steps to clean up your Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper.
  2. Launch MacKeeper and go to the Safe Cleanup tab.
click safe cleanup under the cleaning section
  1. Click Start Scan and wait for the results.
click start scan in safe cleanup
  1. Review the items you want to remove. Select them individually or click Check All.
select junk files to remove or click check all
  1. Next, click Clean Junk Files.
tap clean junk files
  1. You’ll get a Cleaning Completed notification on your screen. Click Rescan to repeat the process.
click rescan in safe cleanup

b. Run a Virus Scan

Ensure that the drive you want to format is free from viruses or malware, as these can potentially infect your Mac during formatting. MacKeeper’s antivirus feature can help you scan the drive for potential threats and remove them before formatting.

Here’s how to run a virus scan on your Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. Launch MacKeeper and navigate to the Antivirus tab in the left sidebar.
click antivirus under the security section
  1. Initiate an instant virus scan by clicking the Start Scan button.
click start scan in mackeeper antivirus
  1. If viruses are detected during the scan, click the Fix Items button to resolve the issues.
  2. If your system is threat-free, you’ll see a No threats found message. You can tap the Restart button to run the scan again.
click restart to finish the process
  1. Enable real-time antivirus protection to safeguard your Mac from future threats by clicking the Enable button.
click enable to allow real time protection

Once you have configured your security settings, MacKeeper will continue to operate in the background, diligently scanning for threats and actively blocking any malicious activity.

What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

Besides clearing cache files and scanning your system for malware, MacKeeper can delete junk files on your Mac, remove duplicate files, and uninstall unnecessary apps. Check out my detailed MacKeeper review to find out more about its features. 

How to Format a Drive on Mac

Formatting a drive on a Mac can be necessary for various reasons, including preparing a new drive, erasing data from an existing drive, or switching to a different file system. Formatting a drive involves wiping out all the data on the drive and setting it up with a new file system that determines how the data is stored and accessed.

There are two main ways to format a drive on Mac: Disk Utility or Terminal.

1. Format a Drive On a Mac Using Disk Utility

Disk Utility is a graphical tool that comes with every Mac and provides a simple and user-friendly interface for managing disks and volumes. You can format a drive on Mac easily using the built-in Disk Utility app.

Follow these simple steps to format a drive on Mac using Disk Utility:

  1. Launch the Disk Utility app on your Mac. You can do this by opening Spotlight Search (Command + Space) and typing Disk Utility.
type disk utility in spotlight search
  1. Once you have Disk Utility open, select the drive you want to format from the list on the left-hand side of the window.
select a drive from left in disk utility
  1. Click the Erase button at the top of the window. It will bring up a new window where you can choose the format for your drive. As mentioned earlier, choose the format that best suits your needs.
click the erase button at the top of the window to Format a Drive on Mac
  1. You can also give your drive a new name in the same window. It is optional but useful for multiple drives with the same format.
  2. Once you have selected the format and named the drive (if desired), click the Erase button. It will begin the formatting process, which may take several minutes, depending on the drive size.
type your drives name choose its format and scheme and click erase

2. Format a Drive On a Mac Using Terminal

The Terminal is a command-line tool that allows advanced users to perform various system tasks using text commands. If you have decided to format a drive on Mac using Terminal, ensure you have some advanced knowledge, as it involves using text commands to perform system-level tasks.

Be careful and double-check the drive you’re formatting to avoid any irreversible mistakes.

Follow these steps to format a drive using Terminal:

  1. Launch the Terminal app on your Mac.
launch terminal from utilities
  1. Type the following command and press Enter:
diskutil list
type in diskutil list and press enter

It will show you a list of all connected drives on your Mac. Identify the name of the drive you want to format.

  1. Type the following command and press Enter:
diskutil eraseDisk format name /dev/diskX

Here, format is the file system you want to use, name is the name you want to give your drive, and X is the disk number of the drive you want to format

  1. Choose the format that best suits your needs. You can also give your drive a new name in the same command.

Final Words

Formatting a drive on Mac is a straightforward process you can complete in a few simple steps. However, to ensure a smooth experience, there are a few tips that users should keep in mind:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Will formatting a drive on Mac erase everything on the drive? 

    Yes, formatting a drive on Mac will erase everything on the drive, including all data, files, documents, and applications. It’s essential to back up any important data before formatting to avoid losing it.

  2. How long does it take to format a drive on Mac? 

    The time it takes to format a drive on Mac depends on the size of the drive and the speed of your Mac. Smaller drives will generally format more quickly than larger drives. Formatting a standard 1TB hard drive can take 30 minutes to several hours.

  3. Can I stop the formatting process once it has started? 

    No, once the formatting process has started, you should not interrupt it. Doing so can damage the drive or cause data loss. It’s best to let the formatting process complete fully before doing anything else on your Mac.

Hashir Ibrahim


I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.



Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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