How to Start a Mac in Safe Mode

Booting into safe mode is a powerful step that can help fix a host of issues. Although all modern Macs can access it, the method differs between Apple Silicon and Intel devices. Below, we’ll show you how to start your Mac in Safe Mode.

Since Safe Mode disables certain launch items and caches, it’s great for isolating the root cause of a problem. In some cases, booting into safe mode alone is enough to fix a problem.

Let’s discuss exactly what safe mode does, how to start it, and how to use it as a troubleshooting tool.

What Does Mac Safe Mode Do?

Image: KnowTechie

When you boot into Safe Mode, macOS performs a startup disk check. If your Mac won’t start, sometimes the automatic repair process is enough to fix the problem.

Safe mode also prevents the operating system from loading startup items, third-party fonts, and system caches. If sparse software or a corrupted cache is causing issues, the issue should not occur in Safe Mode.

Also, some hardware, such as USB devices, may not work in this boot mode, which can make troubleshooting difficult. However, most on-board devices should still work.

How to Boot a Mac into Safe Mode on an Apple Silicone Mac

Here’s how to boot an Apple Silicon Mac into Safe Mode:

  1. Turn on your Mac and hold down the power button until Loading boot options appears on the screenmac safe mode boot screen

  2. Click on your boot disk to select itdisk selection in safe mode

  3. Hold Change and click Continue in safe mode when it appears

If you have FileVault enabled, you will first see a normal login screen. Once you’ve unlocked the drive, you should come to a second login screen with Safe boot appearing in red in the upper right corner.

Due to disk checking and not using caches, macOS takes longer to load when booting into safe mode, so don’t panic if the loading bar seems to hang.

You may also notice that once started, your machine feels sluggish and clunky. Safe Mode is basically a simplified version of the operating system, so performance issues and glitches are normal.

How to Boot into Safe Mode on an Intel Mac

mac keyboard with shift key highlighted
Image: KnowTechie

Here’s how to boot an Intel Mac in Safe Mode:

  1. Turn on your Mac and hold Change
  2. When a loading bar or login screen appears, release the Shift key

That’s it. It really is that simple.

What to do when a problem does not occur in safe mode

mac library menu
Image: KnowTechie

If safe mode solves a problem, you should first try restarting normally and see if the problem persists. If so, it’s time to start extracting the files.

To access caches and launch agents in the user library, you need to run SearcherClick on To go in the top menu bar, hold the Options keyand select masking Library list entry.

Here is a list of locations that could host problematic items that safe mode disables:

  • System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items
  • ~/Library/Caches
  • /Library/Caches
  • /System/Library/Caches
  • ~/Launch Agents
  • /Library/LaunchAgents
  • /Library/LaunchDaemons
  • /Library/StartupItems

Although none of the items in the locations listed are essential, you should move them to your desktop instead of deleting them completely.

Some files may be required for some third-party applications to work properly. Once you identify the culprit, you can return the other items to their original folders.

mac users and groups screen
Image: KnowTechie

When deleting Connection elementsyou will need to click on an entry to highlight it and then click on the Less (-) button to delete. Checking the Hide box just hides the element on startup.

Add Safe Mode to your troubleshooting toolkit

Safe mode can help, but it doesn’t always work. While problems caused by third-party applications are almost always fixed with this boot mode, problems with the operating system itself are more difficult to isolate.

Safe Mode is a versatile troubleshooting tool, but it shouldn’t be the only one in your toolbox. For some problems, you will need all the hardware.

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Steven L. Nielsen