How to remove your iCloud account and Apple ID from a transferred computer

Even when you think you’ve logged out and wiped things clean, there may still be a lingering trace.

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Apple uses an Apple ID across its whole ecosystem to identify you for syncing, purchases, and more. What happens when you sell or give away a Mac and think you’ve wiped all traces of your identity, but the Mac keeps prompting the new user or owner with your Apple ID account email and asking for its password?

If that’s happening, it’s likely you or the new possessor didn’t wipe the machine completely. I recommend that you perform a complete wipe when handing off a computer. 

You can then use a Time Machine or clone of the drive to restore purchases that you are transferring the licenses for along with the machine, software that is free to use without a license or doesn’t require a transfer, and any documents, photos, and other files you’re including.

Erase and reinstall macOS

The abbreviated version of erasing and reinstalling macOS is as follows:

  1. If you haven’t already used Migration Assistant or another method to copy all your files to a new machine, make a complete backup of your Mac. (You can also make a backup if you want to restore some elements on the Mac to a new user in your family or a new owner.)

  2. Follow Apple’s instructions for erasing the startup drive.

  3. Follow Apple’s steps for installing macOS.

  4. Restore any files that are necessary using Migration Assistant.

At no stage in this process should you enter your Apple ID. If you’re prompted during installation of macOS, do not! Follow these steps in a previous column for bypassing that requirement.

In Step 3 above, you can also avoid a download that might request your Apple ID by creating a bootable Catalina installer drive.

Create a new user and erase the old one

If it’s impractical to erase and reinstall macOS, often a next nearly-as-good step is to create a new user account and then delete your old one(s). This typically severs all Apple ID connections. Make a backup of the system as noted above—always, always, always backup before you erase things, I beg of you—and then:

  1. Open the Users & Groups preference pane.

  2. Click the lock at the lower-left corner and enter the password. (The account must be set to administer the Mac.)

  3. Click the + (plus) to create a new account with a name and password for the new user.

  4. Make sure to check Allow User to Administer This Computer so the new user has all the superpowers necessary.

  5. Click Login Options and check the Show fast user switch menu as pop-up menu’s box so you can test logging into the new user in a later step without logging out of this account first.

  6. If you’re using FileVault, you must also switch to the Security & Privacy preference pane and click FileVault, click the lock icon and authenticate as in step 2, then click Enable Users to add the new user. (If you don’t, you can’t complete these steps, as no user will be able to start up the Mac.)

  7. Choose the newly created user from the fast-switching menu in the system menu bar. Enter their password to log in.

  8. After ensuring that new account is set up correctly, return to your previous user account via the fast-switching menu and choose  > Log Out [account name].

  9. Return to the new account and open the Users & Groups preference pane and authenticate with the new user account as in step 2.

  10. Select your old user account and click the - (minus) and follow prompts to remove the account. If you’ve made a backup, you don’t need to archive the account, but can delete it.

  11. Restart and log into the new account. Check to see if the system prompts for the old Apple ID at any point.

Log out of everything in macOS

Now you may be unable to carry out either of the first two procedures, or you may prefer to just unwire your own Apple ID while leaving the Mac set up exactly as it was before, such as for another family member. In that case, you have to find everywhere you might be logged in with an Apple ID for purchases and iCloud synchronization and disable its use.

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To be sure you’re disconnected, you have to sign out from every app, including TV in Catalina.

In each of the following cases, you will have to confirm that you want to sign out. In some cases, you’ll be prompted to delete or retain local copies of data. Choose delete if you’re truly attempting to disconnect the account.

Start with the main iCloud connection:

  • In macOS 15 Catalina, start with the Apple ID preference pane, click the Overview link at left, and then click Sign Off. Follow prompts to confirm.

  • In macOS 14 Mojave and earlier, open the iCloud preference pane,

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Sign out of iCloud in macOS 10.14 Mojave.

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Sign out of iCloud in macOS 10.15 Catalina.

Then log out of all the many apps that might be connected to one or more Apple ID you may use:

  • Open Photos. Choose Photos > Preference > iCloud and uncheck iCloud Photos.

  • Open Messages. Choose Messages > Preferences > iMessage and then click Sign Out.

  • Open FaceTime. Choose FaceTime > Preferences > Settings and then click Sign Out.

  • Open the App Store and choose Store > Sign Out.

  • Open the Books app and choose Store > Sign Out.

  • Open the Internet Accounts preference pane, select any secondary iCloud accounts one by one and remove them by clicking the - (minus) button.

  • Open Mail. Choose Mail > Preferences > Accounts, select iCloud and click the - (minus) button.

  • In Mojave and earlier, open iTunes. Choose Account > Sign Out.

  • In Catalina, open the Music app. Choose Account > Sign Out.

  • Also in Catalina, open the TV app. Choose Account > Sign Out.

In each location, you might have locally stored documents that aren’t removed when you sign out. As you disconnect your Apple IDs, make sure and also delete those local files if you don’t want to leave them behind. This includes Calendar, Contacts, iTunes/Music, Mail, and Photos. But you should also examine all the home directory folders that contain files, like Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Priscilla.

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