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

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.