Downgrade your macOS Sierra to an earlier OS version

Just like most of us, you’ve probably jumped on the Sierra bandwagon and upgraded, expecting cool features and a boost in performance. But this macOS has its bugs and troubles: some apps and hardware pieces are incompatible with it, and some features are off-putting rather than appealing.

In any case, you don’t have to endure Sierra if, for whatever reason, you don’t feel like it at this point. Follow our guide on how to downgrade macOS Sierra and familiar OS X and wait for another update (or don’t).

How to remove macOS Sierra and go back to OS X 10.11

IMPORTANT: Do not proceed before you have this guide opened on some other device or printed out! If you want to reinstall El Capitan to the very Mac you’re reading this on right now, please make sure to have this page opened anywhere else or even print out the instructions. We’ve prepared a full tutorial on how to remove macOS Sierra from your Mac and revert back to El Capitan OS.

Step 1: Keep your files backed up

First, let’s figure out how to reinstall macOS without losing data. While you downgrade your Mac, it will be cleansed from the files you’ve worked on since you installed Sierra. If you still need them, you should back them up.

To begin with, make sure you’re backing up the files you actually need, not some old trashy stuff that you’d be better off without. You can make use of a Mac cleaner to get rid of the files you no longer need. An app like CleanMyMac X is a good fit for the job. After you download and install it, look in the left-hand menu for the Large & Old files tab. Run the scan to find stuff on your Mac you might want to get rid of quickly. Now, you can move the rest of them to an external drive or cloud storage, like DropBox or iCloud.

LAOF module of CleanMyMacX

Also, it’s vital to have a Time Machine backup for all your files before you proceed. This is a general Mac backup, and you can restore all your files by the end of the reinstallation process. You can find it in Settings > Time Machine.

Step 2: Make an OS X El Capitan installer into a bootable drive

Before you proceed directly to macOS downgrade, you’ll need OS X El Capitan installer ready for launch. For this purpose, you’ll need a bootable flash drive (USB) with El Capitan on it. When you create it, you can then erase the operating system you’ve got now (Sierra) and install El Capitan, but it must be specifically a bootable installer on the drive, not just a file on the USB stick. Otherwise, you won’t be able to choose it for installation. No worries, it’s not too hard to create; just stick to the steps below:

  1. Find an external drive (a thumb drive will do) with at least 8GB of storage space.
  2. Download El Capitan installer file (Install El from the App Store and put it into the Applications folder.
  3. Open Terminal and paste this into Terminal window:

    sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El --nointeraction

  4. Enter admin password when asked.

Wait for about half an hour till it’s ready. In the end, you will see the Copy Complete message. And finally, “Done.” This means you’re all set.

Create bootable flash drive with Terminal

Step 3: Erase macOS Sierra out of your sight

Once your bootable installer is ready to roll, it’s time to delete macOS Sierra. The following list shows you the easiest way to completely remove macOS Sierra from your Mac, so there is no coming back after you’ve gone all the way. Make sure you’ve kept all precautions, such as you have the rest of this page on a separate device and your files are safely backed up or moved to the cloud storage.

Sure you’re ready to move on? Then go.

  1. Make sure you’ve got internet connection.
  2. Restart Mac (Apple icon > Restart).
  3. Press and hold Command+R right after the startup until Mac makes that specific reboot noise.
  4. Open Disk Utility — you can see it in the Utilities selector.
  5. Click Continue.
  6. You can see the list of disks. Find your Startup Disk among them and choose it.
  7. Find the Erase tab at the top. Name the file you want erased (for instance, macOS Sierra).
  8. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the list.
  9. Hit Erase.
Erase drive with macOS Sierra

When the process of erasing Sierra is complete, you can open the main menu in the upper left corner and simply quit Disk Utility. You won’t need it anymore. Quitting will bring you back to the OS X Utilities selector, and our reinstallation journey continues from there.

Install OS X El Capitan

Step 4: Install OS X El Capitan back on your Mac

Finally, after you’ve erased something, you have to install something back. With the bootable drive, it’s more than easy — just a couple of clicks. However, not as fast.

  1. First, in your OS X Utilities selector, find and choose Reinstall OS X.
  2. When you see El Capitan installation, just click continue and then click through the license agreement.
  3. From then, follow the usual installation flow. Let it finish and reboot.

IMPORTANT: there is a possibility that you’ll be able to download an earlier version of OS X, probably the one that was on your Mac when you bought it. In this case, finish the installation and then go to the Mac App Store to upgrade to El Capitan.

Getting your files back

Step 5: Retrieve your files from El Capitan backup

As we mentioned before, a Time Machine backup is not exactly an option; it’s more of a necessity when it comes to getting your files back. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Restart Mac.
  2. Press and keep Command+R through the whole reboot.
  3. In the OS X Utilities selector, select Restore from Time Machine Backup.
  4. Press Continue (twice).
  5. Select the Backup source (time to recall where your backup is stored).
  6. Continue.
  7. Select OS X El Capitan backup on the drive (the most recent one).
  8. Continue.

Your data will be restored, and then your Mac will reboot. It might take a while, so be prepared to wait. Average restoring time mainly depends on the size of your backup.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.