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Safe Mode on the Mac is usually entered on purpose and on a boot-by-boot basis by holding the Shift key during the system restart or reboot, and when the troubleshooting action that Safe Mode requires is completed, the next reboot should return to normal to be. But sometimes a Mac can seemingly hang in safe mode regardless of reboot, and the Mac then constantly boots in safe mode, limiting the use of the computer. As you may already know, booting a Mac in Safe Mode is a common troubleshooting trick, but you certainly don’t want to constantly boot in Safe Mode as Mac OS functionality is limited when you do so, so if your Mac keeps booting into Safe Mode, you’ll want to fix that.
This one guide will aim to fix a Mac that keeps booting in safe mode and return it to normal boot functionality.
Troubleshoot a Mac that always boots in Safe Mode
There are a few reasons why a Mac may always start up in Safe Mode. Let’s go through the most common reasons and discuss them individually.
1: Check if the Shift keys are stuck on the Mac and clean the keyboard
Sometimes a Shift key can get stuck on a Mac for a variety of reasons, and if the Shift key is stuck (whether it’s visibly obvious or not), the Mac will constantly boot into Safe Mode whether you intend to or not. So, the first thing to do is to check and clean the keyboard, and specifically check the Shift key to make sure it works as expected.
You may want to use compressed air and blow around the shift keys on the keyboard to make sure nothing gets caught underneath.
Checking for stuck keys is especially important for the often problematic keyboard featured on the 2020-2020 MacBook Pro series and the 2020-2020 MacBook line, where the keyboard keys are known to hang or freeze, either due to small dust or debris, or seemingly random. Apple has a rather comical / ridiculous support page here that recommends holding the computer in several unusual angled positions and blowing the keys with compressed air to try and fix stuck or unresponsive keys. While the keys don’t crash for everyone and this may not be your problem, a common problem (there is even a class action lawsuit on the matter) is checking that your Shift keys are actually working as expected and not crashing is a crucial troubleshooting step in repairing a Mac that always boots in safe mode.
By the way, if you have a 2020-2020 MacBook Pro or a 2020-2020 MacBook, Apple has a keyboard repair program available here to replace and fix problematic keyboards (currently the 2020 MacBook Pro is not on that keyboard service repair list, but since the keyboard is basically the same and various reports indicate keys will stick on 2020 models as well, which may change).
Long story short, check your Shift keys and make sure the keyboard is clean.
A small tool called ‘Keyboard Cleaner’ can be useful for cleaning a Mac keyboard, it stops keyboard input while running, so you can clean a MacBook Pro keyboard by wiping it with a slightly damp cloth, then up using compressed air blasts around the keys can also be a good idea.
2: Reset NVRAM on Mac
The next thing to try is to reset NVRAM / PRAM on Mac. This is done immediately when the Mac boots up up and it often fixes problems like when a Mac keeps booting in safe mode.
- Restart the Mac and immediately Hold down Command + Option + P + R keys together
- Keep holding down the Command + Option + P + R keys until you hear the startup chime a second time, or for Macs without startup chime until you see the Apple logo knipp flashing a second time, often it’s about 20 seconds or so
After the NVRAM / PRAM is reset, the Mac will boot up as usual.
This can fix a variety of situations where a Mac constantly boots into Safe Mode, either due to an error or intentionally, for example if you (or someone else) had enabled Safe Mode from the command line by configuring nvram bootargs, resetting the NVRAM should also erase that configuration change.
Additional troubleshooting steps
Usually, the two steps above, cleaning and inspecting the keys along with resetting NVRAM, will resolve any issues where a Mac freezes when booting into Safe Mode on every boot. If for some reason the problem persists, some other troubleshooting steps could include:
- Reset the Mac SMC
- Disconnect an external keyboard and try a different external keyboard
- Make sure the Mac (or the keyboard) is not liquid damaged
- Make sure the Mac (or keyboard) has not suffered any other physical damage that would impede or prevent proper functionality
- Rarely support up the Mac and then reinstall the MacOS system software
- If a remotely controlled computer is stuck in Safe Mode, try clearing NVRAM from command line as instructed here by ssh
Did the steps outlined above fix your Mac and prevent it from always booting in Safe Mode? Do you have any other useful troubleshooting method to fix this problem? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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