wipe iphone

So a new iPhone has just caught your attention, and you are looking to upgrade to the newest model as quickly as possible. But what do you do with your old device? There are a number of options available. You may want to give it away, trade it in with your service provider, put it up for sale, or recycle it. 

Whatever decision you make, you can’t just power it off, take out your SIM card, and hope that everything will be okay. Chances are your iPhone contains sensitive private data, and you need to get rid of it. You don’t want to inadvertently pass on your personal information to someone else. Leaving personal details on your old device may expose you to security and privacy risks. 

So, how do you properly wipe an iPhone clean without running the risk of leaving remnant data? Is it enough to just delete the files and hand the phone to a new owner? 

When you delete a file from your iPhone or iPad, the file isn’t actually removed. A deletion simply moves the file or folder into your Deleted Files folder. Permanent data erasure goes beyond basic file deletion commands, as you will soon find out.

In this article, we’ll show you how to securely wipe your personal data off your iPhone before selling or recycling it. Outlined below are four important steps you need to take to securely wipe your data and counter data remanence. We’ll take you through each step in detail. 

Here’s how to wipe an iPhone completely clean to sell:

  1. Preliminary steps (deregister iMessage and unpair Apple Watch)
  2. Backup all your data
  3. Remove your accounts, Find My iPhone, and your SIM card 
  4. Perform a factory reset

Preliminary Steps

Before we begin, you need to perform two key preliminary steps: Deregister iMessage and unpair your Apple Watch, if you have one. 

Deregister iMessage: If you are planning to switch to a non-Apple phone, you need to deregister iMessage, otherwise you will have difficulty receiving SMS/MMS messages on your new device. You can deregister iMessage on your iPhone or online. 

To deregister iMessage on your iPhone, make sure your SIM card is still in the phone and that you’re connected to your service provider network, then tab Settings >> Messages >> and turn off iMessage. If you don’t have access to your iPhone, you can deregister iMessage online on  Apple’s website.

Figure 1.0 Screenshot showing how to turn off iMessage

Unpair Your Apple Watch: If you have an Apple Watch paired to your iPhone, you need to disconnect it. You don’t want your watch to still be connected to the iPhone you’re getting rid of. When you unpair your Apple Watch from your iPhone, your iPhone automatically creates a backup of your Apple Watch, and then erases all data and resets your Apple Watch to factory settings. You can use the backup to restore your Apple Watch when your new iPhone arrives. If your Apple Watch is unpaired while out of range of your iPhone, the backup might not have the latest data.

Here’s how to unpair your Apple Watch:

  1. Keep your Apple Watch and iPhone close together as you unpair them
  2. Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone
  3. Go to the My Watch tab and tap your watch at the top of the screen
  4. Tap the info button “i” next to the watch that you want to unpair, then tap Unpair Apple Watch
  5. Enter your Apple ID password when prompted and tap again to confirm

If you are unable to unpair because you no longer have your iPhone, you can still erase all content and settings on your Apple Watch by going to Settings >> General >> Reset >> Erase All Content and Settings.

Back up your data

The importance of backing up everything on your phone before wiping it cannot be overemphasized. If you back up your data on your iPhone, you can be sure that a copy of your personal data will be ready for use once the new phone arrives.  There are two options available, you can either backup online to iCloud or to your computer via iTunes. 

Apart from data that’s already stored in iCloud or Google Drive, as well as Apple Pay and Face ID information and settings; iCloud backups include nearly all data and settings stored in your device. If you choose to back up to iCloud, ensure that the iCloud Backup option is turned on your device. You can back up to iCloud by following the steps below:

  1. Go to Settings >> [Your Name] >> iCloud >> iCloud Backup, and turn it on
  2. Then connect your device to a Wi-Fi network 
  3. Go to Settings >> [Your Name] >> iCloud >> iCloud Backup >> Back Up Now, and tab on it 
  4. Ensure your Wi-Fi connection remains intact until the process completes 
  5. You can check if the backup is completed by going to Settings >> [Your Name] >> iCloud >> iCloud Backup. Under Back Up Now, you’ll see the date and time of your last backup
Figure 2.0 Screenshot showing how to backup to iCloud

Another option is to back up to your local computer via iTunes. Backing up to your local computer includes almost all of your iPhone’s data and settings. To backup to your computer, follow the steps below:

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC, and launch iTunes if it doesn’t open automatically
  2. In iTunes, select the phone icon or choose your model from the Devices list 
  3. While on the “Summary” screen, select This computer under Backups, and click Backup Now 

All of your photos, videos, music, documents, text messages, app data, etc, will be saved on your computer, waiting to be restored on your new device. 

Remove your accounts, Find My iPhone, and your SIM card 

There are a few more things you need to remove or turn off before you finally wipe your iPhone clean. Firstly, you need to sign out of your Apple ID account for iTunes, iCloud, and the App Store. You don’t want your Apple ID account to still be connected to the device you’re trying to dispose of. Follow the steps below to sign out:

  • If your iPhone is running iOS 10.3 or later, go to Settings >> [Your Name] >> Sign Out. Enter your Apple ID password when prompted, and then tap Turn Off
  • If your iPhone is running iOS 10.2 or earlier, the process is a little different. Go to Settings >> iCloud >> Sign Out >> Tap Sign Out again to confirm, then tap Delete from My [Device] and enter your Apple ID password when prompted. Then go to Settings >> iTunes & App Store >> Apple ID >> Sign Out.
Figure 3.0 Screenshot showing how to sign out your Apple ID account

Secondly, you need to manually disable “Find My iPhone”, otherwise, whoever ends up with the device won’t be able to set it up again; only you can reactivate. As of iOS 7, “Find My iPhone” also serves as an Activation Lock. To turn off “Find My iPhone”, go to Settings >> [Your Name] >> iCloud >> Find My iPhone,  and turn it off. 

One last thing before you perform a factory reset: it’s time to remove your SIM card if you have one. Removal of the SIM card does not affect the reset process. In fact, the same reset process runs on your iPhone whether it uses a SIM card or is designed for CDMA networks. So, even if no SIM card is installed, the iOS software including the reset process still works normally. It’s advisable to remove your SIM card at this stage so that you don’t accidentally pass it on to the next person. 

Depending on your iPhone model, you can find the SIM card slot either on the side of the phone or on the top. In the iPhone 4, the slot is on the right side of the phone. You’ll find it on the top in all other models. Make sure the phone is powered off before you remove the SIM card.

Perform factory reset

Finally, it’s time to perform a factory reset on your iPhone. As the name implies, a factory reset erases everything from your phone and takes it back to a factory-like condition like it was before you acquired it. It is similar to the concept of formatting a computer hard drive, which deletes all the pointers to your data, so the computer no longer knows where the data is stored. 

But is the erasure secure? Well, iOS is a bit more hardcore when it comes to security and user data protection than Android, in that all your data is encrypted by default. According to Apple, all the data on an iOS device is encrypted by default using AES-256 encryption. The keys that are used to encrypt and decrypt your data are also stored on your device. When you do a factory reset or choose to “Erase All Content and Settings”, the device obliterates the keys, rendering all user data on the device cryptographically inaccessible to anyone. This ensures that all your personal data does not get passed on to somebody else. 

Third-party iPhone wiping software might claim to offer more secure data erasure, but Apple does not usually approve of those tools and has repeatedly shut them down, describing them as unnecessary, and insisting that the existing encryption is effectively unbreakable. 

Figure 4.0 Screenshot showing perform factory reset

To reset your iPhone, go to Settings >> General >> Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. Ensure you enter your passcode or Apple ID password if you’re prompted to do so. Your phone will process for several minutes. Once the reset process is completed and the phone restarts with all content and settings finally erased, you’ll have the option to set up iPhone as new or restore it from a backup. That’s it! You may now power it off and repackage it for the new owner. 

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