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How to wipe an iPhone - a step-by-step guide

There will come a time when this process will need to be done.
By
September 27, 2022
People using an Apple iPhone stock photo 19

No matter how well you look after your iPhone, there will eventually come a time when you need to factory reset it. Whether it’s a case of the phone not working optimally or you plan to sell it, good security and privacy dictate that you must erase the iPhone first to permanently destroy your personal data. It’s important that you know how to do this properly, so here is a detailed run-down on how to wipe your iPhone.

Read more: How to reset your iPhone SE

QUICK ANSWER

If you know your Apple iCloud details, the fastest way to wipe your iPhone is to do it from the actual device itself. Go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Erase all Content and Settings. On macOS, attach your iPhone with a Lightning cable, and follow on-screen instructions in Finder. On Windows, attach your iPhone with a USB cable, open iTunes, and follow on-screen instructions. In an emergency, you can also remotely wipe the phone using the Find My app on another Apple device.


JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS

Erasing, wiping, and factory resetting an iPhone — is there really a difference?

apple iphone 14 pro standing
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Many people get confused when they hear the words “erase,” “wipe,” and “factory reset” being said about an iPhone. But they are actually all the same thing. The act of wiping the phone’s contents, and putting it back to the state it was in at the factory, can be equally applied to all three phrases.

So throughout this tutorial, we will be using all three phrases interchangeably.

How to wipe an iPhone

apple iphone 14 pro deep purple
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

There are a few methods for wiping an iPhone, depending on your platform. Arguably, the easiest method is from the device itself, but you can also wipe an iPhone using a laptop or desktop computer. You can even remotely wipe the iPhone from another Apple device, or the browser, using the Find My function.

Wiping from the iPhone itself

To kick off the process on the iPhone, go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone.

iphone transfer or factory reset

This is where a lot of people now make a common mistake. Do not choose Reset (it sounds counterintuitive, I know.) Instead, tap Erase All Content and Settings.

Reset only resets certain functions on the phone. To completely erase the phone and put it back to factory settings, you need to instead select Erase All Content and Settings.

iphone erase all content settings option factory reset

The phone will now tell you to do an iCloud backup of all of your data. You can skip this, but it’s highly recommended that you don’t skip it. In the unlikely event of the phone not telling you to do an iCloud backup, cancel the wiping process and go to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > iCloud Backup. Tap Backup Now.

icloud backup on iphone 13 factory reset

Once the iCloud backup is completed, go back to the wiping process again. You will now be given a summary of what is going to be erased, and you must either confirm you want to proceed or back out.

erase wipe factory reset iphone confirm

If you’re sure you want to continue, tap the blue Continue button. The phone will now begin wiping your data. The device will restart a couple of times, and how long it takes to factory reset will depend on how much data you have, how fast your internet connection is, and how fast Apple’s servers are. But on average, it takes around 15 minutes. Go write that novel you’ve always wanted to start. See a sunrise. Hug the dog.

Remote wiping the iPhone using the Find My app

erase iphone on Find My

If your phone is lost or has been stolen, you can wipe the phone remotely using the Find My app. Obviously, this requires that Find My is already activated on the iPhone in question, and you would either need another Apple device to log into Find My (an iPad, another iPhone, a Mac, or an Apple Watch) or a desktop browser to log into iCloud.

When you have logged into Find My or iCloud with your Apple ID details, click your iPhone and then the small i logo. In the box that comes up, look to the bottom and click Erase This Device. Obviously, you won’t be able to do an iCloud backup first, but if your iPhone is set to do daily iCloud backups already, you may be lucky and have a recent backup sitting in your account.

Using a laptop or desktop computer (macOS)

If, for any reason, you would prefer to use your Mac laptop or desktop computer to reset your iPhone, that is possible too. You will need to attach your iPhone to your Mac using its Lightning charging cable. When you’ve done so, you will see the iPhone appear in the Locations list in Finder.

my iPhone in Mac Finder

If you don’t see it, unlock your iPhone. You may get a request on-screen to authorize your Mac to access your iPhone.

Once your iPhone is showing in the macOS Finder sidebar, click it to see an iTunes-like interface.

iPhone options in macOS Finder
  • Select Back up your most important data on your iPhone to iCloud, and click Back Up Now. Wait until your backup is finished.
  • Disable Find My iPhone on your iPhone.
  • Click Restore iPhone in Finder, and the wiping and resetting process will begin.

Using a laptop or desktop computer (Windows)

The iPhone summary page in iTunes for Windows

It’s more or less the same procedure on a Windows computer, except you need to use iTunes. Attach your iPhone to the Windows computer with a USB cable, and click on the iPhone when it appears in iTunes.

Make your iCloud backup using iTunes, then click Restore iPhone to begin the factory resetting process.

How to factory reset an iPhone without a password

iphone update restore forgot passcode

If you don’t remember your lock screen password, then you can still erase your phone back to factory settings. Find my iPhone must be disabled first. You will then be forced to install the iCloud backup onto the phone, which will require your iCloud login details. So if you don’t know your iCloud login details, then the phone will be useless at this point. This is Apple’s thief prevention tactics at work here.

Once the iCloud backup has been restored, you can then gain access to the phone and set a new password.

To begin, long-press the side power button until you see this screen.

iphone recovery mode forgot passcode

Now release your finger and attach the iPhone to iTunes or Finder, depending on your platform. You will be given the option to Restore. Choose that and let the wiping and resetting process play out.

What happens when you wipe your iPhone?

When you wipe your iPhone :

  • All personal data such as photos, music, video, email, and signed-in accounts will be wiped.
  • All installed games will be deleted.
  • All network settings, such as VPNs, mobile network settings, Wi-Fi, and iOS beta profiles, will be erased.
  • All temporary app data and cookies will be removed.

It’s worth stressing th0ugh that if you made an iCloud backup beforehand, this data will be saved in your iCloud account. It will only be permanently deleted on the iPhone, making it safe to sell or trade-in.


Read more: How to unlock the iPhone if you forgot the passcode

FAQs

All data on the actual phone is deleted permanently and becomes unrecoverable. However, the data will securely remain in your Apple account if you purchase a new Apple device and wish to pick up where you left off.

Only if Find My iPhone is deactivated on the device. If it is, you can erase the iPhone using Recovery Mode.

Most likely because Find my iPhone is still activated, which stops a thief from wiping the phone and inserting a new SIM card. You will have to deactivate Find My iPhone before the phone can be wiped.

Absolutely; otherwise, you run the risk of your data being recovered by another person and possibly being used for illegal purposes.