Protect Sensitive Data by Wiping an iPhone or Android Device

Smartphones in a trashcan waiting to be destroyed in fire pit
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A Quick Guide: How to Wipe an iPhone or Android Mobile Device

You might think a factory reset is all it takes to prepare your phone for new ownership and to keep your data private. Unfortunately, this is not the case. After all, if your device’s new owner is somewhat tech-savvy, he or she can easily find a way to recover the deleted data. Therefore, we recommend you take the following three steps to wipe your phone or tablet before transferring ownership:

  1. If your device doesn’t automatically support data encryption, enable this in settings.
  2. Make sure you’re logged out of all your accounts.
  3. Do a factory reset. Note: If you use an Android device, remember to turn off the “automatic restore” option.

If you want more information on each of these steps, check out our complete guide on erasing your phone or tablet’s data.

Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way we interact with the world. Whether you’re using your iPhone or Android device to do some banking, shop online or post on social media, that small, mobile computer in your pocket could hold almost all the important information about your life.

This includes sensitive financial data, private search histories, photos, messages, and all your emails, just to name a few. If you’re selling or giving away your old device, you’ll want to wipe it clean. We’ll show you how to do just that in our full guide below.

Why Just Erasing Your Device Is Not Secure

Delete Data iPad iPhoneTake a piece of clean, white, paper and write your address on it in pencil. Now erase your address. This is essentially what happens when you do a factory reset of your smartphone or tablet.

We’ve all seen mysteries where the detective takes a piece of paper that had been erased and by rubbing a pencil over it they are able to read what had been written on it before. If you hold that piece of paper up to the light you can probably even read the address.

It’s easy for someone to access some software that can restore files and data that have been erased with a factory reset. The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your data is truly gone from your old device.

How to Wipe an iPhone or Android Device

Unless you completely wipe all data before upgrading to the newest model, your device’s new owner could gain access to extremely sensitive information about you. In order to delete any trace of your personal data from your phone or mobile device, you’ll need to do a factory reset.

Before you do that, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  1. Ensure your device has disk encryption enabled, or that your device supports automatic encryption.
  2. Sign out of all your accounts (especially Google and social media).
  3. Back up your data and do a factory reset.

Step 1: Enable Encryption Before Factory Reset

If you’re using an iPhone, you’re in luck. Any Apple device running iOS 8.0 or later is automatically encrypted. If you’ve got an up-to-date Apple device, you can skip to Step 2.

Since Android operating systems differ across mobile devices, you’ll want to make sure the data is encrypted on yours. Without encryption keys, it is virtually impossible to reconstruct your information. The information is still there (for those with the expertise to retrieve it) but all that can be retrieved is the scrambled, unreadable data.

This protects you from having your sensitive information recovered by someone who has your device after you. All devices which operate on Android 10 or higher are required to offer automatic disk encryption. You’ll just want to make sure it’s enabled.

If you own a slightly older Android device, you can check if your phone is encrypted or encrypts your information. You can do this by going to the setting menu and clicking on the security screen.

delete info android

This can be under different tabs depending on your Android device. It may also be labeled “Lock screen and security.”

lock screen and security

Once you’ve found the right screen, click on security and find the “Encrypt device” option. Again, depending on your device this may be labeled “Encrypt,” “Encryption,” or something similar.

encrypt device

The encryption screen warns you that encryption is a long process. You’ll want to wait for a time you won’t need the phone for at least an hour, and you will probably want to have your device plugged in while the encryption is happening. Once encrypted, the information on your device is secured.

Step 2: Sign Out of All Accounts

Whether you use an Apple or Android device, signing out of your accounts is a good idea. This prepares the smartphone or tablet for a factory reset and transfer to a new owner. Moreover, this prevents your device’s new owner from getting their hands on any of your data.

iOS Devices

For iOS devices, sign out (at the very least) of the App Store, iMessage, and iCloud. Follow these steps:

  1. Before signing out, be sure to unpair any devices you have connected such as your Apple Watch, AirPods or AirTags.
  2. From Settings, find “Messages” and turn off the iMessage option. We recommend doing the same with “FaceTime.”
  3. Find the “iTunes & App Store” setting, click on your Apple ID email and then click “Sign Out.”
  4. Finally, in Settings, tap “iCloud” at the bottom of the screen and find “Sign Out” or find your name and then tap “Sign Out.” Your device is now ready to wipe and reset.

apple signout

After you’ve signed out of your Apple accounts, make sure to followup by signing out of Google, social media accounts (like Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat) and your email accounts.

Android Devices

First, deactivate your screen lock. In your settings, you will need to find the lock screen settings. This can be under a few different labels depending on your device, but it is generally labeled “Lock Screen Security,” “Lock Screen,” “Lock screen and security,” “Passwords & security” or something similar.

Depending on your device, there might be a square that says “Screen lock” you need to click on to turn it off. Alternatively, you may need to choose “None” to deactivate your lock screen.

Screenshot of Android OS, Passwords and security window
Next, log out of your Google account on the device. On Xioami’s MIUI, you’ll have to go to “Accounts & Sync.” Alternatives from the Settings menu might read “Users and Accounts,” or “Accounts.”
Screenshot of Android OS, Account settings window
Once you’ve tapped on “Accounts & sync” or its alternative it will bring up the different accounts you have logged into the device. You might want to log out of each of them individually, but generally logging out of Google is enough to ensure your protection.
Screenshot of Android OS, Accounts and sync
Find “Google” and then click on each Gmail account you have logged in on this device to remove it. Click on “More” in the upper right-hand corner of the screen and select “Remove account” to log out.

Step 3: Factory Reset Your iPhone or Android phone

Once you’ve ensured your device is encrypted and you’ve signed out of your accounts, you can perform a factory reset. This isn’t just useful to clean your device of your data, but can also offer a solution when your phone is infected with mobile spyware or other kinds of malware. Here’s how you can factory reset your phone.

iOS

On your iOS device, from the settings menu, click on “General,” select “Reset,” and finally select “Erase All Content and Settings.”

erase all content apple reset

You have the option of backing up your data to iCloud before erasing it. Choose either to back up your data or “Erase Now.” Your data is now erased from your device.

Android

On an Android device, in your settings menu, look for “Backup & Reset.” This can often, but not always, be found in the system menu of your settings.

Select “Backup and reset” to get to the reset screen and select the option to reset your device.


First, make sure to turn off the “Automatic restore” option. This option brings back your stored settings and data when you reset the device and when you reinstall non-standard applications on your device. Click the slider to turn this off.

Finally, select “Factory data reset” to reset your device. Android brings up a list of accounts you’re still signed into on your device – if any. Choose “Reset Device” at the bottom of the screen to confirm your choice to reset.

Resetting a Xiaomi MIUI Device

In order to reset or restore Xiaomi phones, you need to follow slightly different steps. The MIUI operating system is a fork of the Android OS, but has its differences. The backup portion of the process takes place under “Back up and restore,” which you can navigate to from settings. It’s under “About phone.” Here you can also turn off “Automatic restore” for application data. It looks like this:

Screenshot of Xiaomi, Android OS, Back up and restore window

When you’re ready to do the actual factory reset, you’ll simply go to “About phone ,” and from there on to “Factory reset.” Now select “Erase all data” and confirm with your password.

Screenshot of Xiaomi, Android OS, Factory reset window

Conclusion

Considering how much we rely on our phones and tablets these days, we’ve come to entrust our most sensitive data to these pocket-sized devices. By following these simple steps, you can ensure your information remains secure even when passing on your device to a new owner. If you’re really concerned about privacy, you might want to choose from one of these top 5 secure and privacy-focused smartphones when getting a new phone.

How to Wipe an iPhone or Android Mobile Device: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a specific question about erasing your phone or tablet’s data? Check out our FAQ down below. If your question isn’t there, feel free to leave us a comment with your question and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

The exact way to do a factory reset depends on if you have an iOS or Android device and the exact model.

  • iOS: go to “General” > “Reset” > “Erase All Content and Settings.”
  • Android: go to System settings > “Reset settings” > “Erase all data (factory reset)” > “Reset Phone” or Reset Tablet.” Now confirm by selecting “Erase Everything.”

Do remember, however, you should take some steps before doing a factory reset to ensure your privacy. Read here what those steps are.

Completely wiping your iPhone to protect your privacy, doesn’t just mean doing a factory reset. You will also have to make sure your phone’s data is encrypted (if your phone is of an older make) and that you’re logged out of all your accounts. Read this article to find out how to do so.

In order to wipe your Samsung or Android phone effectively, you’ll have to follow the following three steps:

  1. Make sure your phone’s data is encrypted. You might have to do this manually if your phone is not new enough to support automatic data encryption.
  2. Log out of all your accounts (Google account, Facebook, etc.)
  3. Now perform a factory reset to remove your apps, settings and data.
Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.