How to Remove Personal Data Before Recycling Your Phone

A survey carried out by the Royal Society of Chemistry found that UK households hoard millions of unused electronic devices, and 23% of people surveyed have a mobile phone sitting idle somewhere in their home. It turns out that 18% of these people intend to recycle unwanted tech items, however the main obstacle for them to part with their unused devices are concerns that their personal data could fall into the wrong hands.

Our smartphones allow us to receive and send emails and texts, store our financial details and cards, passwords, contacts and are packed with our personal images. This is why it is important to follow certain steps to make sure your data won't end up getting used by third parties when you decide to trade your phone in or send it to be recycled.

Many of us might think that a simple factory reset will do the job, but it's only one of a few steps that need to be completed to protect your personal information. Tapping "Reset to Factory Settings" will delete apps you installed, files and settings and your phone will look the same it did when you first unboxed it. However, this step taken alone will not stop the next owner of your device from recovering your data. A study carried out by Avast, which is one of the largest security companies, revealed that it is possible to recover data from a phone that has been reset to factory settings. In fact, they bought 20 "erased" mobile phones on eBay and with them were able to restore more than 40,000 photos, 1,000 Google searches, previous owner identities, 750 emails and 250 contacts with email addresses.

The information below will guide you on how to remove all of the data from your device, depending on whether it's an iPhone or an Android phone. This will ensure that your data is protected when the time comes to sell or recycle it.

How to remove all data from an iPhone

How to remove all data from an Android

Steps to Remove All Data From an iPhone

Step 1: Back up Your iPhone

Before proceeding with data removal from your iPhone, it is essential that you have the most recent backup of your data, so that you can transfer it to your new phone or access files when you need to.

Navigate to Settings -> tap Apple ID banner -> iCloud -> scroll down and tap iCloud Backup -> Backup Now

You can use iTunes as an alternative method to have an up-to-date backup of your iPhone and photos. Check Apple's support page for step by step guide to backup your iPhone with iTunes.

Step 2: Disconnect All Devices From Your iPhone

Whether it is a smartwatch or a smartspeaker, it needs to be disconnected from your iPhone for security. Here's how you can unpair your smartwatch with a few clicks.

Step 3: Sign out From Apps, Apple Pay and iCloud

To protect your financial information, access the Wallet or Apple Pay app, go to Settings -> Wallet and Apple Pay -> tap on your card -> Remove card. Repeat this for every card you have connected to your Apple Pay.

You need to sign out from all social media, email and other apps that have your login details saved. To disable iMessage, navigate to Settings -> Messages -> Sign out then switch off iMessage.

Finally, your iCloud account needs to be removed. Click Settings -> tap on your Apple ID banner ->tap Sign out on the bottom -> Enter your password to confirm

Step 4: Clear Your Browser History and Passwords

In order to erase all of your saved website passwords, go to Settings ->scroll down to Passwords & Accounts -> Click Edit in the top right corner -> Select all and tap Delete in the top left corner.

While you're still in Settings app, scroll down and tap on Safari -> tap Clear history and website data -> tap to confirm.

Step 5: Reset to Factory Settings

You should only proceed with resetting your iPhone to factory settings once you have completed the steps above. But before you do, you should ensure that your SIM card has been removed.

In the Settings app, go to General -> scroll down and tap Reset -> Erase All Content and Settings. If your backup to iCloud hasn't finished yet, tap Finish Uploading Then Erase or if the backup has been completed click Erase Now -> Tap to confirm.

Step 6: Remove Your iPhone From Your Apple ID

This is the final step and it will help you to remove your iPhone's serial number from your Apple user account.

Visit appleid.apple.com, sign in with your Apple ID logins and access Devices, click on the iPhone you are about to sell and complete the process by clicking Remove.

Steps to Remove All Data From an Android Device

Step 1: Back up Your Android

Upload an updated version of your Android to your Google account by navigating to Settings -> Accounts and Backup -> Backup.

If you have had app sync turned off, your Google Apps won't be synced automatically to your Google account. Head over to Settings -> Accounts and Backup -> Accounts -> turn on Sync function. For apps outside Google of services, you will need to visit each apps' settings individually and sync them manually.

Step 2: Remove Factory Reset Protection

There might be some devices that require a separate Factory Reset Protection deactivation, but for most phones when you factory reset them, FRP is removed automatically. All Android phones with OS later than Android 5 (Lollipop) have Factory Reset Protection which needs to be deactivated so that the next owner of your phone will be able to use it. This can be done in Settings -> Biometrics and security -> Secure startup -> Do not require -> Apply.

If you want to double check if it has been removed, after all the steps below have been completed, turn your phone on and if a screen lock password or pattern isn't required, then the FRP has been successfully removed.

Step 3: Remove Cloud Accounts

Each manufacturer has their own cloud account service paired with a Google account. To securely remove them, visit Settings ->  Accounts and backup -> Accounts -> tap on each account and find the option to Remove it. Look closely, as it may be hidden behind three vertical dots in the top right corner.

Step 4: Clear Your Browsing History and Passwords

Head over to your browser app (Chrome for instance) and click on the three vertical dots in the top right corner and scroll down to Settings, then select Passwords. Tap on each password individually and tap on the bin icon.

To clear all your browsing history in Chrome app's settings, click History then tap on Clear browsing data.

Step 5: Remove Your Micro SD Storage Card and SIM Card

This step is probably the easiest. Use the SIM card ejector tool that was included with your phone or a paperclip to open the SIM card slot.

Step 6: Encrypt Your Phone

Older Android smartphones have encryption enabled by default, but these models can be encrypted by going to Settings and navigating to Security. Simply look for the encryption option. Keep in mind that your device needs to be charged at no less than 80% and keep your phone plugged in, as this process might take up to an hour and will drain your battery considerably.

Step 7: Reset Your Android to Factory Settings

Open your Settings app, then in the menu look for the Backup or General Management tab. Tap it, then click on Factory Data Reset.

Log in to your Google account, go to Security and look for Your devices. Then, click on Manage Devices, select your Android phone then click Remove.

It is very important to keep your data safe, and by combining additional data protection steps together with factory resets, this will help you to wipe your phone clean and leave no data behind when you sell it on or recycle your device.


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