Resetting your iPhone or iPad completely wipes the data on the device and returns it to factory settings. (This is distinct from the less drastic processes of restarting and force-restarting, both of which retain your data and settings and should generally be tried first.)
To factory-reset an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.
But there are some steps you should take first, as we'll outline in this article. We explain how to reset an iPhone or iPad, the steps and precautions to take first, and how to rescue the data on a phone or tablet you've wiped by mistake.
Why do I need to reset my iPhone?
If your iPhone or iPad is misbehaving and initial solutions are not working, a full reset may be necessary - although you should first try restarting your iDevice (see the link above). A factory reset can help resolve issues with your phone if it's crashing or freezing, or suffering from problems you can't identify.
Modern electronic devices can be very complicated, and can get themselves into a bit of a confused state from time to time. Resetting and wiping a device can clear out problems that cause it to get stuck in a loop, appear sluggish or otherwise impair performance.
And if you're selling your iPhone (or passing it down to a family member or friend) it's absolutely vital that you delete all the sensitive data stored on it. If not, an unscrupulous buyer could gain access to your social media profiles, your financial information and even your personal photos and videos, enabling them to browse through your private moments or steal your identity.
How to factory-reset your iPhone
If you want to erase your device completely and return to factory settings, there are a few steps to take.
Back up your iPhone
We have a separate article explaining how to back up an iPhone, but here's the shortened version:
- You can use either iCloud or iTunes to back up your iOS device.
- For iCloud, go to Settings > iCloud > Backup and ensure that the feature is enabled. To see when the last backup was run, look under the Back Up Now option where the date and time should be displayed. If you haven't done a backup before, you can tap the Back Up Now button and follow the instructions.
- To use iTunes to back up your iPhone or iPad, you'll need to plug your device into your PC or Mac using the charging cable. Click on the iPhone or iPad icon in the top-left corner of iTunes, under the Play button.
Factory-reset your iPhone
Once you're confident that you've backed up your iPad or iPhone, you're ready to perform a factory reset. This will completely wipe your device, which is why having a backup beforehand is so important.
- To reset your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > General > Reset and then select Erase All Content and Settings.
- If you've got an iCloud backup set up, iOS will ask if you'd like to update it, so you don't lose unsaved data. We advise you to follow this advice, and tap Back Up Then Erase.
- After typing in your passcode (if you've set one), you'll get a warning box, with the option to Erase iPhone (or iPad) in red. Tap this.
- You'll need to enter your Apple ID password to confirm the action. The device will be wiped and go back to the initial setup screen you saw when you first used the device.
- You can also fully reset your iPhone or iPad through iTunes or Finder (depending on whether you've updated to macOS Catalina or not). When you plug in your iOS device, you should see a 'Restore iPhone' button, which will fully reset the device.
Your iPhone or iPad is now ready to sell.
Did you forget to back up your iPhone before you wiped it?
If you're worried that your iPhone or iPad wasn't backed up, don't despair: there's a good chance that there's a backup you're unaware of.
To find out if you're backing up to iCloud (you get free 5GB of space) go to Settings > iCloud and tap on Storage. Wait a few seconds for Manage Storage to show up and tap on that. Here you will see your various backups for your iOS devices (there might even be one for an old iPhone that you could delete if you need more space).
One of the backups should say that it is This iPhone or This iPad. Tap on that and you can see what is, and isn't being backed up. You can basically turn things on and off so that they don't take up your full 5GB, or you can pay a few pounds/dollars a month for more storage.
You may think that some of those apps don't need to be backed up; after all, you will be able to download them again from the App Store as you already own them. But note that the data may include saved data for games, and other settings and preferences you would prefer not to lose.
To check when your iPhone last backed up, go to Settings and tap your ID card at the top of the main screen (it'll have your name and/or a picture of your face). Now hit iCloud > iCloud Backup and look at the date and time of the last backup. It will have happened the last time you plugged your iPhone into charge and had Wi-Fi access available. It happens automatically.
If you're not currently using this method, we recommend that you do so. Go to Settings > [your ID card] > iCloud > iCloud Backup and set iCloud Backup to on (the green toggle). This is the simplest way to back up and means that you can always recover the data on your phone no matter where you are - all you need is a connection to the web.
How to rescue data from a wiped iPhone or iPad
On the other hand, if you can't find a backup, it's likely that you won't be able to retrieve data once you have deleted it.
The data on an iOS device is automatically encrypted, and wiping the device destroys the encryption key, making it more or less impossible to get anything back when it's been fully erased and reset without access to a backup.
In an emergency you could try speaking to someone at an Apple Genius Bar, but it's a long shot to say the least. (This applies to a full erase/reset, mind you - in other circumstances, such as data corruption, a malfunctioning device and so on, the experts may be able to help.) This also reinforces our frequent advice to back up regularly.
How to restore an iPhone
If having erased the content of the phone you intend to keep using it, you can restore the content to your phone from your backup. Here's how:
...via iCloud backup
With the factory reset completed you'll need to go through the setup of your iPhone again from the beginning:
- Start up the iPhone and enter your details when prompted, including WiFi password, until you reach the page where you're asked how you want to 'Set Up iPhone'.
- You now have three options: Set Up as a New iPhone, Restore from iCloud Backup or Restore from iTunes backup - so select the iCloud option and you'll be prompted to enter your iCloud account details.
- Once you've done this, and agreed to the terms and conditions, your iPhone will begin restoring all your data.
Obviously this could take a while if you have large backups or a slow internet connection, so don't attempt this if you're in a hurry. When the backup is completed your iPhone will reboot, and then it will start the larger job of downloading all of your apps.
...via iTunes or Finder backup
- As with the iCloud instructions we've already outlined, follow the steps up to the 'Set Up iPhone' screen, then select Restore from iTunes.
- You'll be prompted to Connect to iTunes, so plug in your iPhone and you'll see a screen on iTunes that gives you the option to restore a backup. Click continue and your iPhone will be set up automatically, with the apps being restored from the iTunes backup.
- When it's finished, you'll have a freshly cleaned system. Hopefully any problems that you were encountering before will be a thing of the past.
- If you're installed macOS Catalina, iTunes will no longer exist on your system - but the functions above will be performed by Finder. Follow the same instructions in that application.