How to factory reset an iPhone

At some point in a device’s life, comes the time of the dreaded memory wipe. This could be because you’re parting company, and you want to make sure it’s clean of any of your personal data. Or it could simply be that it’s become old and creaky, and it’s struggling under the weight of its years — and it desperately needs a new lease of life. In those cases, a factory reset is a useful option.

However, it’s something of a nuclear option — and if you don’t do it properly, you could lose all your data and, in the worst cases, break your iPhone. There’s a right way and a wrong way to reset your phone. We’ll show you exactly what you need to do so you don’t lose everything, including how best to back up your precious data before you begin.

Is your iPhone frozen or not responding? Follow our guide on how to reset an iPhone so that you can get back up and running again. You should also check out our troubleshooting guide, because there are many steps you can take to fix problems with your iPhone even if a factory reset doesn’t fix your issue.

How to factory reset an iPhone using iCloud

how to factory reset an iPhone

Whether you have an iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 11 Pro, an iPhone SE (2020), or an even older model, like the iPhone 4 or 5, the easiest way to factory reset your iPhone is to use iCloud.

Step 1: Prepare your iPhone by backing up first

Apple’s iCloud is turned on by default nowadays when you sign in with your Apple ID. To decide what you want to back up, go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud — or go to Settings > iCloud in some older versions of iOS — and toggle on the items you’d like to back up. We recommend you choose to back up almost everything, but especially your Photos, Mail, Contacts, and Notes because the factory reset will wipe the lot.

Once you have toggled your picks on, scroll down and tap on iCloud Backup then toggle it On (if it isn’t already) and tap Back Up Now. Bear in mind that you’ll need to be connected to Wi-Fi and that it may take a while to complete the backup.

For more detailed instructions, check out our guide on how to use iCloud to back up your iPhone.

Alternatively, you can use your PC or laptop. Connect your iPhone to your computer via USB and click the gray Back Up Now button when viewing the Summary tab for your given device in iTunes. If you have a Mac running Catalina, look in Finder under the Devices or Locations tab.

Step 2: Access the Reset menu

Tap the main Settings icon when viewing the home screen, select General from the resulting menu, and tap the Reset button at the bottom of the page.

Step 3: Reset your iPhone

Tap the blue Erase All Content and Settings option near the top. If you haven’t backed up as we suggested, then you’ll be prompted to do so. You’ll then be prompted to enter your passcode. Tap the red Erase iPhone option in the resulting pop-up window to confirm your decision.

Step 4: Restore your iPhone

Once the reset process is complete — a process that may take up to several minutes — check to ensure your phone has been restored to its original factory settings. If done correctly, you’ll once again be presented with the iOS Setup Assistant upon startup.

You’ll have to log in and set up your iPhone from scratch once it has been factory reset. The prompts will ask you whether you want to restore from your iCloud account, set up a completely fresh phone without any of your previous settings, or use iTunes and a PC to put your old content onto the phone again.

If you’re interested in what all the iPhone Reset options mean, then skip to the last page of this article. If you want to perform a factory reset using iTunes, read on.

How to factory reset an iPhone using iTunes (the old way)

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Performing a factory reset on an iPhone — whether it’s a 4S or an iPhone 11 Pro Max — is easier when you use iCloud and reset directly from the device, but you can still use Apple’s aging iTunes with a PC. This is useful if you have traditionally used this method and are a longtime iPhone owner.

Apple has retired iTunes for MacOS, so if you’re running MacOS Catalina or a later, syncing on Mac computers will be handled via the Finder. You’ll find your connected iPhone under the Devices or Locations tab. The layout is much the same as your iPhone tab on iTunes, so the following instructions should work just fine. You can also still use iTunes on Windows computers or older Macs.

Step 1: Prepare your iPhone for restoration

First, launch iTunes as you would normally. If you’re on a Mac, click the iTunes menu located on the left side of the main toolbar, and if you’re on Windows, click the Help menu on the right. Select Check for Updates from the resulting drop-down menu, and ensure you have the latest version of iTunes. If not, download and install the latest version. If you’re using a Mac running Catalina, open the Finder instead. Afterward, connect your iPhone to your computer via USB and click the gray Back Up Now button when viewing the Summary tab for your given device. Alternatively, follow our guide on how to use iCloud to back up the device to Apple’s remote servers. Although backing up your device is not necessary, doing so will store your photos, apps, contacts, settings, and other data so you can automatically restore other iOS devices from the backup down the line.

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If you’re using an iPhone 4S or a newer device, you’ll have to disable Find My iPhone. To do so, tap the main Settings icon when viewing the home screen, select iCloud, and tap Find My iPhone. Then, toggle the slider at the top to disable the feature if you haven’t done so already.

Step 2: Restore your iPhone

Once the backup is complete, click the gray Restore iPhone button when viewing the Summary tab for your given device. Click the Restore button in the resulting pop-up window to confirm your decision, and if prompted, click Agree to accept the software license agreement and begin downloading the necessary iOS software file before restoring.

Step 3: Ensure the phone was restored

Once the restoration process is complete — a process that may take up to several minutes — check to ensure your phone has been restored to its original factory settings. If done correctly, you’ll once again be presented with the iOS Setup Assistant upon startup, from which you can then restore your phone from a backup or continue the process as if you were setting it up anew. It’s like it just came off the assembly line all over again.

iPhone 12 Mini
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

What do all those different reset options mean?

When you’re resetting your iPhone, iOS presents you with a host of different options, and it can be confusing deciding which ones to choose. Usually, you’ll want to perform the aforementioned factory reset, but here’s an explanation of what the other options do so that you can choose the best reset for your needs.

Note: If you are selling your phone or turning it over to someone else, the only one that safely erases everything and takes your phone back to its original state is Erase All Contents and Settings.

sell your smartphone iphone reset
Genevieve Poblano/Digital Trends

Reset All Settings

If you choose this option, you won’t lose all your data, but you will lose your settings and Wi-Fi passwords. Manual settings will disappear, sure, but you’ll still have your pictures, apps, and other content.

Erase All Content and Settings

This is the option we described at the start of this post, which erases everything from your device. Your settings, pictures, apps, and other data will vanish for good — unless you’ve backed up your content.

Reset Network Settings

Sometimes you just need to refresh your network settings to set up a better connection. Choosing this option resets your network settings, flushes the cache, and deletes any temporary files you have stored on your device. It’s great for those who are experiencing trouble with various Wi-Fi connections.

Reset Keyboard Dictionary

While it can often lead to a good laugh, more times than not, your iPhone’s autocorrect system hopelessly botches a sentence or word that was fine in its original form. There is still hope if you’re constantly getting typo suggestions and irrelevant words when typing messages. There is a simple resolution to autocorrect failures that involves wiping your keyboard dictionary’s history. 

Reset Home Screen Layout

Many users enjoy installing and rearranging apps on their smartphone’s home screen. If you get bored of the same old format, you have a surefire way to make a sporadic yet drastic change. Resetting is a great option if you want to return to your iPhone home screen’s factory default layout.

Reset Location & Privacy

Oftentimes when you’re pushing a bunch of buttons and experimenting with your settings, you can accidentally cause problems. If you need to reinstate your phone’s initial privacy and location settings, you may want to consider this reset. You don’t have to worry about losing any other information in the process.

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