How to wipe a computer or smartphone before selling

Anton P. | January 13, 2023

Before selling computers, smartphones, or different old tech, guarantee that the new owners won’t find remains of your data. A factory reset seems enough, but advanced system recovery software could restore old files. 

People might also skip the factory reset and manually delete particular files. This approach is prone to error, as users can miss data, or the new owners could restore deleted documents. 

Thus, we supply a checklist for how to wipe a computer or smartphone before you sell, donate, or recycle them. 

First steps before selling computers or smartphones 

Reinstalling operating systems is critical before giving away or selling devices. It should permanently delete all documents, files, applications, and other digital assets. 

However, you could choose to hand over your device with its existing operating system. This option is less practical as it requires a lot of manual work. 

Here are the main reasons not to sell a computer or smartphone without reinstalling its operating system: 

  • You can miss important files while deleting them one by one from your device. 
  • It could be possible to restore some deleted files. 
  • You could forget to clean your browser data like saved passwords.
  • You could forget to log off of specific accounts and applications. 
  • Various digital footprints through network connections and running device processes could remain.

Thus, choose a factory reset and wipe devices off all your personal data. 

Difficult to remove data from SSDs 

Modern SSDs feature Solid-State Drive Toolbox. It complicates things if you wish to erase data from SSD permanently. 

Furthermore, data in SSD moves from one block to another. So, to securely remove information from SSD, you have three options: 

  1. You can perform an SSD reset to get rid of all data by running commands. 
  2. SSD manufacturers might have introduced a removal tool suitable for their product. 
  3. You can encrypt your storage drive. It means that all data within the SSD won’t be available without a decryption key. 

Encrypt your storage drive on Windows

Encryption on Windows could be active by default. However, you should check whether this is true: 

On Windows 10:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Select Update & security
  3. Find Device Encryption
  4. Try searching for Device Encryption in the search bar. 
  5. Enable Device Encryption if it is not on already. 

On Windows 11: 

  1. Open Settings. 
  2. Go to Privacy & Security
  3. Look for Device Encryption
  4. Turn Device Encryption on. 
  5. You might find options for BitLocker instead. Explore its capabilities, as it can assist in encrypting flash drives and external drives. 

Before wiping Windows computer, use BitLocker to encrypt storage.

On Mac: 

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Open Security & Privacy
  3. Open FileVault.

File Vault is a built-in Mac feature for encrypting files.

  1. Click the lock icon to make changes.
  2. Turn on FileVault.
  3. Complete the other necessary steps. 

Back up data before reinstalling the systems

Donating, recycling, or selling computers and smartphones could mean accidentally deleting some crucial data. While erasing personal files is essential before selling devices, you should back up this data. 

So, transfer files to your new device if possible. If not, you can back up data and upload it to your new device later. 

Back up important data on Windows 

File History on Windows can automatically back up documents to an external location. You will need to connect a drive, like a flash drive to your computer. 

File History lets you choose from which locations to transfer files. However, you can also manually move files to your external drive. 

Transfer data to an external storage device on Mac 

You can back up your data with Time Machine, a built-in feature on Macs. iCloud can also be the storage option for keeping your files. Furthermore, iCloud means you get to access documents on all devices. 

Migration Assistant on Mac can also help you transfer files from the old to the new Mac. 

Back up data on Android 

  1. Open Settings on Android. 
  2. Tap on Google and open Backup

You can back up data on Android smartphones by using Google Backup services.

  1. Choose the Back up now option. 

Backups of your files are on Google servers, and your Google Account password protects them. 

Back up data on iOS 

The most user-friendly option is to move all your files to iCloud. 

  1. Open Settings
  2. Tap on iCloud
  3. Find iCloud Backup

You can back up data on iPhone by using iCloud.

  1. Open iCloud Backup and choose Back Up Now. 

How to wipe a computer off all data 

Remember to reset your operating system before selling computers or smartphones. Also, ensure that you have transferred and saved all the necessary files. 

Factory reset on Windows computers

  1. Open Settings
  2. Navigate to the Update & Security tab. 
  3. Choose Recovery

Choose Recovery on Windows to wipe your computer data.

  1. Click Get started
  2. If you plan on selling your computer, choose Remove everything to reset this PC. 

Factory reset on macOS 

  1. Restart your computer.
  2. Press and hold Command and R keys until the Apple logo appears. 
  3. Your Mac reboots into a recovery menu. 
  4. Pick Disk Utility and click Continue

Reset macOS through macOS utilities.

  1. Select Macintosh HD. 
  2. Click the Erase button.

Factory reset on Android 

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Find Factory Reset

You can perform factory reset on Android to wipe all data.

  1. Tap on Erase all data

Factory reset on iOS 

  1. Open Settings
  2. Move to General
  3. Tap Transfer or Reset iPhone.

Reset your iOS system to get rid of all data.

  1. Pick Erase All Content and Settings.

Sell your tech securely 

If you plan on recycling, donating, or selling your devices, back up data and clean the drives carefully. Wiping your hard drive is an integral step to ensure that no one can access personal documents or accounts.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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computerssmartphonesencryptionsecurity

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