How to Delete Your Phone Data Before Switching

Whether you’re itching to get an iPhone or another cell phone, there are certain security precautions you should take when switching phones. Learn how to delete cell phone data before you donate, sell, or trade-in your current phone. The last thing you want is to hand over personal information or sensitive data to a stranger or your kids.

Cell phones are like PCs in that they store data. You might think that because they were smaller, the task of removing your data would be easier. That’s not always the case, but it’s not time-consuming, like erasing your PC hard drive. Granted, some manufacturers make it less obvious so we don’t accidentally delete the data.

What’s On My Phone

When you decide to get rid of your phone, look at the type of data it collects. Many people make the mistake of just deleting phone numbers and contacts. Today’s smartphones and applications allow you to save much more, such as:

  • Contacts
  • Phone logs
  • Appointments
  • Tasks
  • Location history
  • Online searches
  • Voice notes and recordings
  • SMS messages
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Application data
  • Email
  • Email attachments

Each of the above items could contain personal or confidential information. While your goal is protecting your data, you also protect other people. You probably would be annoyed if your contact information were revealed.

Some people think it’s sufficient to delete certain folders or applications. They believe there is nothing vital on their phone that could benefit others. The bottom line is don’t waste time deciding what to delete. Just do a factory reset. This brings the phone back to its original state. And yes, the new owner may have to do some operating system updates based on the phone’s age.

Questions Before You Delete

My preference is to set up my new phone before erasing the old one, if possible. While this isn’t mandatory, it helps if I encounter issues with the new one. I’ve had friends return new phones over headphone jacks.

Before starting the data deletion process, consider these questions:

  • Have you backed up any data you need? This can include data on the phone or any SD card. Google has a good help topic on this issue, as does Apple.
  • Have you done a password reset in the last 24 hours? Wait a day if you have so systems are synced.
  • Do you know the passwords of your accounts? You may be prompted for these or when you set up the new phone.
  • Is your phone fully charged?
  • Have you logged out of any phone apps? This is important with messaging apps, especially if you change operating systems.
  • Have you removed your phone from any Find My Phone tool?
  • Will you be using the same SIM card?
  • If you use Two Factor Authentication (2FA), have you transferred your accounts to the new phone?
  • Have you removed any storage cards?
  • Have you encrypted your data? (optional)

I prefer to encrypt my phone data. Most modern phones do this automatically. But, if you’ve not encrypted your data, you might consider doing this before wiping or doing a factory reset of your phone. What if the manufacturer’s wipe process has a bug and doesn’t fully remove all your data? I don’t want any unencrypted data left on the old phone.

Check the Phone’s Operating System

When I first wrote this article in 2007, there were more phone operating systems. Interestingly, the two dominant phone operating systems were starting. Apple came out with the iPhone in 2007, and Android appeared a year later. The good news is that both Google and Apple have built-in options to erase and reset your data. The instructions do vary based on which version of the operating system. And while there are other operating systems, I’m concentrating on these two.

If you’re not sure how to find your phone’s OS, you can navigate to Device Info with any device. I find this online service faster than tapping various settings such as those provided by Google and Apple.

Once you land on the page, it will show your phone OS and the make and model. You may have to scroll to the right to see the info. The service detected a Moto G7 phone running Android 10 in the screen snap below.

Results from
Service shows Phone Model and OS

Android Phones (Factory Reset)

The issue with Android phones is the large number of versions and manufacturers. I find the easiest way to get to Reset Options is to use the gear settings icon and search.

  1. Go to your phone’s settings panel. This may show as the gear icon.
  2. In the Search settings textbox, type “reset“.
  3. Your phone should show matching options.
Matching settings options from reset search.
Matching reset option
  1. Choose to Erase all Data (Factory Reset).
Android factory reset panel.
Android option to erase all data
  1. Click Erase all data.

iOS Phones (Factory Reset)

Since Apple controls much more of its ecosystem, things are easier and more standardized. I also find they have better support if things go wonky. There is a way to use Apple iTunes and connect your iPhone to your computer with a cable. However, if you’re on a Windows PC, you know how painful iTunes is, and you’ve removed it. I’m using the abbreviated steps.

  1. Tap the Settings icon (gear).
  2. Scroll to the General section.
  3. Click Erase All Content and Settings.

Cell phones have certainly changed in the 15 years since I wrote this article. While they are more costly and feature-rich, so is the data you have on them. Let’s make sure your data stays secure by doing a factory reset and erasing it.