How to reset your phone without losing everything

Starting anew can be scary but rejuvenating.
A man in glasses and a gray fleece jacket sitting at a table in a coffee shop, using a laptop and a phone.
It's up to you if you want to reset your phone in a cafe, but make sure you're sitting next to a power outlet. Joseph Frank / Unsplash

Think back to how you felt turning on your phone for the first time. That sparkling, uncluttered interface, speedy performance, and plenty of possibilities. You can actually feel that again whenever you like by completing a full factory reset of your iPhone or Android.

Resetting a phone is about more than just getting a fresh start, though: It can fix persistent bugs, get rid of unwanted apps and dangerous malware, and free up storage space on your device.

And if you’re worried about losing everything, don’t be. As long as you take some time to consider the potential pitfalls and back up your phone beforehand, you can reset your phone without losing any data. Let us guide you.

Before you reset your phone, make a plan

Resetting a phone wipes it clean and takes you back to the setup stage, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve backed up all your important data first. We’ve covered this in plenty of depth elsewhere, but it’s worth dropping some quick pointers here.

Mostly, backups are common sense: Think about what you have on your phone and make sure you have copies of everything you want to save on another device, on a disk drive, or in the cloud before you hit that reset button.

A warning if you use two-factor authentication

If you use your phone to prove your identity for accounts with two-factor authentication (2FA), know that this data might disappear when you reset it. You’ll need to make absolutely sure you can still get into your online accounts without 2FA, albeit temporarily.

What this means in practice will depend on your 2FA-enabled accounts and the 2FA method you’re using for each one. Do some diligent research and you should have nothing to worry about. Some accounts will give you backup codes to use if 2FA fails, so if you get one, make sure it’s in a safe, accessible place. For other accounts, it might be easier to just disable 2FA until you’re all set up on your phone again.

Apple and Google both let you use SMS codes as a backup to a 2FA authenticator app and verification code, so that’s an option (assuming you are keeping your SIM after you reset your phone). Beyond that, other authentication apps let you back up your logins to the cloud, which might work best for you, or you could transfer your authenticator app and its codes to another phone or tablet if you have one spare.

[Related: How to do two-factor authentication like a pro]

Once you’ve decided to reset your phone, you should also spend a few days noting exactly how you use it and how easily you’ll be able to get everything back the way you like it. Most software developers know phones get reset, lost, or stolen on a regular basis, so they should have planned for that, but it’s best to make sure.

Bear in mind, too, that backing up your phone can take time, depending on the speed of your connection.

How to reset an Android phone

The reset options for a stock Android phone, from resetting WiFi and Bluetooth to deleting all data.
The reset options on stock Android are pretty clear-cut. David Nield for Popular Science

Google has always developed its software with the cloud in mind, and everything from Gmail to Google Photos lives mostly online. However, you should still make sure that everything you need is in the cloud and that you don’t need anything stored on your phone (such as files downloaded from the web).

It’s also worth double-checking that your password manager is syncing all of your credentials from the apps on your phone—go to Settings, Passwords & accounts, and make sure the toggle next to Automatically sync app data is on. With that done, all you’ll need to remember is the username and password for your Google account. Don’t worry about having to pay for apps you already own—the Play Store will recognize you once you’ve signed into your Google account and will know what you’ve previously purchased.

You’ll find Android’s own backup process under System and Backup in Settings. You’ll then see a list of the items you’ll be backing up, which should include data such as contacts, text messages, and certain device settings (including WiFi passwords). You can tap on some of them (like Photos and videos or Google account data) to get more details and customize what you want to add to or remove from your backup. If you have any doubts about leaving information behind, we recommend reading through the official Google support document for resetting Pixel phones.

When you’re ready to reset your phone, make sure it’s plugged in and charging so the process doesn’t get interrupted. Open Settings, then choose System, Reset options, and Erase all data (factory reset). Android will then show you an overview of the data you’re about to wipe. Tap Erase all data, enter the lock screen PIN code, and tap Erase all data again to start the reset process. Once the reset is complete, you’ll find yourself back at the Android setup process.

How to reset an iPhone

The reset options on an iPhone running iOS.
The reset options on an iPhone are clearly labeled, so it’s hard to make a mistake. David Nield for Popular Science

Traditionally, Apple hasn’t been quite as savvy as Google when it comes to constantly syncing data to the cloud, but iCloud has improved in recent years. It can now store a substantial amount of information for you (from contacts to calendars) while you’re busy resetting your phone. When it comes time to reinstall apps, Apple’s App Store will remember what you’ve paid for, so you won’t need to purchase them again.

As for backups, iOS has a comprehensive backup option, which uses either a computer or iCloud. If you open Settings, tap your Apple ID at the top, and then pick iCloud, you can see the apps sending data to the web. You can also choose iCloud Backup from this list to make sure a backup occurred right before you decided to reset your phone.

[Related: The best ways to back up all your photos to the cloud]

Before you proceed, you should also read Apple’s thorough support document on resetting iPhones, just to ensure you’ve done everything necessary. That document also covers how to back up your phone if you need extra help with that (iOS will actually prompt you to create a backup when you reset it, if you haven’t run one in a while).

Finally, get your phone plugged in and charging to make sure the reset isn’t interrupted, then open Settings and pick General, Transfer or Reset iPhone, and choose whether you want to Reset the device or Erase All Content and Settings. You’ll be prompted to enter the passcode for your phone and possibly your Apple ID password to confirm your choice (this is a good way to ensure you remember your Apple ID password, as you’ll need it to sign in again). After the reset, your iPhone will reboot to the setup screen.

This story has been updated. It was originally published in 2021.