Security shouldn't stop at your computer. Your mobile phones and devices are actually more vulnerable to become lost or stolen, and they can contain just as much personal and sensitive data. Before you sell, trash, or send them off for repair, you should wipe them clean of your personal information. In addition, you should enable security features to protect your device if it gets into someone else’s hands.

In this tutorial, we’ll see how to back up your iOS device – iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch – and wipe it clean to erase all your settings, applications, and data. Plus, we’ll show you how to enable data protection or encryption to safeguard all of your information. Additionally, you’ll learn how to enable tracking to help find and secure your device when misplaced or stolen.

Backing Up Your iOS Device Before Wiping or Restoring

Before wiping or restoring your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you probably want to back up your settings, applications, and personal data. If you are upgrading to a newer model, you can load your saved data from your old device to the new one. If you are wiping the device to potentially fix problems or are sending it in for repair, you’ll be able to restore the data afterwards. Keep in mind, you can even backup and restore most items among the three different mobile iOS devices.

When reading the Apple documentation, you’ll see three different methods used for saving data: backing up, syncing, and transferring purchases. Essentially, the backups contain the phone settings, the syncing saves your personal files (music, podcasts, ringtones, photos, videos), and transferring purchases saves your apps purchased from the iTunes Store. Keep in mind, syncing a device in iTunes creates a backup automatically on your PC, but doesn’t automatically transfer purchases.

Here’s how to save all the settings and data on your iOS device and then load them onto the same device or a new one:

  1. Ensure you have the latest version of iTuneson your PC and iOS on your mobile device.


  2. Connect the iOS device that you want to wipe to the PC and sync it with iTunes, which also creates a backup. Right-click the device in iTunes and select Transfer Purchases, which backs up the applications you’ve downloaded from the iTunes Store. Once you’ve done both, verify all these successfully backed up to iTunes.


  3. If you’re wanting to wipe the device and then restore your backed up data to that same device, go ahead and wipe your device now. Refer to the next section for wiping and then resume with step four to restore your data.


  4. Connect the iOS device that you want to transfer the data to. When iTunes asks if you want to restore from a backup or set it up as a new device, select the backup you just created. If not prompted, use iTunes to restore iOS on the device and try connecting again.


  5. Once completed and after the iOS device restarts, you should see the device in the iTunes window. Select it and verify the items you want to sync on the tabs. Then click Apply to sync.


  6. Verify that it worked properly. Check for saved SMS messages, email accounts, passwords, photos, notes, etc. Keep in mind; you’ll have to enter your email account and voicemail passwords again.


If you upgraded to a new iOS device, you can now wipe the old one (discussed next) since you’ve confirmed all the settings, applications, and data has been moved over.

Wiping Your iOS Device

The method and length of time to wipe and restore an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to factory defaults depends upon whether the model supports hardware encryption or not.

When a device supports hardware encryption, the user settings and information is erased by removing the encryption key. This just takes a couple minutes.

For iOS devices that don’t support hardware encryption, the user settings and information is removed by overwriting the data. This can take up to several hours, depending on the storage capacity.

The following table shows which method is supported for the varying iOS models:


Hardware Encryption


Original iPhone



iPhone 3G



iPhone 3GS



iPhone 4






iPod touch



iPod touch (2nd generation)



iPod touch (3rd generation)



iPod touch (4th generation)




When you’re ready to wipe your iOS device, first make sure it’s fully charged or plugged in. Then click Settings > General > Reset, and then select Erase All Content and Settings.

Next page: Protecting Your iOS Device if Lost or Stolen