Got a new Android phone? Here's how to properly get rid of your old one

Clear off your data and then sell, donate, or recycle the departing device.

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Whether you got a smartphone under the tree or just plan to gift yourself a handset soon, we hope the joy of the holidays extends to your relationship with your new phone. 

But don’t forget about the old one! Sure, you might not need it in your pocket, but if you’re not planning to repurpose the device or keep it as a backup, then you shouldn’t just toss it in a drawer or shove it in a closet somewhere. That dated device might still have cash value, or you could donate it to a good cause (possibly for a tax writeoff). At the very least, if you don’t plan on using the phone again, then you should recycle it and ensure that the harmful materials within don’t end up in the dump. 

Whatever your plan with your old device, be sure you do it right—which extends to clearing all of your personal data off of the storage. Here’s our guide to wiping your phone and finding a new home for it, whether it’s with a buyer, a charity, or a disposal service. And if you’re the one gifting a phone this season, be sure to pass along this advice as well.

First, wipe it clean

If you used that old phone for the last couple of years, then it’s surely loaded with all sorts of personal information: accounts, contacts, photos, passwords, and other little bits of data you may not even realize. Unless you’re passing your phone off to a friend or family member, you probably won’t know who’s going to have his or her hands on it next. In fact, no matter who is taking your phone next, you shouldn’t risk it.

First, you need to encrypt your data. That puts a password on all of the content on your phone, keeping it under lock and key should anyone else try to crack it later on. Just head to Settings, hit the Security menu, and you’ll find the encryption option there. The process can take an hour or more, and your phone must be fully charged and plugged in. In other words, don’t try to do this 10 minutes before meeting a Craigslist buyer. If you have a newer phone, it may already be encrypted by default. Just don't get rid of your old phone without checking!

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Follow these steps within Settings to ensure your phone’s data is safely banished.

There are a couple of other things to do next, particularly if you’re running Android Marshmallow or newer on your old phone. In that same menu, turn off any screen lock you might have. And then go to Accounts under Settings and remove every listed account, Google or otherwise. That will ensure that the next person who sets up your phone doesn’t run into any issues with the Factory Reset Protection function introduced in Marshmallow.

Finally, it’s time for the factory reset. While any Android operating system updates you’ve applied remain intact, the phone will otherwise act like it’s just been pulled out of the box for the first time. It’ll be a blank slate again, ready for its next user’s accounts and data. To finish the job, go to Backup & Reset under the Personal tab in Settings and select Factory data reset. Once the process is complete, the phone’s software will be like-new.

What’s it worth?

If your phone still works well and is relatively recent or desirable, then you might consider trying to sell it: secondhand devices can fetch a decent amount of money, especially since off-contract flagship phones sell for hundreds of dollars or more brand new.

When considering this route, the main question is this: What’s more important, the money or convenience? If you want to make the most cash, then you’ll probably do so by listing your phone on a site like Craigslist or eBay, or Facebook’s Marketplace section, and trying to find a direct buyer. This could take some time, effort, and communication, and there’s always the potential for fraud—but that extra hassle could bring extra money by cutting out a middleman.

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Gazelle and Amazon make it easy to sell your phone directly to a service, rather than deal with another person.

Otherwise, consider selling to a service like Gazelle or Amazon. In either case, you’ll agree to an offered price based on their listings, and then send it in for inspection: Gazelle will mail you a carton for the phone, complete with a mailing label, while Amazon will just email a label to print out and slap on your own box. Once they receive the phone and affirm its condition, you’ll get your money… or credit.

How much money you get back for your phone can depend on which service you choose and the condition of the device—so shop around. For example, an LG G4 from Verizon in good condition could net you $65 cash (as of this writing) from Gazelle, while Amazon will pay you $60 in credit. And an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Note 5 could be worth $140 cash from Gazelle, while the Amazon credit is bumped up to $155. Not a huge difference in either example, but it’s something.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking to trade in your old phone for a newer one—meaning you didn’t get a new phone just yet—then you surely have local options. Many carrier stores take trade-ins towards new phones, and often have promotional offers, and so do retail chains like Best Buy and GameStop. Again, compare offers if you can, rather than jumping at the first one you find.

You could also try selling to EcoATM, which has automated machines at malls that offer cash on the spot for your phone. They also may offer money for broken phones, which isn’t always the case elsewhere, so you might be able to pick up a few bucks for your wonky handset. However, the payment prices seem much lower: the website says that unlocked Galaxy Note 5 would only snag you $75, for example, but at least you’d get it that day.

Consider passing it on

If you’re feeling particularly benevolent—or don’t think you can score much money for your old phone—then you can always donate the phone to a charity. Here are a few good options to consider, although you might also see if you can donate a device to a local organization in your own community.

Verizon’s own HopeLine collects phones and accessories from all carriers, and then refurbishes them and redistributes them to survivors of domestic abuse, or sells them to raise funds for the same cause. HopeLine has collected more than 12 million phones since 2001. Hope Phones (unrelated), on the other hand, takes the money earned from selling your gadgets and puts it towards the purchase of phones for healthcare workers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

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Donate your phone to charity, or just find a nearby place to recycle it.

Cell Phones for Soldiers uses money earned from selling donated phones to buy phone talk time for active U.S. military members, and to provide emergency funds for veterans who struggle once they get home. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also takes phone donations, along with laptops, game consoles, and other old gadgets. If any of those causes speaks to you, check the site and see if your unneeded device can help them out.

All four of those charities take broken phones, and you can ship phones in any condition to them via the contact information listed on each website. HopeLine also lets you drop your phone off at any Verizon retailer, so that might be the easiest option for dropping off an unwanted or nonworking phone within your own neighborhood. However, note that donations to HopeLine are not tax-deductible, while those to the other three organizations are. 

Otherwise, if you’d rather just ensure that the phone doesn’t end up in the dump, you can search for nearby electronic recycling drop-off locations via the Consumer Technology Association’s Greener Gadgets initiative. Some big box stores, including Best Buy, Staples, and Office Depot, take used electronics for recycling, as do many wireless retailers.

Don’t throw it out!

Clearly, you have some great options. And whether you sell the old phone, give it away to a friend or family member, or donate it to charity, you can ensure that it has more life and purpose beyond collecting dust in your home. But even if you’re not motivated to pursue any of those options, or you’d rather keep the phone handy in case you need it in the future, just make sure that it doesn’t eventually wind up in the garbage. 

While newer phones are supposedly less toxic than earlier devices, you’ll still find chemicals like lead, mercury, and cadmium within their components, and you don’t want those festering in the ground with other garbage and potentially infecting the earth or water supply. Do your part to ensure that the phone is safely and properly recycled by professionals.

Besides, that phone surely served you well for a couple years, keeping you connected, entertaining you during dull moments, and probably saving you in a pinch or two along the way. Show it a little love and make sure that it has a happy future… or at least a respectful resting place.

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