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How to reset your Apple Watch

Whether you're trying to fix a technical problem with your Apple Watch, or you'd like to give it away or sell it, knowing how to reset it is extremely important. Let us show you two quick, easy ways.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Kelsey Adams
Pink Apple Watch Series 8 on a wrist displaying activity stats.

An Apple Watch Series 8.

Christina Darby/ZDNET

There are two reasons you might want to reset your Apple Watch: You're having a technical problem, or you plan to transfer ownership of the watch. 

Resetting it as a technical fix is usually a last resort before taking the device in to an Apple Store for repair. If the problem was with the watch's software, chances are this will correct it. 

But it will also require you to either start from scratch, or restore a backup of your data (more on this later).

Also: The best Apple Watch models, reviewed and tested

If you're planning to sell or give away your Apple Watch, it's important to reset it to ensure that no one else has access to private data you had stored on it, and it also makes it vastly easier for a new owner to get it synced with their own iPhone and iCloud account. 

Everyone who's selling or giving away an Apple Watch should reset it, period.

How to reset an Apple Watch

  • Materials needed: The Apple Watch you'd like to reset, and, optionally, an iPhone.
  • Estimated time: 5 to 10 minutes. 

There are two ways to do this: using your iPhone or using just the Apple Watch itself. Both are simple. If you're correcting a technical issue we highly recommend making a backup of your Apple Watch first. This will allow you to restore all of your apps and data to it afterward. 

If you're planning on selling the Apple Watch or giving it away, we strongly recommend using the "with iPhone" method, as it will disable the watch's Activation Lock, allowing the new user to pair the Apple Watch with their iPhone correctly.

How to reset your Apple Watch with your iPhone

1. Back up your Apple Watch (optional)

This step is extremely important if you plan to continue using your Apple Watch and are just trying to correct a technical issue. However, if you're selling the device or giving it away, it's probably unnecessary. 

The process for completing a backup of your Apple Watch is actually just to back up the iPhone it's connected to. Whether you opt to create a local backup on your Mac or PC, or you use Apple's iCloud backup service, either one will include a backup of any synced Apple Watch apps and data. 

Also: How to set up an Apple Watch

Some data, like your Apple Watch passcode, will not be saved. See our FAQ below for more. A full list of what is and is not included in an Apple Watch backup is available from Apple's support site.

Eight Apple Watch SEs arranged in a circle on a black and green background

These instructions will work with any Apple Watch, no matter the specific Series or model. 

Apple

2. Find your Watch's specific page in the My Watch tab

When using the iPhone to reset your Apple Watch, it's a good idea to make sure the two devices are very close to each other at all times. Once you've got them cozied up, open the Watch app on your iPhone. In there, find the My Watch tab on the bottom left. 

This is where you can see things like your current watch faces, settings, and more. Once in the My Watch tab, tap All Watches, located on the top left of the app. Finally, tap the "i" in a circle icon (shown below) to access the info and settings page for the Apple Watch you're trying to reset.

The My Watch page of Apple's Watch app

The three steps to finding your Apple Watch in the iPhone's Watch app.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

3. Unpair your Apple Watch

We're now ready to unpair your Apple Watch, so make sure the backup is finished if you made one. This process will also fully reset the Apple Watch, removing all stored data, and will make it ready to connect with an iPhone again afterward, whether yours or a new user's.

At the bottom of the settings and info page for your Apple Watch tap Unpair Apple Watch. This will begin the final process. This is also the only time you'll see different options depending on which type of Apple Watch you have. 

  • For GPS-only models: Type in your Apple ID password to disable activation lock on your Apple Watch and complete the unpairing process. 
  • For GPS+Cellular models: Choose if you want to keep your Apple Watch's active cellular plan or remove it. If you're planning to keep the watch and are only correcting a technical issue, keep it. If you're selling or giving the watch away, remove it. After this choice is made, type in your Apple ID password to disable activation lock on your Apple Watch and complete the unpairing process.
The unpairing menu in Apple's Watch app

This is the point of no return for making sure any backups you wanted to do are completed and saved.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

How to reset your Apple Watch without your iPhone

1. Find the Reset option in the Apple Watch's Settings app

If you don't have your iPhone handy, you can also complete part of the process directly on the Apple Watch itself. There are, however, two downsides to this. First, you won't be able to complete a final backup without your iPhone. Second, you can't disable Activation Lock without first unpairing your watch from the iPhone, as covered in the "How to reset your Apple Watch with your iPhone" section above. This means it's strongly recommended to use the "with iPhone" method if you plan to sell the watch or give it away, as Activation Lock will prevent any new owners from pairing your old Apple Watch correctly. 

The Reset option is within the Settings app on the Apple Watch. To find it tap Settings, then General, and finally Reset.

Also: How to change your Apple Watch face

3 steps to access the Apple Watch's Reset menu

It takes three taps to get to the Reset menu where the final step takes place.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

2. Erase all content and settings

Once you tap on Reset, you'll see the last button you'll need to tap to complete the process: Erase All Content and Settings

You'll also see a warning saying "Erasing will not remove Activation Lock, which prevents someone else from using this Apple Watch if it's lost or stolen. To remove Activation Lock, first unpair this Apple Watch before erasing it." This corresponds to our recommendation in Step 1. 

Once you tap Erase All Content and Settings, you may be asked to enter your password. After this, you'll be given an extra choice if you have a GPS+Cellular model: whether or not you wish to keep your plan. If you're doing this to correct a technical issue and plan to continue using the Apple Watch yourself, keep it. If you're selling or giving the watch away, remove it. 

Finally, tap Erase All to confirm your decisions. This will fully reset the Apple Watch to its factory settings, prepping it for reactivation by you or whoever the next owner may be.

The last twosteps of resetting an Apple Watch via the watch's menus

The ominous red text means there's no going back after you tap Erase All.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

FAQs

Will I lose my data if I reset my Apple Watch? 

That depends. Your data will be completely wiped from the Apple Watch itself. However, if you have a backup of the iPhone it was connected to, that will include most of the data that was stored on the Apple Watch as well. If you plan to keep the watch, you can re-pair it with your iPhone and use that backup to restore all of your data. 

The only exceptions to this are your Bluetooth pairings, any credit or debit cards set up with Apple Pay on your Apple Watch, and the passcode for your Apple Watch. All of these will need to be reconfigured or re-added manually. Messages could also be lost as well if you're not signed in to iCloud. 

Also: Apple takes key step toward blood glucose monitoring on Apple Watch

When should I reset my Apple Watch? 

You may want to reset your Apple Watch when there's a technical issue, and you should reset it when you intend to pass the watch on to someone else, either selling it or as a gift. 

Software issues could arise from corrupted apps, incomplete or failed software updates, and many other potential hiccups. Resetting the Apple Watch to its default software should correct nearly any problem that's software-based. Be sure to back up your data first. 

If this doesn't fix your problem, chances are a trip to an Apple Store or at least a call with Apple technical support will be needed to correct potential hardware problems. 

If you're selling your Apple Watch, donating it, or gifting it, resetting it is important to protect your own sensitive data, and to make sure it's functional for the next owner. Activation Lock, which prevents lost or stolen Apple Watches from being used, needs to be correctly disabled during the unpairing process before the watch will pair correctly with a new iPhone. 

We cover how to do this in the "How to reset your Apple Watch with your iPhone" section above.

Also: How to enable Low Power Mode on the Apple Watch (and why you should)

What's the difference between resetting and unpairing an Apple Watch? 

Unpairing refers to the act of disabling Activation Lock and disconnecting your Apple Watch from your iPhone. This is a vital step that needs to be done anytime the Apple Watch will be transferred to a new owner or user. Unpairing and resetting are part of the same process: You can reset your Apple Watch without unpairing it (only recommended when you plan to reactivate the Apple Watch with the same iPhone), but you can't unpair it without resetting it, at least not via any recommended means.

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