How do I reset and clean my laptop to give it to someone else?

Josh Goldman / CNET

A side effect of spending more time at home during the pandemic is the realization that I have a lot of old tech lying around. Many. Then when I tried KonMari to declutter this technology, I discovered several things that I had forgotten, including an old laptop that I stopped using years ago because it was too slow for my high end computing needs.

While this laptop is no longer sparked joy for me it turned out to be the perfect fit for my mom. It just needed to be cleaned first, and I’m not just talking about removing dust and the mysterious substance with a few passes of a disinfectant wipe, although you want to do that as well. The type of cleaning I’m talking about involves returning the laptop to like-new condition inside and out. Cleaning the exterior is the easy part. Erasing your computer of all your applications, files, folders, and other personal information is not necessarily that easy. Of course, the amount of data cleansing you need to do will likely depend on the recipient.

The broad steps you take to refresh a laptop are the same whether or not it’s a Windows laptop. Apple MacBook or Chromebook – save your old data, delete all personal information, then do a factory reset. It’s the step-by-step process that differs depending on the type of laptop you are dealing with. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know and do before giving your laptop a second life. And with supply chain issues, shipping issues, and chip shortages making new devices harder to get hold of, handing a new laptop to you can be a welcome holiday gift.

Last thing first

I usually keep the physical cleaning of the laptop until the end (why clean your fingerprints twice?), But you might want to start there, especially if it has gotten some dust on the bottom of it. a closet / under a bed / in the garage for the past several years. The basic equipment required for a good laptop cleaning is a can of compressed air and disinfectant or alcohol wipes. For a slightly deeper cleaning, you can also grab a screwdriver and remove your laptop’s bottom cover (if possible) so that you can carefully blow away any dust that has accumulated on the fans and vents.

After cleaning the laptop, you can also wipe down the AC adapter and all associated accessories. It’s also a good idea to make sure the AC adapter is always in good working order. If you’re still not sure where to start cleaning, check out our Complete guide to getting the best out of your laptop.

Gift a used MacBook


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Before you even think about doing a factory reset on your MacBook, you should save all the data that you want to keep. You might have already done this at some point if you migrated data from that old MacBook to a new one using Apple’s Migration Assistant. If not, it’s time to plug in an external drive and use Time Machine tool built into MacOS to create a backup. If you have an iCloud account, you can also back up your data there.

Disconnect from everything

You’ll also want to sign out of all accounts before erasing the drive from your MacBook. Start with iCloud, Find My Mac, and iMessage. Then find the individual software accounts that you may need to unsubscribe. If you are using a browser other than Safari, such as Chrome or Firefox, you should also sign out of those. Basically, if it has personal account information, you’ll want to sign out. (Here’s how to find account settings in MacOS.)

Two other things you should do before a factory reset: disconnect all Bluetooth devices – especially if the MacBook is gifted to a member of your household – and reset NVRAM. The latter is the memory that keeps the settings that the MacBook needs before loading MacOS. At startup, press and hold Option-Command-PR to reset NVRAM.

Perform a factory reset

If you have done all of the above, you are ready to return your MacBook to its original condition. On an Intel-based Mac, restart the system and hold down Order to enter recovery mode. (Access to recovery mode on new MacBooks running on the company’s M1 chips is different, however.)

Read more: Before you sell your MacBook, you need to factory reset it

Once in recovery mode, you will see a macOS utilities window. Use the Disk Utility to erase your drive. Once this is done, you can reinstall MacOS. Once the reinstallation is complete, you will reach the Setup wizard. From there, you can stop and stop it or configure it for the recipient.

Give away a used Windows laptop


Screenshot by Josh Goldman / CNET

As with gifting a MacBook, start by backing up all the important folders and files on your old laptop to cloud storage or an external drive. If you do the latter, go to Settings> Update & security> Backup> Add drive and select the external drive. Then click on Back up now.

Log out of all your apps

Many paid software require you to sign in with an account, product key, or both. Before clearing your laptop’s storage space, log out of all accounts and unregister software licenses (if possible). If you need these product keys to re-register the software on a new laptop, be sure to register this information. If you’re using a non-Edge browser, such as Chrome or Firefox, sign out of those as well. Basically, if it has personal account information, log out.

Reset laptop

Ready to clean the drive and reinstall Windows? Go to Start> Settings> Update & security> Recovery. At the top of the window, you will see Reset this PC. Click Start and select Remove All in the box that appears. From there, you can choose to either reinstall Windows from the local drive or download from the cloud. After that, Windows cleans the drive of all software, settings and data. Once completed, the laptop will boot into its setup wizard mode. You can then turn it off and off for a new experience or do some setup, which is nice especially if it’s a family member so they can use it right away.

Unlink from your Microsoft account

If you used a Microsoft account to sign in to the laptop, the last thing you’ll want to do is remove the laptop from that account. Sign in to your account from another computer and click on the Devices tab at the top of the page. Find the laptop you are gifting on the device list, and at the bottom of the list you will see the option to remove the device. Click on it and you’re done.

Gift a used Chromebook

Asus CX9400 Chromebook

Sarah Tew / CNET

Chromebooks are the easiest to refresh to give away. This is mainly because of their cloud-based design. Google also makes it super easy to wipe your data and clean internal storage securely, as well as remove the Chromebook from your Google account.

Check the WUA first

Before you even consider gifting an older Chromebook, check its automatic update expiration. Google only guarantees support for Chrome OS and browser functionality on non-Google hardware for such a long period of time. Each device has a date when it stops receiving updates, that is, its WUA date. Current models receive updates for eight years; older models could potentially take a year or two to reach their WUA.

Google maintains an AUE list, so finding the date your Chromebook will stop receiving updates is as easy as locating your model on that list. AUE is also found in your Chromebook’s settings. here is how to find WUA in Google and in your Chromebook.

Give it a Powerwash

Powerwash is Google’s built-in factory reset tool for Chromebooks. Once you have backed up any folders or files stored on the Chromebook’s internal drive, running Powerwash will safely wipe the system and restart. When it reboots, it will be like the day you unboxed it.

Actual Powerwash typically takes less than a minute. A simple search for “powerwash” in your Chromebook’s settings will take you directly to the feature, but here is all you need to know on the procedure.

Remove the Chromebook from your Google Account

Although you have deleted your Account from the Chromebook, you did not delete the Chromebook of your account. First, sign in to your Google account and go to the security settings. If you are using the Chrome browser, you can also click on your account avatar and select Manage your Google Account from the drop-down menu.

Once you’re in the Security section, scroll down until you see a box titled Your devices, which lists all the devices logged into your account. At the bottom of the box, click Manage devices and find the Chromebook you are gifting and select Sign out.

Give the Chromebook a good external cleaning, gather all the accessories, and it’s ready to be handed over to your gift.

Read more: How to re-gift a game console

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