How to Reset Restrictions Passcode on an iPhone

What to do if you forgot your parental controls passcode

The iPhone's Restrictions feature provides some terrific benefits — unless you forget your Restrictions passcode. If you've forgotten your Restrictions passcode, you won't be able to change your settings or disable the feature, which can pose a real problem. Here's what to do when you need to reset your Restrictions passcode.

While this article was written for iPhones running iOS 13 and iOS 12, the basic principles apply to many earlier versions of the iOS. Those versions may have slightly different menu names or sets of steps, but the basic idea is the same.

The Difference Between Restrictions and Device Passcodes

There are two kinds of commonly used passcodes on the iPhone—a device passcode and a Restrictions passcode—and it's important to understand how they're different.

iPhone Device Passcode

A device passcode is what you enter when you want to unlock the device for use. It's used as a security measure to prevent unauthorized people from accessing your device. You enter this on the lock screen (unless you use Touch ID or Face ID).

iPhone Restrictions Passcode

A Restrictions passcode prevents the Restrictions settings on your phone from being changed or disabled. You enter this when you go to the Restrictions section of the Settings app. It stops people who shouldn't be able to change the Restrictions settings (kids, for instance) from accessing the settings.

You set up each passcode individually, so there's no relationship between the two, unless you use the same code for both, but don't do that. It's bad security and makes it easy to guess the Restrictions passcode).

How to Reset Restrictions Passcode on an iPhone

If you forget your Restrictions passcode and need to reset it, there's only one surefire solution: You need to erase your iPhone and set it up from scratch, although there is one other option.

That may seem harsh, but it makes sense. After all, this feature is designed to provide major control over the iPhone for parents who want to block their kids from accessing features or content that may be too mature or corporate IT departments that want to give employees access only to certain features. If it was easy to get around the Restrictions passcode, neither parents nor IT departments would trust the feature. So, erasing the phone is the only option.

This isn't difficult, although it can be a little time consuming. There are three ways to erase your phone to reset your restrictions passcode: Using your iPhone, iCloud, or Recovery Mode.

Before you erase your iPhone, be absolutely sure that you back up all your data. If you don't, you'll lose data when you erase the phone and you may not be able to get it back. Learn how to back up your iPhone and check out the tip at the very end of the article for what not to do with a backup.

How to Erase Your iPhone With a Factory Reset

You can totally erase your iPhone—including the Restrictions passcode—by resetting the phone to its factory settings. Do this on the device by following these steps:

  1. On your iPhone, tap the Settings app to open it.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap Reset.

  4. Tap Erase All Content and Settings and follow the onscreen prompts.

    Screenshots of how to reset an iPhone to factory settings

How to Erase Your iPhone Using iCloud

If you don't have immediate, physical access to your iPhone, you can erase it remotely with iCloud. Erasing an iPhone using iCloud is just like doing this when your phone has been stolen. Here's what to do:

  1. Go to iCloud.com on a computer and log in with the Apple ID used on the phone you want to erase.

    iCloud website login
  2. Choose Find iPhone.

    iCloud website dashboard showing Find iPhone icon
  3. Select All Devices at the top of the screen and then choose the iPhone you want to erase.

    Selection of a device in Find My iPhone at iCloud
  4. Choose Erase iPhone and follow the on-screen prompts.

    iCloud Find My iPhone website

How to Erase Your iPhone Using Recovery Mode

It's also possible to erase an iPhone using Recovery Mode. Recovery Mode is normally a last-resort troubleshooting option. Don't start with this method, but you may need it in some cases, such as where there's a problem with your OS and other methods don't work. This method requires iTunes on a computer.

iPhone recovery mode screen
iPhone photo: hocus-focus/iStock

When nothing else works, erase your iPhone with Recovery Mode by following these steps:

  1. Turn off your iPhone by holding down the Sleep/Wake button. On the iPhone 6 and newer, hold down the Volume Down button, too.

  2. Get a computer with iTunes installed on it, but don't open iTunes yet.

  3. The next step depends on what model iPhone you have:

    • iPhone 8 and up: Plug the syncing cable into your iPhone. Hold down the Side button and plug the cable into the computer.
    • iPhone 7 series: Plug the syncing cable into your iPhone. Hold down the Volume Down button and plug the cable into the computer.
    • iPhone 6S series and earlier: Plug the syncing cable into your iPhone. Hold down the Home button and plug the other end into the computer.
  4. Continue holding the Side, Volume Down, or Home button (depending on your model) until the Connect to iTunes screen appears on your iPhone. 

  5. In iTunes, a pop-up window offers to Update or Restore the phone. Click Update and follow the on-screen prompts.

Third-Party Programs That Reset Forgotten Restrictions Passcode

Erasing your iPhone is an extreme way to reset a forgotten Restrictions passcode. If you want to avoid this, there may be software that can help.

A little time at your favorite search engine looking for software should turn up a bunch of options. Consider user reviews, price, and whether the vendor seems reputable.

Most of these programs operate in the same way: They dig into existing backups of your iPhone data on your computer to uncover the Restrictions passcode. Then you can enter it on your iPhone to change settings or the passcode itself. This requires that you have a backup of your iPhone that includes the passcode, of course.

After Erasing Your iPhone and Resetting Restrictions Passcode

After you've erased your iPhone and reset your Restrictions passcode, there are a few steps you can take:

  • Set up iPhone: With your iPhone restored to its factory-new state, you need to set it up again. Follow the instructions in How to Set Up a New iPhone.
  • Redownload music and apps: If you've got a lot of music, apps, or other media acquired from the iTunes and App Stores, you can redownload it all for free. Find out more in How to Redownload Purchases.
  • Set a new Restrictions passcode: Assuming that you want to keep using Restrictions, you need to set a new passcode. Make sure it's a code you'll remember this time.

The one thing you don't want to do is to restore a backup of your iPhone that has the same Restrictions passcode that you forgot. If you do that, you'll be back in the situation you were at the beginning of the process. If you have a backup that doesn't include the passcode, you could restore that, but you may lose some data that was created between that backup and today.