What to Do With Your Old Laptop

Instead of letting it sit idle in your home, why not try one of these four options?

stacks of old laptops Photo: iStock

If you have an old laptop collecting dust in your home, you’re not alone. People who purchase a new model frequently let the old one linger under the roof—unused.

And that raises a good question: How do you go about finding a new home for an old laptop?  If you’re working on clearing out your closets to make way for holiday gifts, here are a few eco-friendly options to consider.

Sell It

Believe it or not, there’s a robust market for old tech. Between Craigslist, Decluttr, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Letgo, OfferUp, and Swappa, you should have no trouble finding someone to take an unwanted computer off your hands. On eBay, a nonfunctioning MacBook Pro recently sold for $420 and a third-generation iPad Mini for $150.

More on Laptops

Online marketplaces make it really easy to list items, offering intuitive step-by-step instructions to help you sell your wares without a fee. Though eBay takes a small cut of the sale price, it's likely to yield a bigger sum than buy-back sites such as BuyBackWorld, Gazelle, Glyde, and ItsWorthMore.

Before you sell a digital device to someone you don't know, though, take a few precautions to protect your privacy. You don't want bank account info, personal images, or your browsing history lingering on the machine.

With a tablet, a factory reset (activated through the Settings menu) will wipe the slate clean. For a laptop, you're better off removing the hard drive. (Just be sure to note that it's gone when you place the item on sale.) The website ifixit.com offers teardown tutorials to walk you through the process. The only tool you need is a screwdriver.

Recycle It

For those who don’t have the time to list used electronics, don’t fret; many municipalities schedule collection days year-round.

In some cases you may have to fill out a pickup request online. To get the details, go to the website for your local government or sanitation department.

If your city doesn’t have such a program for electronics products, you can look for recycling options near you by entering your ZIP code at the Computer Technology Association’s Recycle Locator or Earth911’s extensive recycling database. Earth911 also offers assistance by phone at 800-CLEANUP (800-253-2687).

Additionally, Dell Reconnect teams up with participating Goodwill chapters to accept donations. Enter your ZIP code on its site to see whether there’s a drop-off location near you.

You should check out the collection program at Best Buy, too. And Amazon and Apple will reward you with a gift card for newer items recovered through their trade-in programs.

Gift It

And last, if you have a child or a friend in need of a computer, you can always hand over the one you’ve outgrown. Just wipe the hard drive first.

On a PC, follow the instructions on Microsoft’s site for resetting your PC and removing the device from your Microsoft account. Make sure to install a fresh version of Windows, too.

On a Mac, follow the instructions on Apple’s site on creating a backup (if needed), signing out of programs, erasing your hard drive, and reinstalling MacOS.

Headshot of Electronics freelance writer, Yael Grauer

Yael Grauer

I am an investigative tech reporter covering digital privacy and security. I'm the lead content creator of CR Security Planner, a free, easy-to-use guide to staying safer online. Prior to Consumer Reports, I covered surveillance, online privacy and security, data brokers, dark patterns, clandestine trackers, security vulnerabilities, VPNs, hacking, and digital freedom for Wired, Vice, The Intercept, Slate, Ars Technica, OneZero, Wirecutter, Business Insider, Popular Science, and other publications. Follow me on Twitter (@yaelwrites)