How to delete WhatsApp, beyond the obvious part

Louis Barclay
6 min readJul 6, 2020

I recently deleted WhatsApp and I was surprised by how difficult it was.

(This article was originally published on Screentimes, a new blog about screen time.)

Some difficulty was technical, for instance how to export my message history (which I wanted to keep hold of).

But a lot of it was related to process and emotion.

  • Process: it was tricky to figure out the exact steps of what to do.
  • Emotion: I worried that people would feel sad about me deleting WhatsApp.

In this guide, I’ve put together what I learned for anyone else who wants to delete WhatsApp.

I hope you find it useful!

1. Export your message history

(Skip this step if you don’t care about your message history.)

You might first want to export your message history, to have a record of all your chats and own your data.

Unfortunately, this is not easy.

The official options to back up WhatsApp create encrypted files which are hard to access.

There’s also an official option to export chats individually, but it’s painfully slow and has limitations around how many messages will be exported, and what size the export can be. (And if you live in Germany, the feature doesn’t exist…)

Unfortunately, based on my research, doing this may be the best solution for Android, unless you’re happy to get technical and try rooting your phone.

For iOS, I ended up using a tool called iMazing (cost me £39.99) and saving every chat individually, which took an extremely long time but gave me readable PDFs that I can access in my Dropbox, and saved folders of all attachments including voice notes and pictures.

(I found a similar tool that also works on Android called Dr Fone, but I am not sure it lets you save down messages from Android. That’s because the guide for their iOS WhatsApp tool shows it accessing WhatsApp messages and allowing export, whereas the guide for their Android WhatsApp tool doesn’t.)

You can greatly reduce the amount of time this takes you by only exporting chats with people you care about.

Whichever export option you go for, make sure you’re also exporting attachments like voice notes and pictures, if you want to have a record of them.

And as a best practice, store your message history on a secure cloud storage platform like Dropbox or Google Drive protected with two-factor authentication, so you can’t lose it in future, and so it can’t be hacked.

2. Double-check your back up

It’s always worth double-checking.

Go through the back up files you’ve created and make sure you’ve definitely got everything there that you want from your WhatsApp account.

Open a few of the files and check that they’re complete.

This is extremely important because WhatsApp stores messages and all attachments (pictures, voicenotes etc.) locally, so once you delete the app from your phone, that stuff stops existing unless you backed it up. It’s not on a server anywhere.

Also, make sure you’ve backed up archived chats, which you might have forgotten exist because they aren’t displayed in your WhatsApp inbox.

3. Figure out your new messaging set up

Work out which platform you’re now going to use, if any.

For me, Telegram was a good choice to migrate onto. I can use it without having to have the app on my phone — which means I’ll check it far less — and it lets me export my messages easily in case I ever want to delete it.

4. Tell friends and family over a call or in person

You’d be surprised by how hard it is to delete WhatsApp, psychologically speaking.

It’s likely that WhatsApp is the principle way you communicate with some of the people you’re closest to.

You might find, like I did, that you worry about them feeling sad that you’re deleting WhatsApp.

I think the best way to deal with this is head on, over a call or in person.

Make time to talk to each person you’re worried about, and tell them firmly that you’ve decided to delete WhatsApp but that you have a plan for how you’ll stay in touch with them.

Perhaps you’ll call them more, or they can find you on Telegram, or you’ll start emailing each other.

You can also:

  • Tell them you think the way you communicate might actually improve, since WhatsApp messaging is not as deep and meaningful as the way you intend to communicate with them in future.
  • Send them articles like this one about why people delete WhatsApp.
  • Remind them — and yourself — that WhatsApp is just a tool, and that your relationship exists separately to it.

5. Message contacts you care about telling them where to find you

Draft a message that you’ll send to contacts you care about telling them that:

  • You are leaving WhatsApp
  • They can find you on email/Telegram/your other chosen platforms

You might want to have two versions of this message:

  • One for people you want to contact you on your new default messaging platform.
  • One for people you’re less close to who perhaps you give an option that you check less frequently, like Facebook Messages or email.

Now, send the message out!

Tip: be prepared for people replying with negative reactions — it’s natural disappointment.

6. Archive everything

Now that you’ve exported your message history and messaged contacts you care about to tell them you’re leaving WhatsApp, it’s a good idea to archive every chat — as if it’s a to do list you’re ticking off.

Go through each chat one by one:

  • Check you have an export of it.
  • Check you’ve sent a message about leaving WhatsApp (if you want to do that for the particular person)
  • If that’s all done, archive it.

Once you’ve done that, your WhatsApp inbox will be completely empty, and you should feel psychologically ready to delete the app.

But don’t do that yet! Still a couple more things to do.

7. Set a new WhatsApp profile picture saying you’re no longer on WhatsApp, and where to find you

Create a simple text-based profile picture with contact details so that anyone who ever tries to WhatsApp you in the future 1) can see you’re not on WhatsApp 2) knows how to get in touch.

I made mine in Figma and it said:

I’m no longer on WhatsApp

You can call or text me on this number, or email me at [my@email.com]

You could make yours by typing in some program and taking a screenshot.

Changing your profile picture to this is useful so you don’t worry about missing out on serendipitous messages: either from random people, or from contacts who are rarely in touch with you and didn’t qualify for an individual message about you leaving WhatsApp.

Make sure that in your WhatsApp settings, your profile picture is visible to everyone, not only contacts.

8. Delete WhatsApp

This is the easiest part! Take a deep breath and delete the app off your phone. You can even go a step further and delete your account entirely (Android, iOS).

9. Be ready for negativity afterwards, and meet it positively

Deleting WhatsApp will probably not be popular with your friends and family.

One of the things I found difficult after deleting WhatsApp was the lack of support from some people I’m close to, as well as active disappointment and sadness.

People really didn’t get why. Some might have felt I didn’t want to talk to them any more.

That’s where having a clear rationale for why you’re deleting WhatsApp comes in handy.

Remind yourself that this is your choice, and that people are sad because they think they’ll be in touch with you less.

It’s actually flattering that people get sad, in a way.

And don’t be defensive.

Admit that it sucks, but focus about the upsides — for you (you’re doing exactly what you want to do) and for them (if they care about you, they’ll be happy that you’re doing what you want to do, and you might well end up communicating better).

Good luck!

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