How to Lock Any App on Your iPhone

Looking to prevent prying eyes from seeing things they shouldn't—and avoid unwanted Apple Store charges? You're in the right place.

We all love how accessible information is on our iPhones, but leaving apps open and ready to use isn’t always a great idea. In fact, it’s important to know how to lock apps on iPhones to keep your information from falling into the wrong hands. “Locking iPhone apps is a great way to protect your privacy when you share an iPhone with others,” says Tim Koster, a tech expert and the founder of CleverCreations. For example, locking your apps can limit the amount of screen time a child has, stop others from viewing your photos, keep friends out of your dating app, or prevent unwanted Apple Store purchases. While locking apps can certainly be smart, iPhone doesn’t have an official way to do this, and you can’t lock icons on the home screen. Here are a few iPhone hacks to learn how to keep your apps safe without having to hide them or permanently delete them. And if you’re looking for even more iPhone tricks, learn how to organize apps and how to add widgets.

How to lock apps with Screen Time

Screen Time, a feature that’s built into your iPhone, can put limitations on how an app is used. You can use it to lock every app except for the phone app. It’s fairly easy to use, but keep in mind that it only locks an app for a certain amount of time, and it’s only available on iOS 12 and up.

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First, open the Settings app and choose Screen Time. If it’s not already enabled, tap Turn on Screen Time and create a Screen Time passcode. From there, tap App Limits and toggle it to on, if needed. Then, tap Add Limit and choose a category to limit, like Games or Social, or choose All Apps & Categories to limit almost all of the apps on your phone.

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From there, choose the time limit you want to give the app. You can also block some apps entirely on this screen, by enabling a password that will be needed to unlock the app. Finish up by tapping Add. This feature is particularly helpful to protect apps that can be used to purchase items or that are linked with your bank account or credit cards.

“Your App Limit effectively locks up your chosen apps,” explains tech expert Matt Bertram, CEO and SEO strategist at EWR Digital. “If you tap on any locked app, you will have to enter your Screen Time passcode to unlock it.”

When you enter your password, options will pop up on the screen. You can choose to leave the app unlocked for 15 minutes, an hour, or the rest of the day.

How to add parental restrictions

The process is a little different for parents who want to put restrictions on apps for their children. If their phone is already linked with their child’s phone, it will automatically create settings for parental-control features. To add restrictions, parents must follow these steps on their child’s phone:

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  1. Go to the Settings app.

  2. Tap Screen Time.

  3. Tap Continue.

  4. Choose This Is My Child’s Phone.

  5. Tap Use Screen Time Passcode.

  6. Create a passcode.

  7. Reenter the passcode to confirm. (You may be asked to enter your Apple ID and password.)

  8. Follow the on-screen directions until you get to the Parent Passcode.

  9. Enter your passcode.

  10. Reenter the passcode to confirm.

  11. Tap Content & Privacy Restriction.

  12. Turn on Content & Privacy.

  13. Choose a new passcode.

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Want to ensure that your child can’t make purchases in the Apple Store, buy things while in apps, or download or delete apps? Use these steps on your phone or theirs:

  1. Open the Settings app.

  2. Tap Screen Time.

  3. Choose Content & Privacy Restrictions and toggle it on.

  4. Select iTunes & App Store Purchases.

  5. Tap Installing Apps, Deleting Apps, or In-app Purchases on the screen.

  6. Choose Don’t Allow.

How to use Guided Access on iPhone

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Guided Access can lock up all but one iPhone app of your choosing. You might want to use this if you’re letting a friend or a child borrow your phone to lock all of the apps on your phone except the one they will be using. This will prevent them from accessing sensitive data, social media, and your photos, just in case their fingers wander. To turn it on, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings.

  2. Tap Accessibility.

  3. Toggle on Guided Access.

  4. Tap Passcode Settings.

  5. Choose Set Guided Access Passcode.

  6. Enter a passcode.

  7. Reenter your passcode.

  8. Open the app you want unlocked.

  9. Triple-click the side button on iPhone X or later, or triple-click the home button on iPhone 8 or earlier.

  10. Tap Guided Access and Start.

When you want to unlock all of your apps, triple-click the side or home button. Then, enter your Guided Access passcode and tap End. Now you will be able to access all of the apps again.

How to put a password on apps

Some apps that are particularly sensitive, like banking apps, have built-in passwords. You can add passwords to apps that don’t already have them using a lock app. These apps tend to have poor ratings though and aren’t recommended by tech experts because they are often glitchy and hard to use. Instead, opt for Face ID, Touch ID, and passwords for apps that have these capabilities. Face and Touch ID are particularly good choices because they are much harder to hack since they use your own individual data (face maps and fingerprints) that no one else has. If neither of those is an option, make sure to choose a strong password.

How to use Face ID for apps

Face ID comes in really handy when trying to unlock your iPhone without a passcode. When it comes to apps, a few of them have Face ID capabilities too. An easy way to figure out which apps can use Face ID is to open the Settings in your iPhone, choose Face ID & Passcode, and enter your iPhone passcode. Look for Use Face ID For, select Other Apps, and toggle on the apps you want to use Face ID for unlocking. If an app has a Face ID option, you can usually use it on the app’s log-in screen.

How to use Touch ID for apps

As with Face ID, only certain apps, like Google Drive and Microsoft Outlook, support Touch ID. “To find out if an app supports Touch ID, open it, go to Settings, and see if there is any reference to a password or Touch ID,” advises Bertram. “Unfortunately, you cannot set up Touch ID for apps that have not already implemented Touch ID.”

To turn on Touch ID in an app that allows it, go to Settings, tap Passcode, and then Touch ID. Here are more iPhone privacy settings you should check right now.

How to add passwords or locks to non-Apple apps

Some apps have their own ways to lock out unwanted users that are specific to the app. They might have their own passwords or lock screens. These options are typically found in the Accounts section of the app. For example, WhatsApp has a lock screen function that you can access through the settings and requires a password, Face ID, or Touch ID before messages can be accessed. To set up this feature, go to Settings, Account, Privacy, and then Screen Lock.

PayPal has a built-in log-in system that is compatible with Touch ID. To set it up, go to Settings, then Login and Security.

With Dropbox, you can set up a passcode by going to Account, then Settings. From there, turn on the passcode feature and set your passcode. Next, set up your Touch ID or Face ID.

How to use two-factor authentication for specific apps

One final note about maintaining privacy on your iPhone: Don’t forget to add two-factor authentication (2FA) to apps that allow it for additional security, even when apps are unlocked. Two-factor authentication helps the app to verify your identity beyond just your password and keep out those with nefarious intent. The two-factor authentication settings are usually found in the security section of an app. Most banking apps and social media apps like Facebook and Instagram have this capability. Now that you know how to lock iPhone apps and add other layers of protection to your device, learn about the top mobile security threats of 2022.

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Alina Bradford
Alina Bradford is a technology and internet safety and security expert for SafeWise.com and has contributed her insights to dozens of national publications, both in print and online. Her goal is to make safety and security gadgets less mystifying, one article at a time.