How to easily reduce e-waste and reuse your old router

DD-WRT and OpenWrt: New life for your (old) router

53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was produced from 2010 to 2019. Just 17.4 percent was documented to have been collected and properly recycled. If you’ve bought a new router and are wondering what you should do with the old one, think about the three R’s: Reduce Reuse Recycle.
As landfills keep getting crowded with electronic devices that people could still benefit from, you can help by employing two of the three: reduce and reuse.
Here’s an idea for how to bring new life to your “old” router by installing DD-WRT or OpenWrt.

What are DD-WRT and OpenWrt

First of all, welcome to the world of open source router firmware!
DD-WRT and OpenWrt are both very powerful alternatives to the router default operating system, often referred to as router “firmware”.
Here are a few of the reasons why some users might prefer to run a custom firmware on their router:
  • Increased performance & stability
  • Enhanced security
  • Quicker vulnerability fixes
  • Extensibility
  • Much higher degree of configuration
  • Free of cost
You can find a detailed list of features for DD-WRT here and for OpenWrt here.


Image courtesy of wikimedia



Image courtesy of wikimedia

Get acquainted with your old router again

Even if your device has gotten old, it most likely served you well up until it’s replacement arrived and eventually retired to a shelf somewhere in your closet. It’s time to get it out, dust it off and rediscover the power that still inhabits it and put it to good use.
Finding out the manufacturer name and model is a very important step, allowing you to find out the technical capabilities and limitations it may currently have. After getting this valuable information, it is time to see which router firmware works best with it. This process is as easy as doing a simple search here:
  • Check this page for DD-WRT compatibility by searching your router model
  • Check this page for OpenWrt compatibility by searching your router model
Don’t worry if your router is not supported by either of these two, because you have lots of other options. Check this page to find out alternatives you can explore. This article will cover only DD-WRT and OpenWrt, mainly to keep it’s length reasonable, but the principles and methods explained here are very similar to the alternative firmware out there.

Download the firmware package

With a bit of luck, you found out that your old router is supported by at least one of the most popular custom open source firmware out there, either DD-WRT or OpenWrt.
To start the firmware upgrade process, you first need to procure the DD-WRT or OpenWrt firmware package file and have it ready to upload. Here’s how to do this in both cases:


DD-WRT router database search will show you multiple available versions, along with a few useful details about your router hardware.
Select the latest version and download the “DD-WRT Factory image” file.
As an example, here’s how it looks for TP-Link Archer C7 router:
DD-WRT Firmware Download Archer C7


Use the OpenWrt firmware selector to download a copy of the package.
Select the latest version without any suffix in the name and download the appropriate “FACTORY” file, or if you live in EU or US, get the specific version to your region instead.
As an example, here’s how it looks for TP-Link Archer C7 router:
openwrt firmware download archer c7
OpenWrt Firmware Download Archer C7

Power up your device

From this point further, the computer you use to do the router setup will no longer be connected to the internet, so keep your phone or a different computer online, just in case you need to troubleshoot something.
It’s time to power up the device, get an ethernet cable and use it to connect a LAN port of the router to your computer network card.
As an example, here’s how to find LAN ports on TP-Link Archer C7 router:
TP-Link Archer C7 LAN Ports

Determine the router IP address

You need to find out what is the IP Address of the router to be able to connect.
It’s easy to do this, open Command Prompt, type ipconfig and press Enter. Your router’s IP address will be shown as Default Gateway.
Your screen should look like this:
Open Command Prompt
Run ipconfig

Login to the router web page

Open a browser and type the IP Address to login to the router’s web page.
Type your user and password combination if you changed them or the default combination if you haven’t.
The login page looks like this on TP-Link Archer C7:
Router Login TP-Link Archer C7

Install the new firmware package

A fair warning, any remaining device warranty will be voided after this step, so proceed only if this isn’t an issue for you.

Depending on the router manufacturer, find and open the Administration, System Tools, Maintenance or any similar menu name.
On this page, find a sub menu or option named Firmware Upgrade and click to open it. Here, find and click the Browse button to select your firmware package file you downloaded earlier.
To start DD-WRT or OpenWrt installation process, just click on Upload or Upgrade.
Depending on the router, it will take around 3-5 minutes for setup to complete. Please do not power off your device while installation runs or your device might break.
Here is how the page looks on popular routers from different manufacturers:

Congratulations, your old router is useful again

After installing DD-WRT or OpenWrt on your device, you can do tons of useful things with it! Here are just a few examples, to give you an idea:
  • Dedicated VPN Router with ShieldMe
  • Smart home hub or automation
  • Advanced network switch
  • Guest Wireless connection
  • Wireless mesh
  • Wireless extender
  • Wireless bridge
  • NAS (Network Attached Storage)
  • Web Server
  • Network level ads blocker