Planning to get rid of your Windows PC? Here’s how to make sure all the personal files on your hard drive are erased and unrecoverable, whether you’re running Windows 11, 10, 8.1, or 7.
Are you selling or giving away your computer? You may have erased your private data by deleting files and reinstalling Windows, but you’re not quite done yet. The last action you need to take before saying goodbye to your old friend is to wipe the drive clean.
Simply deleting your data won’t do the trick because your files can be restored from the Recycle Bin or recovered with the right utility. No matter what version of Windows you have running, there are built-in features to reset the OS to factory conditions.
However, most computers now come with solid-state drives (SSDs), which are faster than their mechanical counterparts but can be trickier to wipe. To be certain your data can’t fall into the wrong hands, a good hard drive eraser utility is still your best bet if you want a stronger and more secure method of wiping your drive.
Wipe Your Drive in Windows 11
Wiping your drive in Windows 11 is largely the same as in Windows 10, with a few tweaks. Go to Settings > System > Recovery and click Reset PC. When asked what you want to erase, select Remove everything.
Choose Local reinstall to reinstall Windows from this device, since it will run faster than the cloud download. If that doesn’t work, select the Cloud download. From the Additional settings window, click the Change settings link, enable the switch for Clean data, and then click Confirm.
Click Next to start the process, then hit the Reset button. Your computer goes through the reset process whereby your drive is wiped and Windows is reinstalled. You can set up Windows again if you plan to keep the computer, otherwise shut it down now.
Wipe Your Drive in Windows 10
To wipe your drive in Windows 10, go to Settings > Update & security > Recovery, and then click the Get Started button. When prompted, choose the option for Remove everything. You should then choose the Local reinstall option to reinstall Windows from your computer.
At the Additional settings window, click the Change Settings link and turn on the switch next to Clean data. Click Confirm and then click Next. Click Reset to start the process.
After the drive is wiped, Windows is reinstalled. If you plan to keep the computer, you can go through the Windows setup process again. But if you plan to get rid of the PC, just shut it down at this point.
Wipe Your Drive in Windows 8.1
If Windows 8.1 is on the drive you want to wipe, go to Settings > Change PC Settings > Update and recovery > Recovery. Click Get Started under the Remove everything and reinstall Windows section. Click Next and then choose Fully clean the drive to ensure everything is deleted.
Click the Reset button. Your drive is wiped, your PC is reset, and Windows is reinstalled. After your PC reboots, you are placed at the Windows setup screen where you can go through the setup process again if you plan to keep the PC. Otherwise, shut it off now.
Wipe Your Drive in Windows 7
Windows 7 users won’t find the same reset tool that newer versions have, but you can still bring your hard drive back to factory settings under the right conditions. To make the process go smoother, you will need either a recovery partition(Opens in a new window) or the Windows 7 installation disc(Opens in a new window).
Open Control Panel, choose Recovery, and then click the Advanced recovery methods link. (Note that if your PC does not have a recovery partition then you may receive an error here, preventing you from moving forward.)
You will be presented with several different options on how you wish to reinstall Windows 7. After making your choices, choose Skip when asked to back up your files. Click Restart to reset Windows. Depending on the option you chose, you can now reinstall and set up Windows 7, thereby wiping out the previous installation.
Wipe Your Drive with a Disk Utility
Wiping your hard drive from within the operating system is a quick and convenient method, but a third-party utility can provide greater security and protection.
For those of you wiping a mechanical hard drives, make sure you choose a utility that meets the DoD 5220.22-M standard. This means the utility will fully wipe your drive by overwriting your data three times with different characters.
Disk Wipe(Opens in a new window) is a free portable erasure utility that runs from a USB drive and wipes your Windows boot drive. Simply download and run the DiskWipe.exe file on your PC, or create a bootable environment on your USB flash drive and have Disk Wipe run from there.
The utility’s simple interface displays your drives and partitions. Select the one you want to erase and click Wipe Disk. The program asks how you want to reformat the drive—NTFS, FAT, or FAT32. You then choose the type of erasing pattern and the number of passes.
Options include One Pass Zeros, One Pass Random, or US Department of Defense DoD. Generally, the more passes you choose, the longer the process but the more secure the erasure.
Active KillDisk Freeware
Active KillDisk Freeware(Opens in a new window) is a more limited version of the $40 KillDisk Professional for Windows(Opens in a new window), but it’s still a capable and effective tool. You can easily create bootable disk wipe media on a DVD or USB drive, or set up an ISO file. You then use that media to boot up your Windows PC, where you can wipe the primary drive.
The program provides a graphical menu showing your various drives. Select the drive you want to erase and click the Erase Disk icon. KillDisk offers a range of erasure methods, including those from the DoD, US Army, British government, and NIST.
AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard
The free AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard(Opens in a new window) is a disk partitioning and management tool that lets you easily wipe your hard drive. The program helps you create a portable version that you can run from a USB drive as well as bootable media to burn to a CD/DVD, copy to a USB stick, or save as an ISO file.
From the main interface, select the drive or partition you want to erase and then click the Wipe Disk icon. The only drawback with the free version is that it limits you to just one erasure method, namely filling the sectors with zeros. To use a more advanced method, you must upgrade to the $49.95 AOMEI Partition Assistant Pro(Opens in a new window).