How to Wipe a Hard Drive

Wipe a computer hard drive clean with these steps

To wipe a hard drive means to completely erase the drive of all its information. Deleting everything does not wipe a hard drive and formatting does not usually wipe a hard drive. You’ll need to take an extra step to wipe the hard drive so the data cannot be easily reconstructed later.

When you format a hard drive or delete a partition, you’re usually only deleting the file system, making the data invisible, or no longer actively indexed, but not gone. A file recovery program or special hardware often recovers the information.

If you want to make sure that your private information is gone forever, you’ll need to wipe the hard drive using special software.

See the tip at the bottom of the page for information on a “simple” wipe using the format command in Windows 10Windows 8Windows 7, and Windows Vista.

How to Wipe a Computer Hard Drive

This process could take several minutes to several hours depending on how big the drive is and what method you choose.

  1. Back up anything you want to keep, such as photos, software product keys, etc. When the hard drive wipe is complete, there will be absolutely no way to get anything on the drive back.
BackUp Maker on Windows
  1. If you’ve already been using an online backup service, you can safely assume that all your important files are already backed up online. If you haven’t been so proactive, pick from several free offline backup tools that can save your files to an external hard drive.Back up everything you want to keep; sometimes several virtual drives share space on a single physical hard drive. View the drives (volumes) that sit on a hard drive from the Disk Management tool in Windows.
  2. Download a free data destruction program. Any of the first six programs we recommend on that list will work great because they can be used to wipe a hard drive from outside of Windows, a necessary feature if you want to wipe the hard drive that Windows is installed on.
Screenshot of DBAN wiping a hard drive
  1. We’re big fans of DBAN, our first pick on that list. It’s probably the most widely used hard drive wiping tool. See our How to Wipe a Hard Drive with DBAN tutorial if you’re nervous about hard drive wiping or prefer a more detailed walkthrough.DBAN does not wipe-solid state drives. If you need to erase an SSD, you’ll have to find a different program in that list mentioned above.Wiping a hard drive is operating system independent if you use one of the bootable tools from our list.There are actually several ways to completely erase a hard drive, but using data destruction software is the easiest and still allows the hard drive to be used again.
  2. Next, complete whatever steps are necessary to install the software or, in the case of a bootable program like DBAN, get the ISO image on a CD or DVD disc, or a USB device like a flash drive:If you’re using a CD or DVD, this process usually involves burning the ISO image to a disc and then booting from the disc to run the program.If you’re using a flash drive or other USB drive, this process usually involves burning the ISO image to the USB device and then booting from that USB drive to get started.
  3. Wipe the hard drive according to the program’s instructions.Most data-destruction programs offer several different methods to wipe a hard drive. If you’re curious about the effectiveness or methods used to complete the hard drive wipe, see Data Sanitization Methods.Plug in your laptop or verify the battery’s fully charged. The total time it takes to finish the HDD wipe depends on the size of the drive and the speed of the computer.
  4. After properly wiping a hard drive, you can be confident that whatever information was on the drive is now gone for good.

You can now install Windows on the drive, create a new partition, sell or give away the hard drive or computer, recycle or dispose of it, restore your backed up files, or whatever else you need to do.9 Best Sites to Sell or Trade Used Electronics

A Simple Hard Drive Wipe Alternative

Beginning in Windows Vista, the format process changed and a single write-zero pass is applied to each standard (non-quick) format. In other words, a very basic hard drive wipe is performed during a format.

If a single write-zero pass is good enough for you, consider your drive wiped after a regular format in Windows 10, 8, 7, or Vista. If you want something even more secure, follow the hard drive wipe instructions above.

This is a wipe of just the partition you’re formatting. If you have more than one partition on a physical hard drive, you’ll need to format those additional drives as well if you want to consider the entire physical disk as “wiped.”

Is Shredding Files What You’re Really After?

If what you really want to do is just make sure that files you delete on a regular basis are really gone and not retrievable with special tools, a data wiping program is more than you need. See our list of free file shredder software programs for programs that “destroy” individual files on an as-needed basis.

Many of those shredder programs also do what’s called a free space wipe, which is a wipe of all the “empty” space on your hard drive. The purpose for this is to ensure that the files you’ve already deleted are actually deleted for good.