How do I clear my laptop hard drive before selling it?

Selling or giving away your old laptop? You’ll want to be sure to wipe the hard drive first. Clearing your hard drive before selling your laptop ensures your personal files, browsing history, saved passwords, and other sensitive data are not accessible to whoever ends up with the device. Follow these steps to securely erase your hard drive before saying goodbye to your old computer.

Why Should I Wipe My Laptop Before Selling It?

When you delete files or clear your browsing history on your computer, the data isn’t necessarily gone forever. Your files and internet activity can still be recovered using data recovery software, even after you empty the Recycle Bin. The only way to completely remove all traces of your personal information from the hard drive is to intentionally overwrite it.

If you don’t wipe your laptop before selling it or giving it away, the next user may be able to recover:

  • Personal documents and photos
  • Browser history, bookmarks, searches
  • Saved passwords and login credentials
  • Financial information like bank and credit card details
  • Emails, chat logs, voicemails, call history
  • Software licenses and activation keys

Protect your privacy and make sure none of your private data falls into the wrong hands. Taking the time to reset your laptop ensures a clean slate for the new owner.

How to Wipe a Laptop Hard Drive

Back Up Your Data

Before wiping your hard drive, be sure to back up any files you want to keep. This includes personal documents, photos, music, software licenses, and any other data. You can back up your files to an external hard drive, cloud storage, CDs/DVDs, or USB flash drive. Be sure to double check that all your important data has successfully transferred to the backup storage device before proceeding.

Sign Out of Accounts

Make sure to sign out of all accounts before wiping your laptop. This includes:

  • Email accounts
  • Social media and messaging apps
  • Online banking and financial accounts
  • Shopping sites and mobile payment accounts
  • Cloud storage services
  • Other sites and services you’ve created accounts with

Signing out ensures your accounts are disconnected from the device. You don’t want the next owner to be able to access your accounts if personal data remains after wiping the hard drive.

Remove the Hard Drive

For maximum security, you may want to remove the hard drive from the laptop entirely before selling it or disposing of the device. This makes it impossible for anyone to recover data from the hard drive later on.

To remove the hard drive:

  1. Power off and unplug the laptop.
  2. Refer to your owner’s manual for instructions to open up the housing and locate the hard drive.
  3. Disconnect the cables and brackets securing the hard drive in place.
  4. Remove the screws holding the hard drive in the mounting bracket and remove it.

Once removed, you can either keep the old hard drive for your own use in an external enclosure or destroy it if you want to ensure the data can never be recovered.

Use a Secure Erase Tool

If you don’t want to physically remove the hard drive, use a secure erase program to overwrite the data instead. Options include:

  • built-in reset utility – Most Windows and Mac computers come with a built-in reset utility in the settings that will rewrite the hard drive.
  • Recovery software – Your computer manufacturer may provide recovery software or partitions on the hard drive that can be used to wipe data.
  • Third party software – Programs like DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) can completely delete all data from the drive.

Boot your computer using the selected erase tool on a CD/DVD disc or USB drive. The program will automatically overwrite all data on the hard drive, leaving it blank for the next user.

Reinstall the Operating System

After securely erasing the hard drive, reinstall your operating system from scratch if you plan on selling your laptop with an OS included.

To reinstall Windows or MacOS:

  1. Boot from the system recovery disc or USB drive. This should have been included with your computer.
  2. Follow the on-screen prompts to install the OS fresh rather than restoring from a backup.
  3. Go through the initial device setup prompts to create a new user account.

A clean OS install ensures there is no residual personal data left that didn’t get erased from the drive wiping process.

How to Wipe Specific Data From a Hard Drive

If you just want to wipe specific sensitive information without completely erasing your hard drive, you have a couple options:

Delete Individual Files

Target and permanently delete specific files or folders. This could include:

  • Browser history and temporary files
  • Saved passwords and account data
  • Emails and other documents
  • Chat logs
  • System files like the registry on Windows

To permanently delete files on Windows:

  1. Select the files/folders and press Shift + Delete to skip the Recycle Bin.
  2. Use a file shredder like Eraser for Windows to overwrite data multiple times.

On Mac:

  1. Drag files to the Trash and then right click and select “Secure Empty Trash.”
  2. Use a file shredder like Permanent Eraser for Mac.

Reset Your Web Browser

Resetting your browser deletes browsing data like history, cookies, caches and temporary files. It also removes saved website passwords.

In Chrome:

  1. Click the menu icon ⋮.
  2. Select Settings > Advanced.
  3. Click “Clear browsing data” under Privacy and security.
  4. Select data to delete and click Clear data.

In Firefox:

  1. Click the menu icon ☰.
  2. Select Options > Privacy & Security
  3. Under Cookies and Site Data click Clear Data.
  4. Select data to clear and click Clear.

In Safari:

  1. Click Safari > Clear History.
  2. Select the browsing data to remove.
  3. Click Clear History.

Uninstall Programs

Scrub individual programs from your computer that may contain personal data. Steps to completely uninstall an app or program:

  1. Windows – Use the Add or Remove Programs control panel.
  2. Mac – Drag the program to the Trash then right click and select Delete Immediately.
  3. Delete any related user files, caches or temporary files.

Pay particular attention to uninstalling:;

  • Messaging apps
  • VPN clients
  • Antivirus software
  • Office suites
  • Compression utilities
  • File-sharing apps like torrent clients

Extra Precautions When Selling Your Laptop

Take these additional measures when getting rid of your old computer to keep your data safe:

  • Remove the SIM card – Take out the SIM card from a laptop mobile broadband card or USB modem so no one has access to your mobile accounts or data.
  • Remove additional storage – Take out any SD cards, flash drives or external hard drives that may contain your files.
  • Disconnect accounts from device – Make sure things like email accounts, social accounts and iCloud Find My Device are dissociated from the laptop so no one can access your accounts.
  • Check online accounts – Review your accounts after selling your laptop. Change passwords and enable 2-factor authentication where possible.
  • Report and remotely wipe – If your laptop supported remote wipe features like Find My Device, be ready to use them if the need arises.

What About Alternatives to Wiping My Laptop?

Some people may consider alternatives to thoroughly wiping their hard drive like:

Selling As-Is

You may think just selling or giving away your laptop as-is is fine. But this risks someone recovering a treasure trove of your personal data. Always assume there is sensitive information accessible on the hard drive and take appropriate precautions.

Deleting Individual Files

Manually going through and deleting specific files seems like an easy shortcut. But keep in mind deleted files can still be recovered. For total peace of mind, the whole drive should be wiped.

Formatting the Hard Drive

Doing a quick format of the hard drive deletes file pointers and partitions. But data itself can still be recovered with special tools.


If your hard drive is encrypted with something like BitLocker for Windows or FileVault for Mac, some believe this protects your data if the laptop is lost or stolen.

However, encryption doesn’t provide foolproof protection in all scenarios. For guaranteed safety, wiping the drive is still the most thorough option.

How to Physically Destroy a Hard Drive

If you want to be absolutely certain no data can ever be recovered from your old laptop’s hard drive, physical destruction is an option. Make sure to remove the drive first as described above.

Methods of physically destroying a hard drive include:

  • Using a hammer to damage the platters and circuitry beyond repair
  • Drilling holes through the drive
  • Running the hard drive through an industrial shredder
  • Completely degaussing the drive to magnetically wipe data
  • Immersing the drive in acid
  • Thermite damage using high heat

Most computer recyclers are also willing to destroy hard drives for a small fee using degaussers, shredders and hammers. This ensures no usable data remains while also allowing environmentally-friendly recycling of the remaining metals and materials.


Clearing your laptop hard drive before getting rid of it only takes a few minutes but provides immense peace of mind. Your personal files and information will stay private rather than risk falling into the wrong hands. So be sure to fully back up your data, reset your operating system, and wipe the hard drive using the steps outlined above.

Whether you want to recycle your old computer, sell it for a few bucks, donate it to charity or give it to a family member, taking these precautions ensures you protect your privacy. That small amount of effort safeguards your sensitive information and allows you to securely move on from your old laptop with confidence.