How do I wipe a drive and keep Windows?

If you want to wipe your hard drive while keeping Windows, there are a few options available. The main goal is to erase all data and personal files, while preserving Windows and installed programs for a fresh start. This can help improve performance by removing bloatware, or allow you to give away or sell your PC without compromising personal data. Before wiping a drive, be sure to back up any files you want to keep.

Use Windows Reset Tool

The easiest way to wipe a drive and reinstall Windows is to use the built-in Windows Reset tool. This will reinstall Windows, erase personal files, remove installed apps, but preserve Windows settings and drivers. Here’s how to use the Reset tool in Windows 10:

  1. Open Settings > Update & Security > Recovery
  2. Under Reset this PC, click Get started.
  3. Choose Keep my files to erase personal files only, or Remove everything to perform a full reset.
  4. Follow the on-screen instructions. Windows will be reinstalled from scratch but activated automatically using your existing Windows license.

The Windows Reset process typically takes around an hour to complete. It will wipe all drives associated with Windows, including any secondary hard drives, so be cautious when selecting the “Remove everything” option.

Use Third-Party Disk Wiping Software

For more control over the drive wiping process, consider using third party disk utility software. These tools fully overwrite the hard drive sectors to scrub all data beyond recovery.

Some top options include:

  • DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) – Free open source wiping tool bootable from USB or CD.
  • Active@ KillDisk – Paid software with extra features like DoD wiping methods.
  • Eraser – Free open source data destruction tool for precise control over wiping methods.

To use disk wiping software:

  1. Backup files you want to keep and remove sensitive files manually.
  2. Download and create a bootable tool for the wiping software.
  3. Boot from the disk or USB drive to completely erase the hard drive.
  4. Reinstall Windows after wiping completes.

This process will wipe all data from the drive before allowing you to reinstall Windows with a clean slate.

Reset Windows With a recovery drive

Another option is to use a Windows recovery drive to reset Windows and wipe your system. A recovery drive allows you to boot into the Windows recovery environment from a USB drive or DVD. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Type “Create a recovery drive” in the Windows search bar and open the tool.
  2. Plug in a USB drive with at least 16GB of storage and click Next.
  3. Check the box to “Back up system files to the recovery drive” and continue following the steps.
  4. Once complete, insert the recovery drive and restart your PC.
  5. Boot from the recovery drive, choose Troubleshoot > Reset this PC.
  6. Select “Remove everything” then click Reset to wipe the system.

This will initiate a full reinstallation and wiping process for Windows from the recovery environment. It’s slower than using the built-in Reset tool but works if Windows won’t boot normally.

Clean Install Windows 10 from Media

You can also start fresh by performing a custom clean install of Windows 10 using installation media:

  1. Download Windows 10 ISO file or create bootable installation media from Microsoft’s website.
  2. Boot from the USB or DVD to access the installer.
  3. When prompted, select “Custom: Install Windows only” to perform a clean install.
  4. Choose your desired hard drive and click Next. This will automatically format and wipe the drive.
  5. Follow the on-screen steps to finish installing Windows.

A clean install gives you full control over disk partitioning and guarantees everything is wiped. You’ll have to reinstall all programs manually but can activate Windows with your existing license key.

Reset Through Settings App

You can also choose to reset your Windows 10 PC through the Settings app:

  1. Open the Settings app and go to Update & Security > Recovery
  2. Under the Reset this PC section, click Get started.
  3. Choose either Keep my files or Remove everything. Keep my files will only remove apps and settings. Remove everything will erase all personal files too.
  4. Select Local reinstall or Cloud download. Local is faster but Cloud lets you choose Windows 10 version.
  5. Click Reset to begin the process. This will reinstall Windows 10 while retaining the license.

Resetting through Settings is quick and convenient. It will wipe personal data while retaining Windows activation and installed editions. Just make sure to back up files first.

Use DISM and Clean Commands

You can use built-in DISM and System Restore Point commands to reset Windows 10 while wiping personal data:

  1. Type cmd in the search bar, right-click Command Prompt and select Run as Administrator.
  2. Type the following commands, pressing Enter after each:
    DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth
    DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup
    DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /SPSuperseded
  3. Once DISM finishes, type:
  4. Restart your PC when prompted. The resetbase command will wipe registry, files, and folders.

This method resets Windows components and erases personal data while retaining installed apps and Windows activation. Run security software afterwards to check for any leftover junk files.

Clean Install with wipe using Installation Media

For a full wipe and reinstallation, you can clean install Windows 10 using installation media:

  1. Download Windows 10 installation ISO and create bootable USB or DVD.
  2. Boot from the installation media, enter your language/region.
  3. Select “Custom: Install Windows Only” when prompted.
  4. Select desired hard drive partition and click Format to wipe drive.
  5. Follow on-screen directions to finish clean installing Windows 10.

This will completely wipe the drive and do a fresh Windows install. You’ll have to reinstall apps but can activate Windows with your existing license key.

Use Parted Magic Disk Wipe Tool

For advanced users, you can boot to the Parted Magic OS and use its built-in disk wipe tools:

  1. Download Parted Magic ISO and create bootable media.
  2. Boot from USB/DVD into Parted Magic desktop.
  3. Open Terminal and enter shred -vfz -n 10 /dev/sda (use your drive letter).
  4. Type Y to confirm and wait several hours for full wipe process.
  5. Reinstall Windows 10 after wiping completes.

Parted Magic uses military-grade shred algorithms to wipe data. This ensures all data is completely unrecoverable for security purposes before reinstalling Windows.

Reset Windows With Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool

Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool can be used to securely erase everything and reinstall Windows:

  1. Download Media Creation Tool from Microsoft.
  2. Run the tool, select “Create installation media for another PC”.
  3. Select “Backup files” option when prompted.
  4. Insert USB drive over 8GB in size, follow steps to make bootable media.
  5. Boot from the USB drive on your target computer.
  6. Follow the prompts to erase disk fully and install Windows.

This will backup your files, wipe the system drive, and freshly install the latest Windows 10 version while preserving your activation status.

When to Avoid Wiping System Drive

There are a few cases where you may want to avoid completely wiping the system drive when reinstalling Windows:

  • If you have a preinstalled OEM version of Windows, wiping the drive might invalidate your license and activation status. You’ll have to contact the OEM to restore license.
  • If you have important recovery partitions on the drive, wiping could remove them and ability to restore original factory state.
  • On newer systems with UEFI firmware, drive wiping can sometimes cause boot issues that require UEFI/BIOS tweaks to resolve after reinstalling.

For these cases, doing an in-place Windows reset while keeping personal files is safer than fully wiping the drive. Back up needed data and run the Reset option under Settings.

How to Check If Drive Was Fully Wiped

To verify that no recoverable data remains after wiping a drive, you can use a few methods:

  • Open Windows Explorer and confirm unused space shows the full drive capacity, indicating a fresh wipe and format.
  • Use Windows Disk Management console and examine the drive properties to validate it is empty.
  • Download a free data recovery app like Recuva and scan the wiped drive. It should find no recoverable files.
  • For drives used to store sensitive data, use data forensics software that can scan disk slack space.

As long as no personal files show up, the drive can be considered safely wiped for reinstallation and transfer of ownership.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Windows reset the same as wiping a drive?

No, the built-in Windows reset function does not fully wipe a drive. It only erases Windows system files, programs, and personal data. But it does not touch drive free space or partitions. To fully wipe a drive, you need to use installation media or third party disk wipe tools.

Does formatting a drive also wipe it?

Formatting a drive does erase all data on that drive partition, but does not overwrite or scrub the data at a low level. So formatting alone is not considered sufficient for securely wiping a hard drive, as data recovery is still potentially possible.

Is there free disk wiping software?

Yes, there are a few great free and open source options:

  • DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) – Free data shredder to wipe hard drive via boot disk.
  • Eraser – Secure data destruction for individual files or full wipe.
  • SDelete – Included with Windows Sysinternals, uses DoD wiping methods.

These let you securely overwrite hard drives for individual file erasure or full disk wiping.

Can you wipe a hard drive and reinstall Windows 10?

Yes, you can definitely wipe a hard drive fully while retaining the ability to reinstall Windows 10. As long as you have a valid Windows 10 license key, you can safely wipe the system drive then reinstall Windows on the freshly erased drive.

Is DBAN better than format?

Yes, DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) is considered much more secure than a standard format when wiping a drive. DBAN overwrites every sector repeatedly using DoD 5220.22-M algorithms to scrub data beyond any forensic recovery. A regular format does not prevent data being recovered.

Method Security Level Ease of Use
DBAN Wipe Very High Moderate
Standard Format Low Very Easy


Reinstalling Windows 10 while wiping your hard drive properly is a straightforward process. Using the built-in Windows reset function or clean installing from media allows you to erase all personal data while retaining Windows activation and install status. Third-party disk wiping tools like DBAN give you greater low-level control over the process for maximum security.

Just be sure to back up any important files you need to keep before wiping your system drive. With the right preparation, you can have the best of both worlds – a wiped disk and a working Windows 10 install.