How do you wipe a hard drive with Windows on it?

When it comes time to wipe your hard drive that has Windows installed on it, there are a few key questions that come to mind:

Why would you want to wipe a hard drive?

There are several reasons you may want to wipe a hard drive that has Windows installed:

  • You are getting rid of your computer and want to remove all personal data before selling or recycling it.
  • You are upgrading to a new hard drive and want to wipe the old one clean.
  • You want to do a clean install of Windows to fix problems, speed things up, or clear out clutter.

What methods can you use to wipe a hard drive?

There are a few different methods you can use to wipe a hard drive:

  • Using Windows built-in disk cleaning tools like Diskpart Clean and Format commands.
  • Using third party disk wiping software that overwrites all data with zeros or random data.
  • Physically destroying the hard drive platters to smash the data.

How do you make sure all data is erased and unrecoverable?

To ensure all data is completely wiped and unrecoverable, you need to overwrite the drive with random data, not just do a quick format. Multi-pass overwrites are most secure. You can use disk wiping software like DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) to securely erase data by overwriting many times.

Using Windows Built-In Tools

Windows has a couple built-in options you can use to wipe a hard drive. These tools perform a quick format of the drive, so they are not the most secure options if completely erasing data is critical. But they are very convenient if you just need to wipe a drive before reinstalling Windows.

Using Diskpart Clean Command

Diskpart is a command line disk partitioning tool included in Windows. Here are the steps to use the Clean command to wipe a drive:

  1. Type “diskpart” in the Windows search box and open the Diskpart app.
  2. Type “list disk” to show all connected disks and identify the disk number of the one you want to clean.
  3. Type “select disk X” where X is the disk number, to select the target disk.
  4. Type “clean” to wipe all partitions and data from the disk.
  5. Exit Diskpart when done.

This will wipe all data by erasing the partitions and file system from the disk. A quick format is performed. The data itself is not overwritten, so it could potentially still be recovered using forensics.

Using Format Command

You can also use the Format command in Diskpart to wipe a drive. The steps are similar:

  1. Open Diskpart.
  2. List disks and identify the target disk number.
  3. Select the target disk.
  4. Type “format fs=ntfs” (or fs=fat32 if you want FAT32 format).
  5. Exit Diskpart when done.

This will format the drive in NTFS or FAT32 format, deleting all previous data in the process. Again, it is just a quick format so some data remnants may exist until overwritten.

Using Third Party Disk Wiping Software

For more secure data wiping that overwrites all data remnants on a hard drive, use third party disk wiping software. Some top options include:

DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke)

DBAN is a free, open source wiping tool that completely erases data by overwriting the entire drive with zeros. It can be booted from a CD or USB drive.

  1. Download DBAN ISO image and create bootable media.
  2. Boot target computer from DBAN media.
  3. Select drive to wipe and choose wiping method – Quick Erase is fastest, DoD 3-pass is more secure.
  4. Wait for overwrite to complete. This can take hours for large drives.

DBAN wipes with multiple passes by default to ensure maximum data erasure.

Active@ KillDisk

Active@ KillDisk is commercial Windows-based wiping software with advanced features.

  • Supports verification of wiping process.
  • Multiple data sanitization standards like DoD 5220.22-M for secure data destruction.
  • Wipe free disk space in addition to partitions.

Follow on-screen prompts to completely wipe hard drive with KillDisk.

Parted Magic

Parted Magic is a Linux-based bootable wiping tool. It includes options like:

  • Fast wipe – single pass zero overwrite.
  • Secure Erase – meets DoD erasure standards.
  • Enhanced secure erase – uses algorithms like Gutmann method for 35 pass overwrite.

Boot from Parted Magic media and use the included Erase Drive tool for hard drive wiping.

Physically Destroying Hard Drives

For maximum assurance that no data can ever be recovered, you can physically destroy the hard drive platters. This means no one can ever read data off them again. Methods include:

  • Using a hammer to damage platters and smash magnetic media.
  • Drilling holes through the platters.
  • Degaussing platters using strong magnets to disrupt magnetic data.

This physical destruction approach is overkill for most home users. Secure multi-pass software wiping is usually sufficient. But if you have highly sensitive data, physical destruction adds an extra layer of protection against someone ever reading residual magnetic data remnants from platters. Government agencies or military contractors may physically destroy old hard drives as policy.

Tips for Securely Wiping Hard Drives

Follow these tips when wiping a hard drive for maximum security:

  • Use software that overwrites multiple times – This ensures all data remnants are wiped by rewriting with random data repeatedly.
  • Wipe the free space – In addition to partitions, wipe all the empty space on the disk to get rid of any deleted file fragments.
  • Check for bad sectors – Scan for bad sectors before wiping, so you know data is erased from these inaccessible areas of the drive.
  • Verify the wiping process completed – Some tools have a verification pass to confirm the wiping completed successfully.
  • Destroy the drive if needed – If disposing of a drive with especially sensitive data, destroy it physically to prevent any forensic data recovery attempts.


Wiping a hard drive containing Windows can be done using Windows’ own disk tools like Diskpart, but more thorough wiping requires third party disk erasing software. The best options overwrite all data multiple times with random data to completely scrub the drive and prevent recovery. Physically destroying the drive is an extra security precaution for highly sensitive data. Following best practices for drive wiping ensures no usable data remnants are left behind when repurposing or disposing of an old hard drive.

Method Security Level Ease of Use
Diskpart Clean Low Easy
Diskpart Format Low Easy
DBAN High Moderate
KillDisk High Easy
Parted Magic High Moderate
Physical Destruction Very High Difficult