Is it possible to Unpartition a hard drive?

Whether you can unpartition a hard drive depends on the current state of the drive and what you hope to achieve. In short, while there are methods to essentially “undo” a partition, truly deleting all partitions and returning a drive to a completely unallocated state is not usually possible through software alone. However, understanding partitioning and your options can help determine the best approach for your situation.

What does it mean to unpartition a drive?

A hard drive in its original, blank state contains no partitions – it’s just one large block of unallocated space. Partitioning divides this space into smaller logical sections that can each have a file system assigned like NTFS or EXT4. The common aim of “unpartitioning” is to delete all of these divisions to return the drive as close as possible to that blank, pre-partitioned condition.

There are a few key points about partitions to understand:

  • Partition information is stored in a partition table format like MBR or GPT at the start of the drive.
  • This table data defines the partitions – their sizes, locations, types, etc.
  • Partitioning does not actually change or erase existing data on the drive.
  • Deleting partitions only removes their definitions from the partition table.
  • Unallocated space contains leftover data until it is overwritten by new data.

With this in mind, the concept of “unpartitioning” is a bit of a misnomer. The goal is to delete the existing partition layout, not erase or reorganize the data already present. Doing so leaves you with a raw disk containing leftover data in unallocated space. Any hope of restoring the “factory fresh” empty state requires completely overwriting all data sectors – a full format.

When to unpartition a drive

The most common scenarios that lead to unpartitioning or removing all partitions from a drive include:

  • Before selling or disposing of a drive – Wiping the partition layout helps ensure no readable data remains for the next owner.
  • When repurposing a drive for a new OS/use – Removing existing partitions lets you create a new layout tailored for the drive’s intended use.
  • To resolve partition issues – If partitions become corrupted or unusable, deleting them all may be part of the troubleshooting process.
  • To reclaim space after deleting a partition – The freed space has to be re-added manually to an existing partition.

Can you unpartition a drive without losing data?

If existing partitions contain data you want to keep, there are a couple approaches that can work:

  • Resize partitions – Use disk management tools to expand the desired partition to reclaim space from deleted ones. This avoids creating unallocated space while keeping your data intact.
  • Copy data off first – Back up data from partitions before deleting them. You can then recopy data back to the disk after repartitioning.

However, directly deleting all partitions will make data inaccessible until the disk is repartitioned. So if you can’t first resize or backup data, another option is deleting partitions one at a time:

  1. Copy data off the first partition to delete.
  2. Delete that partition, leaving free space for other partitions.
  3. Expand the next partition into the unallocated space.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for each subsequent partition.

This gradually consolidates data onto fewer partitions without leaving large spans of inaccessible unallocated space.

Methods for unpartitioning a drive

Now that you understand the implications of removing partitions, here are some ways to delete all existing partitions on a drive:

Diskpart Command

Diskpart is a command-line disk partitioning tool included with Windows. To use it to unpartition a disk:

  1. Open the Command Prompt as Administrator.
  2. Type diskpart and press Enter.
  3. Type list disk to display disks. Note the disk number of the one to unpartition.
  4. Type select disk X (replace X with its disk number) and press Enter.
  5. Type clean and press Enter. This deletes all partitions and formatting.
  6. Exit Diskpart and close Command Prompt when finished.

Disk Management Utility

The Windows Disk Management console provides a graphical interface to manage disks and partitions. To use it to delete all partitions:

  1. Open the Disk Management console. Right-click the Start menu or Windows icon and select “Disk Management”.
  2. Locate the desired physical disk pane showing partitions.
  3. Right-click each partition and select “Delete Volume” to remove it.
  4. Right-click the disk background area and select “Delete Volume” to remove any final partition.
  5. The disk should now show only unallocated space, with all previous partitions deleted.

Third-party Partition Managers

More advanced partition managers like GParted or EaseUS Partition Master also include options to completely delete all partitions on a drive. The steps may vary but generally involve:

  1. Selecting the physical disk from the tools’ interface.
  2. Choosing an option like “Delete All Partitions” or “Wipe Disk”.
  3. Confirming deletion when prompted to remove all existing partitions.

Securely wiping disk data

As mentioned previously, simply deleting partitions does not erase existing data – it remains in unallocated space. For a drive intended to be discarded or reused, you likely want to wipe or format the disk to prevent data recovery:

  • Quick Format – Quick formats only clear the partition table. They do not erase actual data.
  • Full Format – Also called a zero-fill or low-level format. Overwrites all disk sectors with zeros for secure deletion.
  • Secure Erase – Special firmware command to reset a drive back to factory state. Support and results can vary across manufactuers.

If selling or donating a drive, a full disk wipe is highly recommended to sanitize your data. Formatting tools are available in most partition managers or bootable utilities.

Limitations of removing all partitions

There are a couple caveats to be aware of when deleting all partitions on a drive:

  • Unallocated space – Freed space must still be manually allocated to a new partition. It does not automatically become available for use.
  • Leftover boot records – Low-level system structures may remain even if partitions are deleted. A full wipe/format is required to completely purge them.
  • Potential file system damage – Forcing partition deletion without properly unmounting could lead to filesystem corruption, preventing data recovery.

Additionally, the ability to remove all partitions may be limited based on disk type and current layout. Cases where it is not possible include:

  • System/boot partitions – Partitions with OS/boot files often can’t be deleted even from external drives while the OS is running.
  • Shared spanned volumes – Spans/arrays combining multiple disks into one volume must usually be broken first.
  • Secondary/hidden partitions – Not all partitions are visible or accessible to be deleted through ordinary means.

Managing these limitations may require using disk editing tools, bootable media, or disconnecting the drive to delete partitions.

Recovering old partition layouts

If you change your mind after deleting all partitions, the original layout can potentially be recovered:

  • From a backup – Programs like Macrium Reflect can store and restore partition structures along with disk images.
  • With testdisk – Testdisk scans disks for old partition table data and can reconstruct partitions without data loss.
  • Via system restore – Reverting to a system restore point created before partitions were deleted can restore the previous layout.

However, recovery becomes less likely the more changes are made after deleting partitions. New data written to the disk may overwrite crucial layout data.


While possible through the methods outlined, removing every partition from a drive is an aggressive change. Less drastic options like resizing or incremental consolidation may be safer choices in many cases. But when necessary, ‘unpartitioning’ can provide a blank slate to correct issues, repurpose drives, or ensure old data is eliminated before disposal.