Will wiping my hard drive delete windows?

Quick Answer

Yes, wiping a hard drive will delete Windows and all other data stored on the drive. When you wipe or format a hard drive, all of the files and folders are permanently erased. This includes the Windows operating system files and any programs or personal files stored on the drive. After wiping a hard drive that had Windows installed, you would need to reinstall the Windows operating system from scratch in order to use the drive again.

What Happens When You Wipe a Hard Drive

Wiping or formatting a hard drive completely erases all of the data on the drive. This process overwrites the existing data with zeros or random data patterns, making it impossible to recover the original files.

Here’s a breakdown of what happens when you wipe a hard drive:

  • The file system structure is erased – This includes all information about files and folders stored on the drive. After wiping, the drive will show up as unallocated space with no partitions or file system.
  • Boot sectors are overwritten – The sectors of the hard drive that contain boot information for operating systems are erased. This ensures you cannot boot into the OS anymore.
  • Data areas are overwritten – All sectors that contained user data like documents, photos, application files etc are overwritten with zeros or random data.
  • Free space is overwritten – Even sectors that were marked as ‘free space’ are wiped to erase any residual data.

The end result is a hard drive that is wiped clean back to a factory state with no usable data remaining.

Why Windows Is Deleted

When you wipe a hard drive that has Windows installed, Windows is deleted along with all other files and folders on the drive. Here’s why:

  • Windows system files are stored on the hard drive – This includes folders like Windows, Program Files, Users which contain system files, configuration files, registry hives, drivers and other critical OS components. Wiping the drive erases all these system folders and files.
  • Boot configuration data is erased – Boot configuration data (BCD) that contains information on partitions, boot loader settings, bootable devices etc is wiped from the hard drive.
  • Registry hive files are deleted – Critical registry hives like SAM, SECURITY, SOFTWARE, SYSTEM that store registry data are deleted.
  • Shortcuts and file associations are removed – Any shortcuts, file associations and user preferences configured for the Windows installation are wiped.
  • Without all these critical system files, settings and configuration data, Windows cannot run. The operating system needs to be reinstalled from scratch after wiping the hard drive.

How to Wipe a Hard Drive

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

Using Disk Management

Disk Management is a built-in Windows utility that can be used to format and wipe hard drives. To use it:

  1. Open the Disk Management utility. You can search for it or right-click the Start menu and select Disk Management.
  2. Right-click the disk you want to wipe and select Format…
  3. In the popup, under File System select NTFS and check the Quick Format box.
  4. Click OK to begin formatting, which will wipe all data from the selected hard drive.

The quick format option will quickly overwrite the file system of the drive, erasing all data in just a few minutes.

Using DiskPart

DiskPart is a command line disk partitioning utility built into Windows. To use it to wipe a drive:

  1. Open the Command Prompt as administrator.
  2. Type diskpart and press Enter.
  3. Type list disk to show disks.
  4. Select the disk to wipe by typing select disk X (replace X with disk number).
  5. Type clean to wipe the drive.

This will remove all partitions and overwrite the master boot record, wiping the selected hard drive.

Using Third-Party Tools

There are many free third-party disk wiping utilities available such as:

  • DBAN – Darik’s Boot and Nuke
  • HDShredder
  • Eraser
  • KillDisk
  • Macrorit Data Wiper

These tools can completely wipe a hard drive and offer options like multiple wipe passes and different data overwriting algorithms. Most can create a bootable disk or USB drive so you can wipe a drive even if it has an OS installed.

Does Wiping Delete Partitions

Yes, wiping a hard drive will delete all partitions and logical drives on the drive along with erasing all data.

Partitions are essentially containers created on the hard drive to manage storage space. They show up as separate drives (like Drive C: and Drive D:).

When you wipe a hard drive using Disk Management, DiskPart or third party disk wiping software, it will remove all existing partitions and overwrite the partition tables. This erases all information about allocated partitions, leaving the full drive as unallocated space.

The partition loss also means that you cannot access any logical drives (e.g. C: drive, D: drive etc) that existed on the wiped hard disk. The full storage capacity becomes unavailable raw space after wiping completes.

Can You Recover Data After Wiping a Hard Drive?

recovering data after wiping a hard drive is virtually impossible. As modern wiping methods overwrite all data with zeros, random data or multiple passes, the old files are completely destroyed at a physical level.

Some common points regarding data recovery from wiped hard drives:

  • Overwritten data cannot be recovered – Data recovery relies on reading magnetic traces left by files on the drive platters. If the original content is overwritten, the traces are destroyed.
  • No original file system structures remain – File systems contain metadata like file sizes, names, hierarchy etc. Wiping destroys the structures needed to reconstruct files and folders.
  • Wiping is final – Proper hard drive wiping is a one way process. The only way to restore wiped data is via a previously created backup.
  • No recovery tools can help – Once wiping completes, even advanced forensic data recovery cannot salvage the data.

In most cases, the chance of file recovery from a wiped hard drive is essentially zero. The only exception is if a specialized forensic lab uses advanced electron microscopy on the drive platters to potentially reconstruct traces of overwritten data – but this process is prohibitively expensive and success chances are extremely low.

Can You Reinstall Windows After Wiping?

Yes, you can reinstall Windows or any other operating system on a hard drive after wiping it completely.

Here is the general process to reinstall Windows:

  1. Boot from the Windows installation media – Either DVD or bootable USB.
  2. When prompted, select the wiped hard drive to install Windows on.
  3. Windows Setup will automatically create necessary partitions and format the drive with NTFS.
  4. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete installation.

Once Windows Setup finishes, the wiped drive will have a fresh Windows OS installation. You can then reinstall apps and restore data from backup.

Essentially, wiping resets the hard drive back to a blank state so you can freshly install operating systems and software on it. Just remember to backup important data before wiping, as everything will be deleted in the process.

Tips When Wiping a Hard Drive

Here are some important tips to keep in mind when wiping a hard drive:

  • Backup first – Ensure you backup all important data on the drive before wiping.
  • Use multiple passes – For better security, use multiple wipe passes or algorithms like DoD 5220.22-M.
  • Wipe entire drive – Choose to wipe the entire hard disk, not just partitions or volumes.
  • Destroy wipe log files – Delete any logs created by wiping software when done.
  • Check SMART data – View SMART drive statistics to check for bad sectors or failures before wiping.

Following these tips will help ensure the drive wiping process completes properly without issues.


Here are some frequently asked questions about wiping hard drives that deletes Windows:

Does formatting a hard drive delete everything?

Formatting alone does not securely erase all data on a hard drive. It only removes file system structures and marks all space as available for new data. Format does not overwrite existing files which can later be recovered using data recovery software. To permanently erase everything, you need to wipe or overwrite the drive.

Is wiped hard drive data recoverable?

No, data is virtually impossible to recover from a wiped hard drive if a proper multipass overwrite wiping method was used. As this destroys all traces of the original files at disk level, no amount of scanning can reconstitute the deleted data.

Can wiped hard drives be reused?

Yes, once wiped a hard drive can be reused again for data storage. You can reformat the blank drive and repartition it as per your requirements. Just ensure there are no physical defects before reusing a wiped drive.

Does DBAN permanently erase everything?

DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) securely wipes hard drives by overwriting all data with zeros. Using multiple passes, it permanently destroys all data making it unrecoverable. DBAN provides a free method to completely wipe a drive before disposal.

How long does it take to wipe a hard drive?

For a quick single pass wipe of a 1TB hard disk, it may take 2-3 hours. For multipass military grade wipes, it can take over 24 hours to wipe a 1TB drive. The process completely overwrites all data on the drive with zeros which takes time.


Wiping a hard drive erases all data including Windows, programs and files stored on it. It overwrites all sectors to prevent any chance of data recovery. Before wiping a drive, remember to backup all important files and folders that you may need. After wiping, the blank hard drive can be reused again by repartitioning and reinstalling operating systems if required. Proper drive wiping is essential before selling, donating or disposing storage media.

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