Will wiping my PC remove Windows?

When it comes to wiping your PC and starting fresh, one of the biggest questions is whether wiping will completely remove Windows or if traces will be left behind. This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about wiping your PC and what happens to Windows in the process.

Quick Answer

Yes, wiping your PC will completely remove Windows along with all other data and programs. A full wipe resets the computer back to a clean factory state with no operating system or software installed.

What Does It Mean to Wipe a PC?

Wiping a PC refers to completely erasing and reformatting the hard drive. This removes all data, programs, files, and the operating system installed on the drive. It restores the computer back to the same blank state it was in when you first purchased it.

Wiping is a more thorough process than simply deleting everything or reinstalling the OS. When you delete files or reinstall the OS, traces of data often remain on the hard drive that can still be recovered. Wiping overwrites all sectors of the hard drive to truly scrub it clean.

Common Wiping Methods

There are a few different approaches you can take to wipe a hard drive:

  • Use built-in Windows tool – Windows includes the “Reset this PC” feature that reformats and erases the drive.
  • Use third-party wiping software – Programs like DBAN boots from external media and securely overwrite data.
  • Remove the hard drive – You can wipe a drive by connecting it externally to another system and wiping it there.

Does Wiping Remove Windows?

Yes, wiping your PC will completely wipe away Windows along with all other data and software on the computer. This includes:

  • The Windows operating system itself
  • All installed updates and patches
  • Device drivers
  • User settings and preferences
  • All programs and software
  • All personal files and documents

Once the wipe is complete, the computer will have no operating system and will boot to a blank hard drive. You’ll need to reinstall Windows or another OS to use the system again.

Reasons Windows is Removed

There are a few specific reasons why Windows is guaranteed to be removed when wiping a PC:

  • Wiping overwrites all sectors – The entire hard drive surface is overwritten, including sectors containing Windows files.
  • The MBR is erased – Wiping scrubs the Master Boot Record that tells the computer where Windows is located.
  • Recovery partitions are removed – Manufacturers often include recovery partitions that are wiped away.

Steps to Wipe a PC

If you want to wipe your computer and remove Windows, here is an overview of the process:

  1. Back up any files you want to keep – Copy important documents, photos, etc. to external storage.
  2. Boot into the wiping tool – Insert disc or USB drive and select it as the boot device.
  3. Choose wipe method – Select a quick wipe, full overwrite wipe, or other option.
  4. Execute the wipe – The software will overwrite the entire drive, removing all data.
  5. Reinstall OS – Once complete, install Windows or another operating system.
  6. Restore files – Copy back over any saved files you backed up.

Preparing to Wipe a Hard Drive

Before wiping your PC, it’s important to:

  • Backup files – Save any documents, photos, or data you need.
  • Gather supplies – You’ll need wiping software on a disc or USB drive.
  • Disconnect externals – Unplug any external hard drives to avoid accidentally wiping them.
  • Check connections – Remove dust from SATA ports and ensure cables are properly connected.

Choosing Wiping Software

Some options for drive wiping utilities include:

Software Details
DBAN Free open source disk wiping utility that boots from a CD or flash drive.
Active@ KillDisk Secure data removal utility that includes verification of the wipe.
Eraser Advanced erasure tool for individual files or full drives.

What Happens During a Wipe?

When you run a drive wiping utility, here is an overview of what happens:

  1. The software boots from disc or USB drive, bypassing the main hard drive.
  2. It accesses the hard drive sectors directly at a low level.
  3. You select the wiping pattern and number of passes.
  4. The utility overwrites all drive sectors with random data.
  5. The process continues until the specified number of passes is complete.
  6. With the drive now blank, the tool reboots the system.

Understanding Wiping Passes

For maximum security, wiping utilities overwrite the drive multiple times. Each overwrite cycle is known as a “pass.”

Typical options include:

  • Single pass – Overwrites data once. Quick but less secure.
  • 3-pass – Overwrites with 0s, then 1s, then random data.
  • 7-pass – Meets DoD erasure standards for securely wiping drives.

The more passes, the longer the wipe takes but the more thorough it is.

Verifying the Wipe

Some tools have a verification feature that checks the drive after the wipe to confirm all data was successfully overwritten.

This is done by re-reading each sector and checking that it only contains the expected wiped data pattern and not traces of leftover data.

Benefits of Wiping a Hard Drive

Some key benefits of completely wiping a hard drive include:

  • Removes sensitive personal data
  • Eliminates viruses and malware
  • Clears out unnecessary files and bloat
  • Freshens up overall system performance
  • Allows a clean OS install
  • Lets you reuse or dispose of the drive safely

Improved Performance

Wiping your drive gives you a fresh start performance-wise. With all bloatware and unnecessary files removed, a freshly installed OS boots faster and runs more efficiently.

Better Security

A wiped drive ensures all sensitive financial documents, passwords, browsing history, and other personal data is erased before disposal.

Clean Slate for New OS

Wiping fully cleans the slate for a smooth install of a new operating system like Windows, Linux, or Chrome OS without any clutter left behind.

When Should You Wipe a Computer?

Some common scenarios where fully wiping a computer is recommended include:

  • Selling or gifting the device – Fully wipe to protect your personal data.
  • Disposing of old device – Wipe before drop-off recycling or trash disposal.
  • Eliminating malware – Wipe out persistent viruses, spyware, or ransomware.
  • OS upgrade – Wipe before moving from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for example.

Wiping is also often performed routinely in corporate and government settings when equipment is repurposed or cycled out to new users.

Preparing Drive for Sale or Gift

If you plan on selling or giving away your used computer or hard drive, be sure to fully wipe it first to avoid exposing your personal files and information.

Many people forget to do this, and it can come back to haunt them down the road if sensitive data falls into the wrong hands.

Disposing of an Old Computer

When getting rid of an old PC that’s reached end-of-life, you want to make sure to wipe the drive before tossing it in the recycling bin or trash. This removes any ability to recover data from it.

Some dedicated data destruction companies also offer certified hard drive shredding services.

Downsides of Wiping a Hard Drive

While it offers many benefits, there are a few potential downsides of wiping your hard drive to consider as well:

  • Loss of data – Back up important files first before wiping.
  • Time consuming – It can take hours to fully wipe large hard drives.
  • OS reinstallation – You’ll need to reinstall Windows or another operating system.
  • Program reinstallation – Any software and apps will need to be set up again.

Possibility of Data Loss

When wiping a drive, all data is erased. So be absolutely certain to back up any important documents, photos, and other files you want to keep before you wipe the drive.

Once the process is complete, the data is generally unrecoverable.

Time Requirements

For large hard drives, the wiping process can be very time intensive. For example, completely wiping a 2TB drive using a 7-pass method could take 7-8 hours or longer to fully complete.

So make sure to start the process when you have plenty of time and won’t need access to the computer for a while.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I recover files after wiping a hard drive?

No, the purpose of wiping a hard drive is to completely and irreversibly erase all data. Once the wiping process is complete, files cannot be recovered from the drive using normal methods.

Does wiping a hard drive remove viruses?

Yes, wiping fully removes any viruses, malware, or other infections present on the hard drive by totally erasing all data from the drive.

Can wiped data be recovered by data recovery services?

In most cases no – a thorough multi-pass wipe makes data unrecoverable even by advanced forensic methods. However, there is a small chance remnants could be recovered from the physical platters in a data recovery lab.

Is wiping better than formatting a hard drive?

Yes, wiping is much more effective than formatting. Formatting simply clears file tables and partitions, but data remains on the drive that could still be recovered. Wiping overwrites all drive sectors to make data irretrievable.

Will wiped files reappear after wiping a hard drive?

No, a full wiped hard drive contains no data, operating system, programs or files. Any data appearing after a wipe indicates the wipe did not fully complete and traces of data remained.


Wiping your computer’s hard drive completely erases Windows along with all other data in a way that makes files unrecoverable. It returns your PC to a like-new, clean slate state. Just be sure to back up any important files you want to keep beforehand.

Fully wiping hard drives provides an assortment of benefits like increased security, better system performance, and reliable removal of persistent malware. It also allows for a fresh OS installation.

Now you know exactly what happens when you wipe a hard drive and can decide if it’s the right choice for your particular computer.