A Guide on How to Wipe a Computer

Isaac Fernandez

Time for a new computer? That means soon it’ll be time to wipe the old one. Unless you plan on physically destroying the machine, a wipe is the best way to keep your information and files private when you’re finally done with transfers and back up. 

Why Wipe? 

Why Wipe?

Before you ask how do you wipe a computer clean to sell it, you may find yourself asking, why

It’s fairly commonplace to factory reset a phone. A lot of the data on the phone is linked to personal accounts and cloud storage. That makes phone hopping easier since people tend to replace phones every few years (if not more often).

But that’s also why we realize it’s so important to wipe phone memory clean — they’re connected to a whole lot of personal details and sensitive information.

Our computers, on the other hand, feel like little walled-off gardens. We open the gate to run around on the internet, but that means most of our sensitive information is online and not on the computer itself, right? 

So, you log out, delete your folders and programs, and change the admin login to something generic, right? Unfortunately, wrong. 

  • While that’s an option, it actually leaves the remnants of your data buried on the hard drive. The file explorer just can’t locate them because now they’re marked as free space.
  • With the right programs, all of it can still be retrieved, leaving you exposed. 
  • You’d never want to leave that potential open if you were selling or donating the laptop to parties unknown. But even in the hands of someone you know, that hidden data would be vulnerable to viruses and malware.
  • Finally, it’s easier to do a Windows 10 reset (or whatever OS you’re running) and format the hard drive, rather than going through the hypothetical steps above. 

If you weren’t convinced before, hopefully, you’re 100% on board now — if only for convenience reasons! Time to move on to how to wipe a computer, for both PCs and Macs. It’s easy. 

How to Completely Wipe a PC or Mac

What Does Wiping Your PC Mean? 

Traditionally, wiping refers to overwriting your old hidden data with plenty of new gibberish. As long as it’s still marked as free, unused space, the computer doesn’t care what exactly the placeholder info is. 

  • The process is also sometimes called formatting or reformatting. 
  • When you buy a PC, the hard drive is already formatted for you — it means the hard drive has been partitioned (a storage region was created), and the file system was implemented then cleaned up for use (wiped). 
  • The partition most computers boot up with is a C: drive, but users can create other partitions for data as well. 

5 Ways How to Wipe a Hard Drive

In the context of a computer wipe, how to format a hard drive means basically the same thing as how to reformat a hard drive. We don’t need to know about creating partitions and formatting them for use. 

That particular process, while relatively straightforward, is intimidating and complex. Plus, it is ultimately unnecessary for us. Windows won’t allow you to manually format any drive with the operating system on it. 

  • Instead, the easiest thing is to reset Windows. Don’t worry about “how do I force a factory reset on Windows 10?” From Windows 8 on, it’s a simple process you can find listed under settings. Make sure all your backups or transfers are complete first. In Windows 10, the option is listed under the Recovery section of Update & Security. Then you can remove files and “clean the drive,” which is Windows performing a format for you before reinstalling a clean Windows version. Windows 8 will do the same, but you access it by searching “reinstall,” selecting settings, and then the option is called “Remove everything and reinstall Windows.” 
  • How to factory reset Windows 7 and below is a little trickier. These systems require external recovery or installation discs. You manually reinstall Windows 7 or earlier on the machine, overwriting your original copy. For how to wipe a computer with Windows 7 or Vista in particular, you have to run a custom installation and select the option that deletes your original drives. You can follow the instructions found here or try this method to see if your Windows 7 computer had a recovery partition built-in. Dell computers that were sold with Windows Vista have a similar factory reset option that is worth a try on non-Dell machines, and there’s a similar boot process for Windows XP that you can try. 
  • Another hard drive formatting option is the program DBAN, which stands for Darik Boot and Nuke. In other words, boot up the computer, run DBAN, obliterate the contents of your computer. It even erases the operating system! This is a good option if you’re permanently disposing of the computer or running a Windows 10 factory reset from boot rather than from inside Windows. Since DBAN will ultimately destroy Windows, you need to save DBAN to a bootable external drive to run it on the computer. If you want to reinstall Windows afterward, you’ll need to have your installer discs or save the Windows 10 installer to an external drive. We recommend this only for experienced parties, so feel free to bring your computer to a professional to get this done. 
  • Formatting a Mac is easy. Apple recommends three steps: log out of your Apple connected accounts on the machine, such as iTunes, iCloud, and iMessage. Then, run a macOS Recovery startup and erase your disk contents through Disk Utility in the Utility folder. Lastly, use a Wi-Fi connection and macOS Recovery to freshly reinstall the operating system. 
  • Finally, before proceeding with a wipe, double-check whether your machine has a physical hard drive or a solid-state drive (SSD). Overwriting an SSD with traditional formatting techniques would actually shorten its lifespan. Instead, you’ll want to use SSD-safe erasure tools, which include TRIM and ATA Secure Erase. The macOS Disk Utility is designed to work with SSDs and will also safely erase data without damaging the drive. For a Windows 10 reset, you may want to selectively remove files and not “clean the drive,” then run an SSD-safe erase manually. 


How to wipe a hard drive on Windows 10 or macOS is relatively easy. In fact, it’s simpler than trying to delete all your accumulated stuff by hand. It’s also a smart move if you’re on the other end and recently bought or received a used computer. 

But for older versions of Windows, or if you’re just feeling a little dubious about the whole thing, don’t hesitate to take your computer to an expert. 

List your concerns and exactly what you want the end results to be; miscommunication could be disastrous here. Whether you rely on professionals or handle a wipe yourself, you’ll enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing all your personal data is safely erased.

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