Windows

How to Wipe Your Hard Drive While Leaving the OS Intact

Gavin Phillips Updated 16-03-2020

Picture this scenario: you’re selling your computer, so you want to wipe all your personal data—but you also want to leave Windows intact.

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Simply deleting your personal files isn’t enough, unfortunately. With the right tools, someone could recover your data. You need to securely wipe the hard drive to make sure no personal data traces remain.

So, how do you wipe a hard drive clean while leaving the operating system intact?

Always Securely Wipe Your Drives Before Selling

You should always wipe your drives before giving away hardware, too. If you don’t wipe your drives, you’re handing personal data to the person purchasing your computer.

The difficulty is that even if you delete your personal data, it still lingers on the hard drive because of how file deletion works in Windows.

You see, when you delete a file, it doesn’t disappear into the ether. The computer marks the area the file occupied as usable, meaning it is available for another file to overwrite it in the future. In turn, this means files you delete using regular methods may remain accessible even if they don’t appear in the File Explorer or otherwise.

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If you’re getting rid of a PC and don’t want people to access your sensitive data, you must securely wipe your drive.

The process of “wiping” refers to overwriting all sectors on your hard drive, replacing the content of the drive with zeroes or gibberish data. The process removes any data waiting for deletion, including that which third-party software could recover.

Can You Securely Wipe an SSD?

Before you start obliterating your hard drive, consider what type of drive you have. If you have a magnetic spinning disk hard drive, you can proceed to the secure wipe methods below.

However, if you have an SSD, you need to read our short guide on how to erase an SSD securely How to Securely Erase Your SSD Without Destroying It SSDs can only be written to a limited number of times. Then how can you securely erase your SSD? Here's what you need to know! Read More .

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That is because of the difference in how a magnetic hard drive and a solid-state drive store data. If you use a solid-state drive, Windows will turn on the TRIM feature automatically.

TRIM manages your SSD, making sure files delete properly, ensuring the flash memory wears in an efficient and consistent manner.

Using a drive-wiping tool on an SSD isn’t a great idea. Wiping an SSD will reduce the lifespan of the drive due to the additional wear and tear.

How to Wipe a Hard Drive Without Deleting Windows

There are a few methods you can use to erase your data from the drive while leaving the operating system intact.

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1. Use Windows 10 Reset This PC

One of the easiest options for wiping a drive clean and leaving your operating system intact is built into Windows. The Windows Reset this PC option will reinstall Windows 10, deleting your personal data in the process.

Once the process completes, you’ll have a fresh Windows to installation, without any personal data on the drive.

windows 10 reset this pc

Please note: This process will wipe your data. Make sure to back up any important data to a separate location.

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How to Reset Windows 10

First up, you need to reset Windows 10.

Press Windows Key + I, type recovery in the search bar, and select Reset this PC.

Next, select Remove everything, then Remove files and clean the drive. The Windows 10 reset function can take a while to complete, but it will make sure there is no chance for anyone to recover data from your drive.

When the warning appears, select Reset and let the process complete.

2. Completely Wipe the Drive, then Reinstall Windows

The second option is to completely wipe your drive of all data, including the operating system, then reinstall Windows. The process is less than ideal and takes some time, but it does leave you with an entirely personal data free-drive, and a fresh installation of Windows 10.

You need two things to complete this process: a copy of DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke), and a copy of Windows 10 to install after wiping the drive.

Choose a method to securely wipe your HDD

Please note: This process will delete all data on your drive. It will not be recoverable.

  1. Create Windows Installation Media. First, check out how to create Windows 10 installation media How to Create Windows 10 Installation Media Regardless of how you arrived at Windows 10, there's a way to create your own installation media. Sooner or later you might need it. Let us show you how to be prepared. Read More . It covers how to download and use the Windows Media Creation tool, as well as how to install Windows 10 to a bootable USB or DVD.
  2. Burn DBAN to Bootable Media. Once you finish creating your Windows 10 installation media, check out how to completely wipe a drive How to Completely Wipe a Hard Drive There are two ways to wire a hard drive. Here's what you need to know to get it done quick and easy. Read More . The third section covers “How to Totally Wipe a Hard Drive with DBAN,” and will guide you through the media creation process and how to use DBAN to wipe your drive securely.
  3. Reinstall Windows 10. Once the DBAN process completes and your drive is sparkly clean, you can reinstall Windows 10. Follow our guide on how to install Windows 10 from a bootable drive How to Install Windows 10 From a Bootable USB Drive Need to install a fresh copy of Windows? Learn how to make a bootable USB stick with UEFI support. Read More , and you’ll have a fresh installation in no time at all.

As mentioned, this is a lengthy process. It does, however, ensure that there is absolutely no chance of anyone retrieving private data from your old hard drive.

3. Use CCleaner Drive Wipe to Erase Blank Space

Your third option is to use CCleaner’s Drive Wipe option to zero out blank space on your drive. Drive Wipe will permanently delete the links to old file locations on your drive but only runs in free areas. You can copy your data to another drive (or delete it), then delete your data.

  1. Download and install CCleaner.
  2. Once installed, head to Tools > Drive Wiper.
  3. Select Free Space Only, how many passes you want (how many times you want to overwrite the data), and the drive on which you want the process to run.How to Wipe Your Hard Drive While Leaving the OS Intact ccleaner drive wipe option
  4. When you’re ready, press Wipe. The process can take a few minutes.

Using CCleaner is the least effective method for cleaning your drive. The process will sever any links to your old data. However, if you haven’t uninstalled existing programs, application files, program files, and so on, links could remain.

Download: CCleaner for Windows 10 (Free)

Securely Wipe Your Drive Before Selling

You should always wipe your data before you sell or give away your computer. Even if you know the person you’re giving the hardware to, you don’t know what they will do with the computer when they finish using it. Your data could still lurk on the drive for a long time.

Of course, if you are not worried about the operating system remaining intact, you can follow the guide on how to use DBAN without reinstalling the operating system afterward.

Are you wondering about how to clean up your Mac rather than a Windows system? Check out how to erase and restore a Mac to factory settings How to Erase and Restore a Mac to Return to Factory Settings Want to reset your Mac to factory settings the easy way? Here's a new method that automates a lot of the heavy lifting. Read More .

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Hard Drive, Windows Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Andrew U
    July 16, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I used DBAN on my 2009 Windows Vista computer and it completely wiped everything (including the operating system) so I could sell it. Sold it for $60.00 and the buyer explained he ll probably get windows 8

  2. Cheeseman
    April 9, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    The title of this article is misleading. "Leaving the OS intact" implies that you can wipe the drive without having to reinstall the OS, but the article lists no options for doing that.

  3. Transintl
    December 1, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    So you want to get rid of your computer. To keep your data secure — whether it’s financial records, business information, or anything else private that you don’t want people snooping through — you’ll want to securely wipe the hard drive. This ensures that no one can recover the deleted files.

  4. Chris Hoffman
    June 27, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    I had no idea, I've never heard of SecureErase before -- thanks!

  5. Chiranthaka Jayakody
    June 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    A useful article!

  6. Don Gateley
    June 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

    I was sorta hoping this article would tell me how to do what it said it was going to tell me. Wipe my drive and leave the os.

    • skye conway
      June 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      I totally agree, is there a way to " .... Erase the Hard Drive keeping the OS in tact?"

      • Chris Hoffman
        June 27, 2013 at 5:47 pm

        Sorry that you were expecting something else from the article. There's no way to actually wipe the drive and just leave the OS files in a single operation, so this is the best you can do. These processes give the same results.

        • Gary J.
          June 14, 2017 at 4:13 pm

          Not true. SafeErase by Laplink accomplishes what the title of your article promised. Pity you didn't actually do your homework before posting this.

  7. Bud
    June 18, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Would be a nice idea to list other OS’s to do this also.......NOT everyone uses garbage Windows !!!

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Well, a tool like DBAN will work on every OS, so the process is similar. Just reinstall the OS you want to use afterwards.

  8. Guy McDowell
    June 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    "Using a drive-wiping tool on a solid-state drive is actually a very bad idea, as the additional writes can reduce a drive’s lifespan."

    Good call. A lot of tech's miss the fact that SSDs have a limited number of read-write cycles before they fail. SSDs are great, and I personally believe they are better than HDDs, but salespeople tend to gloss over this fact.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Yup, for most people this shouldn't be a problem given average drive lifespans -- but you don't need to go out of the way to write additional sectors. If nothing else, performing a wipe just wastes your time by trying to delete sectors that are already deleted.

  9. Yosua
    June 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Or you can erase the whole disk while installing your Ubuntu and it's derivatives OS, just select the "erase entire disk" option while installing.

  10. Scott MacDonald
    June 18, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Seems like a bit of misnomer, as the solutions all seem to require re-installing, which doesn't really leave it in tact, but puts it back in place. I can't think of a way to format around an OS, unless it's on a separate partition.

    • Hunting.Targ
      June 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      In past days there were ways to null out space not identified by the File Allocation Table as in use. I do not know if anything today has that capability.

  11. Phill Duplessis
    June 18, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Nice thing you share

  12. vineed g
    June 18, 2013 at 5:58 am

    dban great tool,but for ccleaner we can use cipher command to wipe free space in a drive that is much easier ,isnt it?

  13. Zhong J
    June 18, 2013 at 2:46 am

    Maybe you can discuss more about tools using in a Linux system, this article is a good idea to sell your used laptop to someone else and what to do before selling your machine.

    • dragonmouth
      June 18, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      Linux is actually very easy. Using Parted Magic or SystemRescueCD or similar distro you do Dept. of Defense spec overwrite of the HD to securely destroy any personal/sensitive data. Then just re-install the distro.

      As you well know you do not need anybody's permission to install or re-install Linux. Linux O/S is not permanently tied to the hardware configuration that it was originally installed on. The same CD/DVD can be use to install Linux on an infinite number of PCs.

  14. dragonmouth
    June 18, 2013 at 1:27 am

    I use the BFH Drive Eraser to make sure personal data is inaccessible, then install a new HD and the re-install the O/S.

  15. Robert Ruedisueli
    June 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    It's best to reinstall the OS fresh after you wipe it.

    You also may want to "zero" the SSD even if you have a system that marks sectors for deletion.

    Sectors marked for deletion CAN be recovered on some drives, simply by unmarking them for deletion before scanning the sector. However, this is a more complex process than HDDs, and would require an expert. Your average script kiddy couldn't pull that one off.

  16. null
    June 17, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    here's another way but it works, fill your hard with dummy data then delete it, how to do it, delete your data normally (select=> right-click => delete), copy any DVD to your HDD, and copy it again, and copy and copy :P

    I know this way looks so dummy, but believe me no one can recover the old critical data that you had on your HDD ;)

  17. kashif faridi
    June 17, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    quite hlpful !!

  18. Lee
    June 17, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    If you take an image of the drive, will the "deleted" files be in that image, or does it only copy the actual data?
    In other words, could you reset the computer to factory settings, take an image of the drive, run DBAN, and then restore that image and achieve the same result as using CCleaner after reinstalling?

    • android underground
      June 17, 2013 at 11:38 pm

      A good drive imaging app will let you choose between a full byte-for-byte backup (useless, unless you're a forensic cop) and an image that ignores the empty space and only copies sectors if the file system says there's data in 'em.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      That's a good answer. A full image of every byte on the drive will have the "deleted" file bits. However, most consumer tools will just take an image that only copies the standard files. It's faster and makes for a smaller image. As Android Underground said, the full image is useful except for forensics.

  19. md
    June 17, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    this is fantastic for windows.

    how can i do the same on my mac ? leave the OS (mountain lion 10.8.4) intact while wiping everything else clean to make it easier for my sale on eBay ?

    thanks much,
    - j.t. kirk

    • S
      June 18, 2013 at 10:32 am

      This erases ALL your Data and the Operating System!!! For OSX just go into Disk Utility once booted to your Recovery HD partition and choose to format the hard drive-->go into options and drag the slider up one or two notches. Single pass 1's & 0's is usually sufficient but 7 pass (which will take forever) is government level. Hope that helps

    • S
      June 18, 2013 at 10:39 am

      OR...—the Erase Free Space button on the Erase tab in Disk Utility (found in your Applications -> Utilities folder).

      When you click this button, you’re presented with three options for securely erasing the free space on your hard drive: write over the free space with zeros (fast and relatively safe), write over the free space seven times (more secure, very slow), or write over the free space 35 times (extremely slow!).

    • khalid hassan
      March 18, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      excuse me ! I have Hp laptop windows 8.1 so i decided to conduct factory reset then I selected 1- remove hard drive and reset the PC to its factory version. I installed my back up CDS to eliminate my previous windows and hard drive i finished the process and my PC has been reset to its factory setting . My question is all my files have been deleted but can any one even forensics people can recover or overwrite my deleted files??.Does my hard disk still store these files?