How to wipe a computer hard drive — and why you would need to

Lisa Iscrupe

Jun 6, 2020 — 4 min read

Want to get rid of an old computer, but have security concerns? Learn how to quickly and easily clear your computer’s hard drive, whether you use a PC or a Mac.

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Erasing your computer hard drive isn’t an issue that will come up often, but when it does its a good idea to make sure you know how to do it right the first time. Once you know the details the process is relatively quick and painless. We’ll show you how to wipe your hard drive, whether you use a PC or a Mac.

Why would you need to wipe your hard drive?

Even if you’ve never had to erase your computer hard drive in the past, there’s more than a few good security reasons you might need to, including:

Of course, you can always physically destroy your hard drive, or try wiping your hard drive with a magnet. But if you want to maintain the integrity of your system, we’ve outlined some less drastic methods below.

What to do before you wipe your hard drive

Have a Windows or Mac computer or laptop you need to clean up? Erasing the hard drive doesn’t take long, but make sure you have saved any important files, photos or documents. Before jumping straight into delete mode, take a few minutes to back up any data you may need later.

Where to back up important computer files:

  • Upload to the cloud. Use cloud storage services such as Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.
  • Save to an external hard drive.
  • Transfer to a new computer.*

*For older versions of Windows, a program called Windows Easy Transfer can do all the work of moving your files to your new computer. However, beginning with Windows 10, Microsoft has teamed up with Laplink to provide software for this same purpose.

How to erase a hard drive for Windows PC

For Windows 8 and 10, a simple feature to reset the computer was added to the menu. To find this feature, go to Settings > Update & security > Recovery > Reset this PC. From there, you can opt to keep select files or remove everything. If you select ‘Remove everything,’ you will get an additional option to “Remove files and clean the drive.” With that selection, Windows will then wipe the drive so that no data is recoverable. This is your best course of action if you plan to donate your computer. 

If you have an earlier version of Windows, you can download a separate file-deleting software program, such as DBAN, to wipe your PC. This method is a bit more technical, and specific instructions may vary depending on the software you use. Here’s how to wipe your PC using the free DBAN software:

  1. Download and save the software to your computer.
  2. Save the program to a disc or USB drive.
  3. Plug in the USB drive or disc that you save the DBAN program to, then restart your computer. 
  4. Follow the instructions on the DBAN main screen to begin the deletion process. Wait for the completed verification message before shutting down your computer.

How to erase a Mac hard drive 

Mac devices have a straightforward method to wipe old files and drives using its built-in macOS Recovery tool. Here’s how to wipe a Mac hard drive.

  1. Turn on your computer and immediately press and hold the Command and R keys until you see the startup screen (this will typically be an Apple logo or a globe). Enter your password if prompted. 
  2. From the macOS Utilities menu, select “Disk Utility.” Select the drive(s) you want to delete and click on Erase
  3. You can repeat step 2 multiple times for extra security.
  4. Once you are done wiping the drives, select the “Reinstall macOS” button. This option should automatically populate, or you can repeat step 1 to return to the macOS Utilities menu.

As with PCs, you can also opt to use a software program to automate the process for you. We’ve outlined some of the most popular erasing applications below.

Get help deleting a computer hard drive

Maybe you aren’t exactly tech-savvy, or simply don’t want to hassle with the IT side of things. If you feel like you need a helping hand to permanently and securely delete old files, here are several resources to help. 

  • You can take your computer to a tech service, such as Geek Squad. 
  • Several internet service providers come with optional security services and live technical assistance to help you with the task of wiping old files, such as Cox Security Suite and Frontier My Premium Tech Pro.
  • Purchase software to delete your hard drive. 

The best software to wipe a computer hard drive

Relatively inexpensive software is available to wipe the data from a PC or Mac. Select the software that works best for you based on what type of computer you are using and if you need to delete a few handpicked files, or wipe an entire hard drive. 

Once you’ve successfully removed your old data, your computer is in good shape to recycle or re-gift to a new owner. And you might find that your PC or Mac may run faster, too.

Want to find other simple computer and internet how-tos? Check back at the Resource Center or follow our experts on Facebook and Twitter

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Lisa Iscrupe

Written by:

Lisa Iscrupe

Writer, Broadband & Data Content

Lisa uses years of experience in sales and customer service for internet-TV providers to inform her writing on broadband. Her work has been referenced by CNN and other national sources. In Lisa’s Words: Ever… Read more

Trey Paul

Edited by:

Trey Paul

Editor, Head of Content

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