How to securely erase and wipe your hard drive on Windows 10 and Windows 11

How to securely erase and wipe your hard drive on Windows 10 and Windows 11

Windows 10 and Windows 11 have built-in tools to help create, copy, and securely wipe your hard drive and USB devices. When you delete content on your hard drive, you want to make sure that no one can ever recover it. If you want to securely wipe an internal, external, or USB hard drive, here's what you need to do.

Windows 10 and Windows 11 have built-in tools to help create, copy, and securely wipe your hard drive, USB devices, external hard drives, and SD cards. Traditionally, if you ever wanted to quickly erase a USB flash drive, there is the trusty, built-in Windows tool to quickly format a hard drive. When you delete content anywhere, you want to make sure that no one can ever recover it.

If you have a solid-state drive (SSD), it's best to start with encryption. SSDs are faster than traditional mechanical hard drives and use flash memory instead of magnetic platters to store data. If you purchased a new Windows PC in the last few years, you likely have a solid-state hard drive.

When you encrypt your hard drive, a mathematical process is used to muddle up the data using a passkey that only you have. Without the key, files on the drive will look like complete nonsense. If you want to completely wipe your hard drive, whether it be an internal, external, or USB flash drive, follow this guide to several methods to wipe your hard drive.

Method 1: Wipe your hard drive using File Explorer

Of course, there are other available methods to securely wipe your data from your internal, external and USB hard drives. This method is ideal for internal drives where you do not have your operating system installed, USB flash drives, and other external storage devices. Here's what to do.

1. Open File Explorer
2. Right click the drive you want to erase
3. Click Format...
How to securely wipe your hard drive and start all over again on Windows 10 and Windows 11

4. Be sure to uncheck Quick Format under Format Options, so that Windows 10 and Windows 11 perform a full format and click Start.

wipe your hard drive
5. Click OK to confirm that you know you will be completely erasing everything on the drive.

wipe your hard drive

According to Microsoft's documentation, since Windows Vista, Windows always writes zeros to the whole disk when performing a full format. In Windows XP and earlier, the format command didn't write zeros to the whole disk when performing a full format.

Method 2: Wipe your drive using Command Prompt or PowerShell

Another method that might not be known to everyone is that you can use Command Prompt or PowerShell. You can use either program to perform a full format of any drive connected to your Windows 10 and Windows 11 PC. Here's what to do.

1. Open Command Prompt or PowerShell with Administrator privileges.

2a. For Command Prompt, copy and paste the following:

format VOLUME: /v:FLASHDRIVE-LABEL /fs:FILE-SYSTEM

In the Command Prompt command, replace VOLUME with your hard drive's letter, and FLASHDRIVE-LABEL with the name you want for the drive to appear in File Explorer, FILE-SYSTEM with one of the available file systems, FAT32, exFAT, or NTFS, depending on what type you want to use.

Here's a Command Prompt example for reference:

format E: /v:WorkUSBDrive /fs:exFAT

2b. For PowerShell, copy and paste the following:

Format-Volume -DriveLetter DRIVELETTER -FileSystem FILESYSTEM -NewFileSystemLabel NewFileSystemName -Full -Force

In the PowerShell command, replace DRIVE-LETTER with your hard drive's drive letter, and FILE-SYSTEM for FAT-32, exFAT, or NTFS, depending on what file system you want to use. If you do not know and are using Windows 10, NTFS could be an option. The "-Full" option tells Windows to perform a full format and the "-Force" indicates that you want to override the default Windows setting currently in place.

Here's a PowerShell example for reference:

Format-Volume -DriveLetter E: -FileSystem exFAT -Full -Force

3. Press Enter to run the command. You may need to press Enter a second time after the "Insert new disk for drive {DriveLetter}" message to complete the process.

One other way is to open either Command Prompt or PowerShell with administrative privileges and type the following commands as shown in the image below.

wipe your hard drive

Method 3: Overwrite deleted data

In mechanical hard drives or an external storage device, you can also overwrite your free space to be even more secure by using cipher.

cipher

Using either Command Prompt or PowerShell, copy and paste the following command:

cipher /w:{DRIVE}

Here is a code example for your reference with cipher cleaning the C:/ drive.

cipher /w:C:/

One issue with using cipher is that you need to close as many applications running in the background as possible for cipher to overwrite the maximum amount of free space possible.

SDelete

SDelete (Secure Delete) is another command line utility that can be downloaded to clean your hard drives securely. You can use SDelete to securely delete existing files and securely erase any file data that exists in the unallocated parts of a disk (including files that you have already deleted or encrypted).

Method 4: Reset your PC

If you have a laptop or PC that only has one hard drive, your best bet is to use Reset PC to factory reset Windows 10. Windows 11 users can also use Reset PC to fix any issues they might be having and start a new Windows desktop experience.

Looking for more Microsoft content? Take a look at Microsoft provides updates on its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine or check out the new Xbox controllers that highlight the Xbox Spring collection.

Be sure to check out OnPodcast: the OnMSFT.com podcast, where contributing writers Arif Baccchus and Kareem Anderson for a weekly roundup at the big news of the week and a look at the upcoming week, with insightful analysis along the way.

Send in your questions for Arif and Kareem to [email protected], and enjoy the shows!

What methods do you use to delete and clean drives on Windows 10 and Windows 11? Let us know in the comments!

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