Wipe a Drive on Windows 10 or Windows 11 - WindowsTips.net - Windows Tips and Tricks with Geek

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Wipe a Drive on Windows 10 or Windows 11


An illustration of a mechanical hard disk drive disintegrating.

Option 1: Wipe Any Entire Drive

To write zeros over the contents of any drive, all you have to do is perform a full format of the drive. Before you do this, bear in mind that this will completely erase all files on the drive. Also, you can’t perform a full format of your Windows system drive while you’re running Windows from it.

This method is ideal for internal drives that don’t have your operating system installed, USB flash drives, other external storage devices, and any entire partitions you want to erase.

To get started, open File Explorer and locate the drive you want to wipe. Right-click it and select “Format.”

Right-click a disk and select "Format."

Uncheck “Quick Format” under Format Options. This will ensure Windows 10 or Windows 11 performs a full format instead. According to Microsoft’s documentation, ever since Windows Vista, Windows always writes zeros to the whole disk when performing a full format.

You can change any other formatting options you like here; just ensure “Quick Format” isn’t checked. (If you’re not sure what to choose, just leave the options here on their default settings.)

When you’re ready, click “Start” to format the drive. The process may take some time depending on the size and speed of the disk.

Warning: The format process will erase everything on the drive. Be sure you have a backup of any important files before continuing.

Uncheck "Quick Format" and click "Start."

Option 2: Wipe Only Free Space

If you’ve deleted some files from a mechanical hard drive or an external storage device, you might want to wipe only the free space, overwriting it with zeros. This will ensure those deleted files can’t easily be recovered without wiping the entire drive.

Windows 10 and Windows 11 have a way to do this, but you’ll have to visit the command line. The cypher command built into Windows has an option that will wipe a drive’s free space, overwriting it with data. The command will actually run three passes, first writing with zeros, then another type of data, then random data. (However, just one pass should be enough.)

To get started, launch a command-line environment like the Command Prompt or Windows Terminal with administrator permissions. On either Windows 10 or Windows 11, you can right-click the Start button or press Windows+X and click either “Windows PowerShell (Admin)”, “Command Prompt (Admin)”, “Windows Terminal (Admin)”. Choose whichever appears in the menu—any will work.

Right-click Start and select "Windows PowerShell (Admin).")

Run the following command, replacing X with the drive letter of the drive you want to wipe free space for:

cipher /w:X:\

For example, if you want to wipe free space on your D: drive, you’d run the following:

cipher /w:D:\

The command will show its progress at the command line. Wait for it to finish—depending on the speed of your drive and the amount of free space to be overwritten, it may take some time.

Run the cipher /w command.

Option 3: Wipe Your Windows System Drive

If you want to wipe your entire Windows operating system drive, there’s an easy way to do it. This option is built into the Reset This PC feature on Windows 10 and Windows 11, although it isn’t enabled by default.

While Windows is restoring itself to factory default settings—in other words, reinstalling Windows—you can have it wipe your system drive. You should use this option to protect your private data when you’re selling your PC or giving it to someone else.

To do this on Windows 10, head to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. Click “Get Started” under Reset This PC. (You can press Windows+i to quickly open the Settings app.)

Click "Get Started."

On Windows 11, head to Settings > System > Recovery. Click the “Reset PC” button under Recovery Options.

Click "Reset PC."

Select “Remove Everything” to have Windows remove all your files during the Reset process.

Click "Remove Everything."

Select “Local Reinstall” or “Cloud Download,” either will work for this process. If you’re not sure which to pick, we recommend selecting “Local Reinstall” to avoid the big download.

“Cloud Download” is useful if your local Windows operating system files are corrupted and the Reset This PC process won’t work otherwise. Also, believe it or not, Cloud Download can be faster than Local Reinstall as Windows just has to download installation files rather than reassembling them from the files on your computer’s hard drive—it depends on the speed of your internet connection.

Select "Cloud Download" or "Local Reinstall."

Under Additional Settings, select “Change Settings.”

Click or tap "Change Settings."

Clean the switch under “Clean data?” to set it to “Yes.” With this option enabled, Windows will “clean the drive” and make it much harder (theoretically, practically impossible) to recover your files

Windows warns you that this process may take hours—as always, it depends on the speed and size of the drive in your computer.

You can now click “Confirm” and continue through the process to reset your Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC and wipe your drive during this process.

Warning: This process will erase all the files, applications, and settings on your drive, leaving you with a fresh Windows installation without any of your files. Be sure to back up everything important first.

Enable "Clean Data?".

By the way, Windows refers to this process as “cleaning the drive” instead of wiping it. This is different from the traditional meaning of “cleaning” a drive in Windows, which actually refers to removing all of its partition information rather than wiping it.

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