How to permanently wipe a laptop

The quickest and easiest way to wipe a laptop is to use a recovery disc to reinstall its operating system. This will reset your machine to its original factory settings and permanently erase all programs and data on its hard drive. Whether you're looking to recondition your laptop to sell on or just improve its efficiency with a clean reinstall, follow the steps below to wipe your hard disk clean.

Backup all important data. Before reinstalling the operating system, it's important to backup or make copies of all data to be retained. Either save files to disc, an external hard drive or connect the laptop to another computer. Once the reinstall is completed, everything on the hard disc will be gone.

Locate a source from which to reinstall any software. Find the original disc/s that you loaded any software from or ensure that you can download purchased programs from the Internet. Like personal data and files, all of the programs installed on the laptop will be permanently erased during the reinstall.

Note down any license keys needed to reinstall software after running system recovery.

Locate the recovery disc. Some laptops have a recovery partition that can be accessed by pressing a specified key on the boot screen (the screen your laptop displays when it first starts). If you have a laptop with a recovery partition, follow the instructions once you have accessed it from the boot command prompt to reinstall the operating system. Where there is no recovery partition, or where the partition is corrupt, you will need a recovery disk from your machine's manufacturer. If you do not have the original, most manufacturers supply copies which can be ordered online.

Run the reinstall disc. The disc should boot automatically. If it does not, restart the laptop with the disk still in the drive. Follow the instructions on screen for a clean reinstall of the operating system. Once complete, the hard drive will have been wiped of all personal data and software installed.

Restart the laptop.

Apply regional and language settings. When the laptop has restarted, personalise the operating system's settings.

Run any updates. Go to your operating system's manufacturer's website and make sure that any security updates added since your recovery disc was made are applied.


If backing up files or data to disc, check that copies open on another computer before wiping them from your laptop.


Only use the recovery disc which came with your machine, one obtained from your laptop's manufacturer or one that you have written from your computer's recovery console.

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About the Author

Michael Roennevig has been a journalist since 2003. He has written on politics, the arts, travel and society for publications such as "The Big Issue" and "Which?" Roennevig holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the Surrey Institute and a postgraduate diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists at City College, Brighton.