How Can I Wipe My Hard Drive Clean for Free?

By Lacee Burton

Deleting a computer file from your hard drive does not actually erase data. While the reference to the file is deleted, the data remains. Although your operating system can no longer recognize the file, the data is still exists on your hard drive. If you store sensitive data on your hard drive, such as business, medical or personal information, simply deleting the data will not protect it if the hard drive is disposed of, donated or stolen. Performing a full format of your hard drive will wipe the drive clean. You do not need to purchase any additional software or equipment to reformat your hard drive.

Things You'll Need

  • Operating system installation disk
  • Storage device
  • Device drivers

Step 1

Back up your data. Formatting your hard drive will clear the entire contents of the disk; save all of your important files to a storage device, such as a USB flash drive or CD. Both can be purchased from any computer hardware retailer.

Step 2

Gather the necessary equipment and files needed to reinstall your operating system and device drivers. You will need a copy of your operating system installation CD and all of your device drivers. Some device drivers will be installed with the operating system software, but to be on the safe side, it is recommended that you download device drivers for your devices such as video cards, modems, network cards, printers and sound cards. Save the drivers to a USB flash drive, floppy disk or CD.

Step 3

Create a boot disk. If you are using Windows 98 or later, your operating system software installation CD contains the necessary files to boot and this step is not necessary. If you are using an earlier version, go to to create a bootable floppy disk or CD.

Step 4

Change the boot sequence so that your computer boots to the operating system installation CD or floppy boot disk. While your computer is booting, press the "F12" key to display the "Boot Device Menu" and select your CD or floppy drive for the boot device. Some computers will require you to enter the BIOS to change the boot sequence. Depending on the version of your BIOS, when your PC starts to boot, press "F2," "Delete" or "Esc" to enter your BIOS and access the boot sequence or boot order menu. Change the sequence so your system boots to the CD or floppy drive.

Step 5

Format your hard drive. Insert your operating system installation CD or bootable floppy into the drive and restart your computer. If you are booting from your operating system CD, decline any options to repair the current installation. Follow the prompts to delete or create partitions on your drive, then select the option to format. Do not choose the option to "Quick Format" your hard drive because this option will not delete all data. If you are booting from a floppy drive, you will need to format your hard disk from a DOS prompt. To manage partitions from a DOS prompt, type "FDISK" and follow instructions to delete or create partitions. To format the drive, from the command prompt, type "FORMAT C:" where C is the drive letter assigned to your hard drive. Format all partitions.

Step 6

Reinstall your operating system software and device drivers. If you have booted from an installation CD, you will be given the option to install the operating system software after the hard drive has been formatted. If you have formatted the drive from a DOS prompt, with your installation CD inserted, at the command prompt, type D:\setup.exe, where D is the drive letter assigned to your CD-ROM drive. This will start the operating system installation; follow the instructions until the installation is complete.

Step 7

Install your device drivers. Follow the instructions in the "readme" files included with the device driver downloads to install the drivers.