How to Wipe Out a Hard Drive of Personal Information & Return to Factory Settings

By Norm Dickinson

Prepare a computer for sale or donation by removing all of the personal information on the hard drive and restoring the original factory default settings. Most computers either come with or allow the creation of a system recovery or restoration disc, and many systems include the necessary files on a hidden recovery partition on the hard drive. Run the system recovery utility and overwrite the hard drive to return the computer to the original settings and wipe out any installed software or data files.

Things You'll Need

  • System recovery media or operating system disc

Step 1

Obtain or locate the system recovery disc set or the operating system installation media for the computer that is going to be reset. Contact the manufacturer for a replacement set if necessary.

Step 2

Back up any important or useful files from the computer, or create a full back-up or system image to back up the entire drive if necessary.

Step 3

Insert the system recovery disc or operating system installation media into the optical drive and restart the computer. Press Enter when prompted to boot from the optical drive. Alternately, restart the computer and press F11 prior to the Windows logo appearing on the screen to enter into the automated system recovery utility provided by some computer manufacturers. Refer to the documentation included with the computer or the manufacturer's website for specific instructions on a particular model.

Step 4

Click "Setup Now" when prompted by the operating system setup program, or choose the option to restore the computer to factory default software settings. The exact procedure will vary by computer brand and model but the general steps are the same.

Step 5

Accept the warning messages that the computer is going to be overwritten and all data will be lost. Accept the license agreement and make any necessary changes to the language or time zone settings.

Step 6

Proceed with the installation. Click "Custom" if prompted for an installation type, which is usually required by the operating system installation media. Click on the primary hard drive partition and click "Advanced" to delete the existing partition. Click on the unallocated space as the target destination for the installation. This option may not exist on some installations depending upon the method recovery chosen by the manufacturer. Some installations will require additional discs to be inserted and will prompt for them during the installation.

Step 7

Remove the recovery disc or operating system disc from the drive and restart the computer to complete the setup.

Tips & Warnings

  • Contact the manufacturer of the computer system to obtain a duplicate copy of the recovery media if necessary.
  • Back up any important files or settings prior to running the system recovery process as this will overwrite the hard drive and erase all files.
  • System recovery does not permanently erase data, but rather marks the space as available and leaves files on the drive in a state that allows recovery with forensic or data recovery software. Use a professional hard drive wiping program to permanently overwrite any critical or confidential files from the drive and prevent the files from being recovered.