How to wipe a laptop easily and securely

A close up of a person's hand hovering over the delete button on a silver-coloured laptop
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Being able to erase your data from a personal device can be very helpful. Knowing how to wipe a laptop is a particularly useful skill if you often use work devices and  frequently need to clear them of sensitive data at the end of their lifecycle.

Otherwise, it’s useful to know what to do in case you want to discard or sell your laptop to a third party and don’t want anyone to access the data remaining on the hard drive.

The process of wiping a laptop is more than simply deleting files on the system. This will erase the files, however, a significant amount of metadata and temporary files will persist on the system and could be accessed by malicious actors. 

Operating systems now have integrated tools to help users wipe their machines, however they are not necessarily intuitive. You can find steps detailing how to wipe a laptop, whether you are using Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Included are some preparatory steps you can take to ensure you only delete the data you no longer need.

How to wipe a laptop: Preparation

We recommend making a backup of any important data before getting started with the wiping process, as you will not be able to recover lost data after this point.

There are a number of different ways to go about this, the most practical method to do will depend on how much data you need to copy. If there aren’t that many files you would like to back up and you have a strong internet connection, one good option is to use business cloud storage.


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Alternatively, there is a range of free backup software you can use with an external hard drive to back up your data.  

After connecting the external drive to the laptop you wish to wipe, check it has enough available space to store all the data you want to back up. Simply drag and drop your files from your laptop onto the drive . 

Windows has built-in backup tools, called Windows Backup in Windows 7 and File History in Windows 8 with slightly different feature-sets. Windows 10 and 11 are preloaded with both features and also offer the ability to back up and restore system images.

How to wipe a laptop: Step-by-step

How to wipe a Windows 7/Vista/XP laptop

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Let's start with the oldest OS versions you're likely to encounter. Wiping a laptop running Windows 7 shouldn't be too difficult. Although the legacy OS is now obsolete, you might still run into older devices with the software still installed.

You can use an application such as DBAN. It's downloadable as an ISO image but you will need to extract it onto a bootable USB or disc in order to use it as a boot device.

Here's how to get started:

  1. Create a USB flash drive using the tool above, and insert it into the machine.
  2. Restart the laptop and boot to BIOS using the appropriate function key (usually F2 or F12)
  3. Restart the laptop and boot to BIOS using the appropriate function key (usually F2 or F12).
  4. The tool will then take you through the steps necessary to remove all data.

If the machine is going to see new use, you can then reinstall Windows 7 from any disc or bootable USB stick with Windows installation files, although you'll likely want to upgrade this to Windows 10.

How to wipe a Windows 8/8.1 laptop

It is thankfully quite easy to wipe a hard drive in Windows 8 or 8.1.

  1. Click on the ‘Start’ Menu.
  2. Find the Charms bar.
  3. Click on Settings.
  4. Click on Change PC settings.
  5. Click 'Remove Everything and reinstall Windows'.

When you choose to erase data, make sure you click on the 'thoroughly' option rather than 'quickly', to help protect against data from being recoverable in the future.

How to wipe a Windows 10 laptop

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On Windows 10 Microsoft has once again made it easy for users to wipe a hard drive. Although the method hasn’t changed much since the release of the latest generation of Microsoft’s flagship generation, there are a few differences that you might want to keep in mind.

  1. Click the 'Start' button.
  2. Click 'Settings'.
  3. Click 'Update & Security'.
  4. Click 'Recovery'.
  5. Click 'Get Started', and select 'Remove Everything' - or the option that best fits your needs.
  6. Follow the prompts to complete the process.

Wiping your Windows 10-powered laptop can be considered one of the easiest processes out there, as it allows you to simply follow a clearly-defined set of instructions that you can read next to whichever Recovery option you wish to select. However, bear in mind that wiping the drives entirely is likely to take a few hours, so plan accordingly. Although an inconveniently lengthy process, this will ensure that all your files are completely erased and your privacy is fully protected.

How to wipe a Windows 11 laptop

For those using Windows 11, the process of wiping a drive is largely identical, although with slightly different menu options for accessing the tool.

  1. Click the 'Start' button.
  2. Click 'Settings'.
  3. Click 'Windows Update'.
  4. Click 'Advanced Options'.
  5. Click 'Recovery'.
  6. Click 'Get Started', and select 'Remove Everything' - or the option that best fits your needs
  7. Follow the prompts to complete the process.

How to wipe a Mac

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If you have a Mac running macOS Monterey or later and with Apple silicon onboard, the wiping process is very simple. 

  1. Select the Apple menu, then 'System Preferences'.
  2. Click on 'System Preferences' in the top left of the screen, then 'Erase all content and settings'.
  3. Click on the Erase tab security options.

How to wipe an older Mac

If you have a Mac that is running a pre-Monterey OS or doesn't have Apple silicon, you will need to use a different wiping method.

  1. Hold down the Command and R keys during startup to open Disk Utility.
  2. Enter an administrator password if necessary.
  3. Select your hard drive (likely called 'Macintosh HD') from the toolbar. Press 'erase'.
  4. Choose 'APFS' or 'Mac OS Extended (Journaled)' in the popup window - APFS is faster and more reliable.
  5. Press 'erase'.
  6. You may be asked to enter your Apple ID - do so.

How to wipe a Linux laptop

Wiping a Linux-based machine can be a somewhat tricky process that involves using the command line, regardless of the Linux distro you are using.

  1. Open up the command line terminal with Ctrl+Alt+T.
  2. Run the command 'sudo fdisk -l'.
  3. Locate the drive you want to wipe from the list, and note its device path.
  4. Run the command 'sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdb bs=1M' (substituting '/dev/sdb/' with the drive's device path).

This method is known as 'zeroing', and wipes the drive by overwriting every byte of information with zeroes.

There is some debate as to whether or not this is more secure than overwriting the drive with random bits of information, but it's usually quicker and is perfectly sufficient for protecting your data from the average buyer.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.