How to wipe out hard drive and reinstall Windows 10

If you're having problems with your computer or you want to sell it, you can wipe the hard drive clean and reinstall Windows 10 in at least two ways – here's how.

Windows 10 wipe and reinstall
Windows 10 wipe and reinstall / Image: Mauro Huculak
  • To wipe out and reinstall Windows 10, open Settings > Update & Security > Recovery, click “Get Started” on “Reset this PC,” click “Remove everything,” click “Cloud download,” choose “Change settings,” turn on “Clean data” and “Delete files from all drives,” click “Confirm,” “Next,” and “Reset.”
  • You can also start the computer with a USB bootable drive, erase the hard drive’s previous setup, and perform a reinstallation.
  • Regardless of the option you choose, you will have to complete the Out-of-box Experience (OOBE) to finish the setup.

UPDATED 1/9/2024: On Windows 10, you can wipe out the hard drive and reinstall the operating system on your computer, and in this guide, I will outline the steps to complete this task. Usually, this is the recommended method because it’s the process that can help to improve system performance when the device is not working correctly, running slow, or having battery problems. Also, the process of starting fresh with a new installation can help to get rid of tough viruses or prepare the device for a new owner without giving away your information.

Whatever the reason it might be, on Windows 10, there are at least two ways to erase and start from scratch with a fresh setup. You can use the “Reset this PC” feature, which allows you to reset the system to the factory default settings by securely removing everything from all the drives without a USB installation and additional steps. Or you can use a USB bootable media to start the computer, manually wipe out the hard drive, and perform a clean installation.

In this guide, I will outline two methods to erase the hard drive and reinstall Windows 10.

Warning: This process will delete everything on the hard drive, including your files, settings, programs, and the Windows installation. It’s recommended to create a temporary full backup before proceeding if you need to roll back or recover your files.

Wipe out and reinstall Windows 10 using Reset this PC

To reinstall Windows 10 by deleting everything on the hard drive without a USB flash drive, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings on Windows 10.

  2. Click on Update & Security.

  3. Click on Recovery.

  4. Under the “Reset this PC” section, click the Get started button.

    Windows 10 Reset this PC feature

  5. Click the “Remove everything” option.

    Erase options

  6. Click the “Cloud Download” option.

    Cloud download option

  7. (Optional) Click the Change settings option.

    Change settings for Cloud download

  8. Configure the Windows 10 reinstallation settings:

    • Clean data: If this option is “No,” the setup will only delete files, apps, and settings. If the option is “Yes,” the setup will securely clean the drive before installing the operating system, but it will take longer. (This option is more suitable when you plan to get rid of the device.)
    • Delete files from all drives: Only the installation drive will be erased if the option is “No” (recommended). If this option is set to “Yes,” all the drives on the device will be deleted.
    • Download Windows: If the option is “Yes” (recommended), the “Cloud download” option will be activated if this option is set to “No,” then the local image will be used for installation.
  9. Click the Confirm button.

    Select cloud download settings

  10. Click the Next button.

  11. Click the Reset button.

    Windows 10 clean install with Cloud download

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  29. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your preferences by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  30. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  31. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  32. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  33. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. 

  34. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  35. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

Once you complete the steps, the recovery feature will download the setup files, and then it will format the drive. Finally, and more importantly, it will perform a clean installation of Windows 10. 

Wipe out and reinstall Windows 11 using USB flash drive

To erase the hard drive and reinstall Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Start the PC with the Windows 10 USB flash drive.

  2. Press any key to continue.

  3. Click the Next button.

    Windows setup

  4. Click the Install now button.

    Windows 10 install option

  5. Click the “I don’t have a product key” option.

    Skip license key on Windows 10 setup

  6. Select the edition of “Windows 10” that your license key activates (if applicable).

    Select edition of Windows 10

  7. Check the “I accept the license terms” option.

  8. Click the Next button.

  9. Select the “Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)” option.

    Windows 10 custom install option

  10. Select each partition with the current setup and click the Delete button to wipe out the drive.

    Warning: It’s not necessary to delete the partitions from a secondary hard drive.
  11. Select the hard drive you wiped out (Unallocated Space) to reinstall Windows 10.

    Select SSD to install Windows 10

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  29. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your preferences by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  30. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  31. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  32. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  33. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. 

  34. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  35. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

After you complete the steps, the process will wipe out the hard drive, and a clean copy of Windows 10 will be installed on the computer. Also, you will need to complete the out-of-box experience (OOBE) to set up your account and personal settings. However, if you intend to decommission or sell the computer, you do not need to complete the OOBE.

Since the device had an activated version of Windows 10, you won’t need to enter a product key when reinstalling the OS with a USB flash drive. The system will re-activate automatically after the installation.

While there are multiple ways to reinstall the operating system, using a USB flash drive is perhaps the best option to complete the process since it allows you to wipe out the drive manually, and the installation process is likely to cause fewer problems than using the reset option.

Update January 9, 2024: These instructions have been updated to ensure accuracy and reflect changes of the process.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me.