Delete and install

How to wipe hard drive and reinstall Windows 10

If you're having problems with your device 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

The ability to wipe out the hard drive and reinstall Windows 10 on your computer is usually the recommended method to improve system performance when the system is not working correctly, running slow, or you’re dealing with battery problems. Also, the process of removing everything and starting fresh with a new installation can help you get rid of tough viruses, or prepare the device when you’re planning to find 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 copy of the operating system. You can use the “Reset this PC” feature, which allows you to reset the system to the factory default settings removing everything from all the drives without the need of a USB installation and additional steps. Or you can use a USB bootable media to start the computer to manually wipe out the hard drive and perform a clean installation of the operating system.

In this guide, you’ll learn two methods to securely 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 in case you need to rollback or recover your files.

Erase hard drive and reinstall Windows 10 with Reset this PC

On Windows 10, you can use the Reset this PC feature to wipe the hard drive clean and reinstall a fresh copy of the operating system without the need of a USB bootable media.

To wipe hard drive clean and reinstall Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.

  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
    Windows 10 Reset this PC
  5. Click the Remove everything option to wipe out the hard drive.

    Windows 10 wipe out drive option
    Windows 10 wipe out drive option
  6. Click the Cloud Download option to download a fresh copy of Windows 10, instead of using the locally availble image (recommended). If you prefer to use the local image, select the Local reinstall option.

    Windows 10 reinstall with cloud download
    Windows 10 reinstall with cloud download
  7. (Optional) Click the Change settings option.

    Reset this PC change settings
    Reset this PC change settings
  8. Turn on the Download Windows toggle switch.

  9. Turn on the Clean data toggle switch.

  10. Turn on the Delete files from all drives toggle switch (if applicable).

    Reset this PC wipe out and reinstall settings
    Reset this PC wipe out and reinstall settings
  11. Click the Confirm button.

  12. Click the Next button.

    Windows 10 reinstall current settings
    Windows 10 reinstall current settings
  13. Click the Next button again.

  14. Click the Reset button.

Once you complete the steps, the feature will download a fresh copy of the installation files, securely erase all the data from the drive, and then it’ll perform a clean installation of Windows 10. (See also video tutorial on how to complete this task.)

Erase hard drive and reinstall Windows 10 with USB media 

Alternatively, you can also start your computer with a USB media to erase the hard drive and perform a clean installation of Windows 10.

To wipe out the hard drive and clean install Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Start your PC with the USB bootable media.

  2. Press any key to continue.

  3. Click the Next button.

  4. Click the Install now button.

    Windows 10 setup install now button
    Windows 10 setup install now button
  5. Click the I don’t have a product key option.

    Windows 10 reinstallation skip product key
    Windows 10 reinstallation skip product key
  6. Select the edition of Windows 10 that your license key activates (if applicable).

    Select edition of Windows 10
    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 reinstall custom option
    Windows 10 reinstall custom option
  10. Select each partition on the hard drive that you want to install Windows 10, and click the Delete button to erase the drive. (Usually, the “Drive 0” is the drive that contains all the installation files.)

    Wipe out hard drive before Windows 10 install
    Wipe out hard drive before Windows 10 install
  11. Select the wiped out hard drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space) to install Windows 10.

  12. Click the Next button to begin the installation.

  13. After the installation, select your region in the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    Windows 10 OOBE select region
    Windows 10 OOBE select region
  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout.

    Windows 10 OOBE select keyboard
    Windows 10 OOBE select keyboard
  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you don’t need to configure a second keyboard layout.

  18. If the device is using an Ethernet connection, it’ll connect to the network automatically. If you have a wireless connection, you will need to set up the connection manually.

  19. Select the Set up for personal use option. (Option available only on Windows 10 Pro)

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email, phone number, or Skype identification to create an account.

    Windows 10 reinstall create account
    Windows 10 reinstall create account
  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your Microsoft account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the Create a PIN button.

    Windows 10 OOBE create pin option
    Windows 10 OOBE create pin option
  26. Create a new PIN password.

    Set new account PIN
    Set new account PIN
  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Select your privacy settings that best suits your needs.

    Windows 10 OOBE privacy settings
    Windows 10 OOBE privacy settings
  29. Click the Accept button.

  30. Click the Yes button if you want to use Timeline across devices.

    Enable Timeline
    Enable Timeline
  31. Click the Do it later button to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

    Skip phone link
    Skip phone link
  32. Click the Next button to allow OneDrive to backup your Desktop, Pictures, and Documents folders to the cloud automatically. Or click the Only save file to this PC option to skip the step.

    Backup files to OneDrive
    Backup files to OneDrive
  33. Click the No, thanks button to skip the Office 365 setup.

    Skip Office install
    Skip Office install
  34. Click the Accept button to enable Cortana. (If you want to use the “Hey Cortana” feature, also check the Respond when I say “Hey Cortana” option.)

After you complete the steps, the hard drive will be wiped out and a clean copy of Windows 10 will be installed on the device. Also, after the installation, you’ll need to complete the out-of-box experience (OOBE) to finish setting up your account and personal settings. However, if you are intending to decommission or sell the computer, you don’t need to go through the steps to complete the setup. 

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