How to Erase an Encrypted Hard Drive

by Jeff Grundy
Hard drive encryption protects sensitive data from prying eyes but not from erasure.

Hard drive encryption protects sensitive data from prying eyes but not from erasure.

Windows makes it relatively easy to format and erase a hard drive in most cases. However, if you have a hard drive with encrypted data, Windows may prompt you for a password before allowing you to format, copy or even view the contents on the drive. Problems accessing an encrypted drive escalate if you forget the password or inherit the drive from someone else. While there are many commercial programs that are able to format and erase encrypted drives, Windows includes command-line tools you can use to do the job free.

1

Press “Windows-I,” and then click “Control Panel” on the Settings charm.

2

Click “System and Security” in the Control Panel window, and then click “Administrative Tools.”

3

Double-click “Computer Management.” Click “Disk Management” in the left pane of the Computer Management window.

4

Click the volume name of the encrypted hard drive in the Volume list. Note the disk number associated with the encrypted hard drive in the lower pane of the Computer Management window. If the system has two drives -- the Windows system drive and the encrypted hard drive -- the encrypted drive should be “Disk 1.” The primary system drive is “Drive 0.” If the system has more than two drives, clicking the volume name of the encrypted drive should highlight the correct drive. The disk number for the drive is to the left of the drive’s volume information in the lower pane of the Computer Management window.

5

Minimize the Computer Management window, but do not close it. Close the Administrative Tools and Control Panel windows.

6

Press the “Windows-R” keys, and then type “cmd” in the Run box (omit the quotes). Press the “Enter” key to open a command prompt window. Click “Yes” if a User Account Control window prompts you to do so.

7

Type “diskpart” at the command prompt and press “Enter.” A new command prompt window opens and displays the “DISKPART>” prompt.

8

Type “list disk” at the “DISKPART>” prompt and press “Enter” to display a list of hard drives installed in the computer.

9

Type “select disk x” at the “DISKPART>” prompt where “x” is the disk number you noted for the encrypted drive from the Computer Management window. For instance, if the encrypted drive is “Drive 1,” type “select disk 1” at the prompt and press the “Enter” key.

10

Type “clean all” at the prompt and press “Enter.” Wait a few minutes for the DISKPART utility to erase all of the data on the disk. After the DISKPART utility confirms it cleaned the disk successfully, close the DISKPART window and command prompt window.

11

Press the “Alt-Tab” keys and click the thumbnail icon for the “Computer Management” window to maximize it.

12

Click the “Disk Management” link in the left pane of the Computer Management window. Click the volume name of the drive you erased with the DISKPART utility.

13

Right-click the highlighted volume name of in the lower pane of the Computer Management window, and then click “Initialize” on the pop-up menu.

14

Right-click the highlighted volume name again and click the “New Simple Volume” option on the pop-up menu. Select “NTFS” or “FAT32” as the desired file format for the new volume, choose a drive letter for the drive, and then click “Format.” Wait for Windows to create the new partition and format it with the selected file system. Click the “Finish” button to close the new volume wizard, and then exit the Computer Management window.

Tip

  • check After erasing the encrypted drive and reformatting it in the Computer Management window, you should perform another full format to overwrite any sectors of data that might remain. To do so, click “Computer” on the Start screen, and then right-click the new drive letter for the drive. Click “Format” on the pop-up menu, and then disable the “Quick Format” option. Leave the current “Capacity” and “File System” selections intact and click “Start.” Click “OK” In the confirmation window, and then wait for Windows to perform a full format of the drive. Depending on the size of the drive, the format may take a few minutes or it might take several hours.

About the Author

Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Chad Baker/Photodisc/Getty Images