How to Completely Erase Your Hard Drive & Set Your Computer Back to Factory Settings

By Jane Williams

Updated September 13, 2017

Windows makes it easy to return your computer to factory settings.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Resetting your computer essentially means returning it to fresh-from-the-box condition. All personal data is erased and written over, and all updates or third-party programs installed are removed. This process is useful when you want a clean start, have an out-of-control malware infection or are planning to give away or sell your computer. Windows offers a few solutions for this factory reset, enabling you to perform this procedure without requiring much technical know-how.

Before You Wipe

Although the reset procedure is automated through Windows, you must take a few precautions before giving the final command. The process completely rewrites your hard drive, erasing everything stored on it. Once you reformat your drive, you cannot recover any data. Take time before starting the process to save all your files, photos and other information to an external hard drive or other media. Gather the third-party programs you want to reinstall after the reset so you have them ready. Disconnect all external accessories, such as printers, hard drives or scanners, before you start to avoid possible problems during the reset.

Reset Through Windows 10

Most computers have a separate partition on the hard drive specifically for resetting and recovering the operating system. This enables you to restore factory condition through Windows.

To start this procedure in Windows 10, go to the Start Menu and click on "Settings."

Click on "Update & Security."

Click "Reset This PC."

Click "Get Started." To restore Windows 10 to its default settings but keep files such as documents and photos, but not applications, click "Keep My Files."

To restore Windows to its default settings and erase all files on the computer, including all your personal data, click "Remove Everything."

If your computer shipped with an earlier version of Windows such as Windows 8, you may be able to click "Restore Factory Settings" to remove all your files and reinstall that version of Windows.

Reset Through Windows 8

To start this procedure in Windows 8, look under Settings and select “Change PC Settings.” Choose “Update and Recovery/Recovery/Remove Everything and Reinstall Windows.” Select “Get Started” and follow the onscreen instructions to start the factory reset procedure. The computer restarts into recovery mode to walk you through the rest of the process.

Reset Through Windows 7

To start this procedure in Windows 7. reset your computer using the power button and hold down the F8 key before the Windows logo appears.

When the Advanced Boot Options menu appears, use the arrow keys to select "Repair Your Computer" and press the Enter key.

When the keyboard layout menu appears, choose the type of keyboard that you have with the arrow keys and press the Enter key.

Select "System Restore" to restore your computer's state at an earlier part of time, without affecting your existing files. Select "System Image Recovery" to restore your computer from an earlier backup.

Reset During Boot

If Windows isn't working properly, you can reach the same recovery mode screens by pressing a certain key or combination of keys during the boot process. The specific sequence differs depending on your computer manufacturer; for example, HP uses "F11" while on eMachines you press “Alt-F10.” Check your computer manual and press the necessary key or keys as your computer boots to enter recovery mode. Follow the onscreen directions to wipe and restore your machine.

Using Recovery Discs

Most computers no longer ship with installation discs, but you can create recovery discs through Windows when you initially set up your machine, or you can sometimes order them from your computer manufacturer's website. If you have a set of these discs, you can use them to enter recovery mode through the boot menu. To use the discs, power down your machine and then power it back on. Press the appropriate key to enter the boot menu as it starts; HP systems use the "Esc" key to enter the Startup menu where you can then choose “F9” to change the boot options, with other computers you may need to press “F12” to enter the boot menu. Once in the boot menu, choose to boot from your optical drive and insert the first recovery disc to start the process.