How to Wipe a Hard Drive Clean & Install an Operating System

by Malik Sharrieff
Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

Installation of a new operating system or the re-installation of a current version of your operating system will require the reformatting of your hard drive. This means that when you attempt the install process your computer will first have to wipe clean all old information on the hard drive before writing the new software data to the hard drive. There are a few prudent steps to follow before and during the process of installing a new operating system onto your computer.

Step 1

Using your preferred storage media, back up any computer files, programs, and media that you do not want erased during the install process and save it for use later. You can use your mouse to “drag and drop” files from your hard drive (or C:\\ drive) onto the drive location specified for you storage media device (CD/DVD ROM drive or external hard drive, for example). Many programs will require the original installation CDs in order to reload after installing the operating system, so be sure you can locate these disks and have them ready to reload if needed.

Step 2

Insert the operating system installation disk into your computer’s CD/DVD ROM drive.

Step 3

Restart your computer. Your computer should boot from the CD before attempting to load any old information from the hard drive. The operating system (OS) software on the CD ROM will instruct the computer to reformat the hard drive, wiping clean all stored information in the process. Once completely reformatted, the OS will write itself to your hard drive. This process may take several minutes, or in some cases up to several hours.

Step 4

Follow and respond to the prompts presented during the install process. During the OS installation, the software will offer options regarding performance, preferences, or other choices. You may also be prompted to click a “continue” button or hit enter to proceed with the installation, enter registration codes, or other information before the installation can complete.

Reload the software, files, and programs you saved on your backup storage media in step 1.


  • Never reinstall without backing up your important files. Once the installation has begun and your hard drive is reformatted you will have permanently lost everything that was saved to that hard drive. Also, be sure you have the original installation discs for any programs you want to put back on your computer. Programs often make changes to other files and directories during installation, and usually just copying a program that is installed on your computer to a disc will not be able to be successfully copied back to the hard drive.


  • Before installing a new OS, you might find it useful to log onto the manufacturer's website or online knowledge base to print or read relevant info regarding the new system and/or the installation process.


Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

About the Author

Malik Sharrieff is a marketing and business communications professional in New Orleans. He has more than 15 years of experience in marketing, public relations and customer relationship management; over eight years of experience as an academic writer; and as an online journalist for two years.

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