By Tony Perrotta on May 16, 2022
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Remove Files and Clean the Drive: How to Wipe Windows 10 Laptop PCs

How to Remove Files and Clean the Drive: From Backup to Wipe Hard Drive

Gone are the days where you can sell or dispose of a laptop PC without wiping your device entirely of its data. Your computer likely has years of crucial — and confidential — information that poses a risk if not removed. If your company is planning to upgrade its computer systems, make sure the proper time is taken to clean up the old computers.

With the amount of personal and corporate data that each laptop houses, failing to remove all data and documents before selling or disposing could leave your company vulnerable to severe data breaches from people outside of your organization.

For companies or nonprofits that have multiple computers that are being replaced you can skip to the section below that describes how to manage this process without have to complete it one device at a time. 

Again, set aside time for this activity. Not only will you have to wait around for the data erasure standpoint (especially the Remove Files and Clean the Drive task), but it will also require several user-inputted steps. Multiply that time if you have copious devices that need wiping.

If you’re unsure of how to remove all data from your laptop PC, follow these steps!

Difficulty: Easy, requires clicking on prompts
Duration: Several hours
Who can do it? School administration, those with Windows laptops, IT professionals
Wiping data in bulk: Should leave this task to a professional service

 

Why do you Need to Remove Files and Clean the Drive

If you're just looking to reset Windows 10, if your hard drive is running slow, or you want to have a fresh start for your computer, the option “Just remove my files” will work in most cases.

But if you need to sell your computer, donate it, or throw it away (drop it off at one of our centers before just placing it in the bin), you should remove everything from your laptop.

The "Just remove my files" option will quickly reformat your drive, deleting the files on your PC as well as the data tables with the pointers associated with your files. This means that it is only getting rid of the reference of your files, and your files are still dormant in the hard drive, waiting to be erased with new information.

The problem is that any data recovery software will be able to pull up all of these files...and any hacker has this software on hand.

This is why we recommend "Remove files and clean the drive". Much like a NIST 800-88 Clear pattern pass, your data is written over by 0's. And then it's passed over with 1's...again and again. This is the reason the whole process will take several hours. Worth the wait, this will ensure that your computer comes out like it did from the factory and significantly decrease the chances that anyone can recover data from the laptop.

Perform a Backup Before Anything

Restoring your laptop will erase all of your personal data and documents on your hard drive, so it is essential to backup your entire system and all files if you’re planning to transfer over to a new device. Because once you click on, "Remove files and clean the drive", your chances of recovering any of your data are slim to none without advanced tools and know-how (even then, very difficult).

Windows 10 includes a built-in feature to create a system-image backup to save any installation, settings, apps, and files. Follow the next steps to perform a system image backup.

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Save Your Software Serial Numbers

Once you wipe your PC, any installed software will be lost, and if you’re upgrading to a new PC, you’ll need to reinstall your software on your new device.

To review which software is currently installed on your old device, make sure you know the corresponding install discs and serial numbers for your new laptop PC.

For organizations with multiple devices, managing your serial numbers is an important financial and legal responsibility. Failing to track these numbers can result in additional fees or loss of the ability to install software in a new device. 

Serial Number Management for Bulk Erasure

If you are managing the end-of-life disposal for multiple computers, tracking and documenting the many serial numbers can be cumbersome. Read more about how to manage this scenario.

 

Create and System Image Backup

  1. Open Control Panel.
  2. Click on System and Security.
  3. Click on Backup and Restore.
  4. On the left side, click Create a system image link.
  5. When asked “Where do you want to save the backup?” select On a hard disk option.
  6. Select the location to save the backup using the “On a hard disk” drop down menu. Save the backup.
  7. If you have any other additional drives that you want to include in the backup, select them now.
  8. Click Next.
  9. Click Start backup.

Your computer will now start a full backup of its entire system and files. After a few minutes, the backup will be complete, and your device will be ready to start the data removal process.

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How to Remove All Data from Windows 10 Laptop PC:

Open the Start Menu and select Settings.

  1. Click Update & Security.
  2. Go to the left-hand side, scroll down and click on Recovery.
  3. From there, go to Reset this PC. Since you want to reset your laptop PC back to factory default settings, click Get Started.
  4. A prompt will appear with two options, Keep My Files or Remove Everything. Choosing Remove Everything will delete all data and prepare your device for selling or recycling. Keep My Files will preserve your files.
  5. Click the Change settings option.
  6. Turn the Data Erasure toggle switch to on.
  7. Click Confirm.
  8. A prompt will appear that says, “Remove files and clean the drive. This may take hours, but will make it harder to recover files.” Click Next.
  9. Click the Reset button. This will remove all personal files and user accounts on the PC, any changes made to settings, and all apps and games.

If you have more than one drive on your laptop, we suggest removing your files from all drives for the most security. Your laptop will continue to reset for the next couple hours to make sure there are no recoverable files from the hard drive disk, and will download a clean version of Windows 10.

Once the restoration process is complete, double-check to see if your laptop has been restored back to factory settings. If it has, the data removal process has been done correctly, and your laptop is ready to sell or dispose of safely and securely.

If you are erasing data on multiple devices, check below to learn about how to certify this process for better security.

What if I have Several Laptops to Wipe

It can be a time-consuming process to wipe laptop PCs in large quantities during a system refresh, but it’s still essential to keep your data safe with a secure removal. If you have several laptops to wipe, then you may be spending hours doing this work for yourself instead of doing other important tasks. Even if you do wipe your laptops, your data still has a small chance of being compromised.

Unless you are going to reuse the drives in your organization so that the data is not only deleted but also being constantly overwritten (which completely makes it untraceable), the safest means of deleting your data permanently is to also destroy your media. Greentec easily has the means to wipe in bulk and then certify on our end that the media has been destroyed.

Professional Services for Data Wiping and Record Keeping

If you need to wipe PCs in bulk, or want extra security measures to make your data not only inaccessible but completely destroyed, consider going to a fully certified provider like Greentec. We follow the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) IT Media Sanitization standards, the Canadian standard for disposal of media and data erasure.

Our certified methods go one step further in wiping devices — ensuring that they end up as fresh as a brand new computer. For businesses, this can be crucial for end-of-life disposal.

Time savings and documentation of software serial numbers

With multiple devices that have data to erase, the time required for staff to properly complete the erasure process in companies with many devices can become a huge burden.  The erasure and documentation process can add to already heavy workloads, and can lead to missed steps or data exposure.

In settings where many devices are being disposed at the same time, it is a mistake for staff or those who have the devices to erase data themselves. This can result in incomplete erasure, or failure to comply with regulations that apply to the company, school or nonprofit that owns the device.

Professional IT recycling and disposal companies like Greentec use sophisticated software and equipment to ensure complete destruction of data. Following erasure they also provide reports that offer documentation and certification of this process. 

A variety of services are available to help your organization collect and store, recycle or dispose of electronic devices at end-of-life, like your Microsoft laptop PCs. With bulk disposal professional recycling services provide a number of important benefits that ensure data security and offer other documentation or return of value.

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Published by Tony Perrotta May 16, 2022