Thinking of selling your laptop or desktop PC? Then make sure that you do not leave any personal information on it. This article details a few ways to make sure your personal information does not fall into the wrong hands.

This article refers to a “computer” as a laptop or desktop PC running Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7. This entire post is relevant to all three Microsoft operating systems. I will update the article once I have investigated that the article is applicable to Windows 8 though the same precautions should be taken.

Think about what you use your computer for. You write and save documents including your CV, a document containing a lot of very personal information. You may list your income and expenses in a spreadsheet or save your bank statements. You may store photos of your family and friends. You log on to your email, social networking sites and bank websites. You subscribe to websites and buy online. On a computer owned for 3 months or more there is more than enough information on it to make identity theft very easy.

Method 1: Selling to a family member

Log into every user on the computer and

  • Delete all icons, files and folders from your desktop
  • Delete all files and folders from My Documents
  • Delete all pictures, images and other files from My Pictures
  • Delete all videos from My Videos
  • Delete all items in your Favourites folder
  • Go to your internet browser (eg Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome etc) and delete your browsing history, set your home page to something safe like, restore default settings to the browser, delete cookies and form data (usernames, phone numbers, stored passwords etc)
  • Go to your wireless connections and delete your home and office connections. You don’t want the buyer using your internet connection.

Now empty the recycle bin. Your computer is fairly safe to sell.

Method 2: Selling to a friend

This method creates a new “administrator” user so that you can delete all the other users which in turn should delete files, folders and history.

  • Log into an existing “Administrator” user. If you are not asked to select a user when you log in then you can assume that there is only one user and it has “Administrator” access.
  • From the “Control Panel” select “User Accounts”
  • Select “Manage Another User”
  • Select “Create a new user”
  • Give the new user a generic username such as “Owner”, “User” or the make of the computer such as “HP”, “Dell”, “Toshiba”, “Acer” etc.
  • Select the user type as “Administrator”.
  • Log out or restart the computer.
  • Log in as the new user that you have created.
  • Again from the “Control Panel” select “User Accounts”
  • Select “Manage Another User”
  • Select in turn each of the other users.
  • Delete the user, when asked if you would like to “keep files” select “No”. This should delete all files associated to the user. I say should as some files seem to linger.
  • When only your new user is left go to the “Start” button and click “My Computer”
  • If your computer is running Windows XP then select the “C:” drive, select the folder “Documents and Settings”. You will now see a list of users, hopefully just your new user. If there are other users then select each in turn and press the “DEL” button on your keyboard.
  • If your computer is running Windows Vista or Windows 7 then select the “C:” drive, select the folder “Users”. You will now see a list of users, hopefully just your new user. If there are other users then select each in turn and press the “DEL” button on your keyboard.

Now empty the recycle bin. Your computer is safer than the majority of computers sold.

Method 3: Selling to someone face-to-face

Most modern computers have the ability to restore back to factory settings. Make sure you select the options that

  • Format the hard drive.
  • Removes all user data.
  • Restores the computer to new, not to a previous point in time.

Don’t use the computer again!

Method 4: Selling privately or through a website such as eBay

This method wipes the entire hard drive and reinstalls the operating system. It is different from Method 3 as it allows you to delete the partition information from the hard drive. However you do need a Windows Installation disk to do this.

  • Start the computer up from the Windows Installation disk. Do not start the computer up normally and then put the Installation Disk in as this does not delete enough information.
  • Follow the prompts for an “Advanced Installation” or “Advanced Options”
  • Delete all disk partitions.
  • Let the installation create a new partition and format the hard drive.
  • Continue the installation till the end.

Once the installation is complete then shut down the computer and do not use again, not even to check on your Facebook account!

Method 5: Sell to absolutely anyone!

This method is exactly the same as method 4 but you use a new hard drive and keep the old one. The benefits of this method is that no information on the hard drive is yours and never has been and that you get to keep your old drive with all your information on it. You never know what information is on your old computer that you may need in the future. Just get an external USB hard drive caddy/carrier/enclosure, plug the old hard drive into it and then plug it into the USB port of your new computer and you can access everything on the old hard drive.


If you are worried about selling your computer and are not confident enough to take the measures above then take it to a reputable computer expert. Make sure they understand that you want the disk partition delete and if you go for Method 5 then make sure the expert hands you back your old hard drive.

Methods 4 and 5 are my prefered options and is a service that I offer at BusiFix Computers



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