Formatting a hard drive or SSD in Windows 11 erases any existing data on a drive and prepares the disk for use. Luckily, formatting is very easy to do directly from File Explorer. Here’s how.

First, open File Explorer. You can usually do this by clicking the folder icon in your taskbar. Or you can right-click the Start button and select “File Explorer.”

Right-click the Start button and select "File Explorer" in the list.

In any File Explorer window, browse to “This PC.” In the list of “Devices and Drives,” right-click the drive you’d like to format and select “Format” in the menu that appears.

In Windwos 11, right-click the drive you want to format and select "Format."

A “Format” window will open. It presents options about how you want to format your drive. We’ll go over each item one-by-one so you can decide

  • Capacity: This will be the data capacity of your hard drive or SSD once it is formatted. Formatting takes up some of the raw disk space because of how file systems work.
  • File System: A file system is a data structure that tells an operating system how to save and load files to or from a disk. Depending on the drive’s size, your options will be FAT, FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT. In general, you’ll want to select NTFS if the drive will only be used with Windows. If you want the drive to be readable and writable on a Mac as well, choose exFAT.
  • Allocation Unit Size: This is the basic block size used by the file system when you format your drive. Generally, you never need to modify this setting, so use the default allocation unit size that appears (usually 4096 bytes for NTFS) when you select the file system you want.
  • Volume Label: This is the drive name that will appear when you see your formatted drive in File Explorer.
  • Format Options (Quick Format): If the drive is in good working order, you can select “Quick Format,” which performs a high-level format and finishes quickly. The data is still on the drive but all references to it are lost, so it will be overwritten as you use the newly formatted drive. Unchecking “Quick Format” makes Windows check the disk sector-by-sector with a low-level format that takes much longer, but it will also wipe all traces of any old data completely.

Once you have every option how you want it, click “Start” to begin the formatting process.

Select your format options and click "Start."

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After clicking “Start,” Windows will pop-up a warning message telling you that “Formatting will erase ALL data on this disk.” Click “OK” if you’re ready to erase the drive and format it.

Warning: When you format your hard drive or SSD, you will lose all data on the drive. Be absolutely certain you have backups of any data on the drive before going any further!

Click "OK."

While Windows formats the disk, you’ll see a green process indicator move from left to right. When it’s completely full, the format will be complete, and you’ll see an alert pop-up. Click “OK.”

Click "OK."

After that, close the format window and you’re ready to go. Your newly formatted drive will show up in File Explorer, and it’s ready to store data. If you need to format another drive—or wipe data from it —just right-click the drive in File Explorer and click “Format.” Good luck!

RELATED: How to Wipe a Drive on Windows 10 or Windows 11

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Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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