How to Erase Personal Information Off Computers Without Erasing the Hard Drives
By B. Steele
If you’re planning on retiring or recycling computers in your office or reassigning a machine to another employee, you don’t need to wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows to remove personal data (although wiping the drive is the most secure option). Instead, you can remove most if not all of the old user’s personal data by deleting his Windows account and associated files.
Reboot the computer if the user account you want to delete has logged in since the system was last restarted.
Log in to the computer with an administrator account.
Click “Start | Control Panel | User Accounts and Family Safety | User Accounts.” If your Control Panel is set to icon view, just click “User Accounts.”
Click “Manage another account.”
Click the Windows account you want to delete and click “Delete the account” on the left.
Click “Delete Files” and “Delete Account.” All personal data and files in the user profile folder, which includes the “My Documents” and “Desktop” folders, will be deleted. However, because some people save files elsewhere on the hard drive, you also need to ensure that this information is deleted as well.
Click "Start," “Computer” and double-click the “C” drive.
Locate any personal files the user may have saved outside his profile folder on the C: drive. Common alternate destinations are C: itself or a custom subfolder within it.
Press “Shift-Delete” to permanently delete any personal files found.
Several free "file shredding" utilities exist, such as File Shredder (see Resources) that you can use to securely erase files or scrub empty space on your hard disk. While file scrubbing utilities like this are not 100 percent foolproof, they do make it extremely difficult for anyone to recover deleted data.
If you’re planning on recycling the computers or otherwise giving them to any party outside your company, consider wiping or physically destroying the hard drives beforehand. It’s fairly easy for a reasonably tech-savvy person to recover previously-deleted data from a Windows system and it’s always possible that you could miss a file or two when manually removing personal data.
A writer and proofreader since 2006, B. Steele also works as an IT Help Desk analyst, specializing in consumer and business user tech support. She earned a B.A. in English and journalism from Roger Williams University. Steele also holds certifications as a Microsoft-certified desktop support technician, Microsoft-certified IT professional, Windows 7 enterprise support technician and CompTIA A+ IT technician.