How to Wipe a Computer Hard Drive Totally and Utterly

by Contributor

Despite what you may have heard, deleting files and emptying the recycle bin does not wipe a computer clean. These things merely make the data harder to get to. But your private data is still stored on the hard drive and can be accessed by those who know what they're doing. To protect yourself from identity theft, fraud, blackmail, and other computer crimes, read on to find out what you must do to wipe a computer hard drive empty of all your private data.

Understand why some data remains on your hard drive even after you delete it. The data for a file is stored in more than one place on a hard drive and is then indexed for access. Every time you save a file, deleted pieces of file are overwritten. However, not all data sectors get overwritten. Much of your private data remains in these pieces of files scattered throughout your hard disk.

Save all the files you want to keep on an external hard drive, a CD, or any other file backup hardware.

Follow the recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission and use wipe utility software to overwrite the hard drive. Choose a program that wipes the hard drive and overwrites it multiple times. Why? Software that overwrites hard drive data just once may leave the way open for future recovery of your personal information.

Use encryption software to encrypt a hard drive and protect its confidential information. Cracking the encryption is not impossible - no encryption is failsafe - but very difficult.

After using software solutions such as a disk wipe program and hard drive encryption, you can install the operating system back onto the hard drive and sell the computer or donate the computer.

For the ultimate in security, physically remove the hard drive from the computer and destroy the hard drive with a hammer. This, um, does lower its resale value, so avoid this for a computer you plan to resell or give away. Do not smash the entire computer with a hammer; a computer has hazardous materials and must be disposed of properly.


  • check Seem extreme to physically destroy a hard drive? Even the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) suggests this as an option - See Resources.


  • close Don't neglect to wipe all hard drives if you have more than one hard drive on your computer.
  • close If this is a business computer and there is sensitive or personal data on the computer, you must comply with applicable laws about protection of private data when you dispose of the computer.

Items you will need

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Kristina Jensen--All Rights Reserved