Secure erase of hard drive
You’ve just purchased a shiny new laptop, and now you’d like to donate your old computer, give it to a family member, or recycle the hardware. We applaud your sustainable choices! But wait – have you deleted all the data on your hard drive? Is it really, truly gone? Or can whomever gets your old device recover any of it?
Even if you conscientiously deleted all your files, operating systems often don’t completely wipe away the data; instead, files are kept on the disk until they are overwritten with new data, even if you can’t see them. This means deleted data can still be restored – a feature we appreciate in other circumstances, like when we accidently erase that report that’s due tomorrow. And this can even apply if you’ve emptied your computer’s recycle bin, because there are a variety of utilities out there for recovering deleted data.
Before you start enjoying your new laptop, do a hard wipe of your old one
The fact is that the drive has to be completely overwritten before your old data is securely destroyed, a process known as a disk wipe or a hard wipe. The most cited security standard is that the data should be overwritten three times in order to truly erase a disk.
Secure delete of your data on a computer that still works
For a laptop that can be booted up and is still working, wiping the drive is a straightforward procedure. You’ll find a utility for the secure erasing of the computer’s drive(s) right in the settings. Whether your computer is going to the recycling center or to another person, you can wipe the entire drive by following the steps for your specific computer below. Keep in mind that this is the nuclear option: Once you have wiped a disk, your data is gone for good. So check – and double-check – that you have stored any data you need on a separate device before you proceed.
Secure erase your drive(s) in Windows 10
- Go to your settings and click Update & Security and then Recovery
- Under Reset this PC, select Get started
- Click Remove everything
- To ensure that all data is removed, you’ll need to go to Change settings in the Additional settings screen. Here you should activate Clean data and Delete files from all drives.
- Click Confirm
Disk wipe in Windows 11
- Open your settings and go to Update
- Select Recovery in the side menu
- Choose Reset PC
- Click Remove everything
- Click Change settings and make sure that Clean data is activated
- Click Confirm
Wipe hard drive on a Mac
- Restart your Mac
- Hold down Command + R to start recovery mode
- Click Disk Utility
- In the sidebar, select the drive you want to wipe
- Click Erase and select a file system format
- Under Security Options, choose how many times the erased date should be overwritten
- Click Erase > Done
Keep in mind that securely wiping your entire computer will take several hours – it’s not something you can do as you rush out the door on your way to drop off your computer for donation.
Programs you can use to clean a hard drive
For versions of Windows older than 8.1., you need a third-party program to wipe your hard drive, and you may want to look into this option even if you have the latest operating system. Why? A hard drive eraser utility gives you more control about the way your hard drive gets wiped – and maybe even more peace of mind when it comes to particularly sensitive data. In many cases you can also use these tools to wipe individual files from a drive, or to wipe other devices such as USB drives. When choosing a file erasing tool, you should check to make sure it will work with your operating system (Windows, MacOS or Linux) and drive type (SSD or HDD).
Widely recommended free secure erase programs include:
- File Shredder
- Disk Wipe
- Active KillDisk Freeware
How do I wipe drives if I can’t boot up my computer?
If the computer in question no longer works, wiping the drives is a different story. You may be taking it to be recycled rather than reselling it, but just because you can’t boot it up does not mean that your old data is not still there on the hard drive. So this is where you should focus: Getting to that hard drive. Good news – it’s not usually that hard to remove a hard drive from a computer.
Since each computer is different, we can’t give you exact instructions here, but in most instances it’s just a matter of opening the casing, locating the drive(s) and disconnecting it. You should be able to find a YouTube tutorial for your specific model. Alternatively, you could just take your computer to an electronics or computer repair shop, where it should only take a few minutes to remove the hard drive (and while you are there you can find out if the store also offers a drive shredding service).
Physically destroying a hard drive
What to do with the hard drive once you get it out? Why not try a DIY approach? Since your goal is to destroy it, there is not really a lot that can go wrong as long as you take the necessary safety precautions. Your first step is to put on some safety glasses and protective gloves and find a safe area to work (away from pets and small children, please!) Now you can smash the drive with a hammer or a large rock, drive nails through it, drill holes in it … anything you fantasized about when your computer ticked you off in the past. Any method will do, as long as you destroy the hard drive platters in the case of a HDD, or the flash storage chips if you have an SSD (you can see them by removing the drive cover). There might still be a few bits of retrievable data when you are done, but unless you are an international superspy, the effort required would not be worth it to anyone. Once you are done, be sure to take the remains to an electronic waste facility for safe disposal.
Did you find this article helpful? Before you take a blowtorch to that old hard drive, leave us some feedback below!
How to Wipe a Hard Drive in 4 Steps
You may think that when you delete your files and move them into the trash, they’re gone forever. Well, this isn’t the case. In reality, these files are simply redistributed throughout the hard drive. Therefore, if you’re trying to learn how to wipe a hard drive, you must understand that you will need to erase all data of those once-existing files.
Your hard drive may store financial documents, personal information and anything else that once called your computer home. Typically those interested in erasing all traces of former files are getting ready to sell a computer, discarding damaged drives, upgrading or wanting a clean slate.
When selling, trading or recycling your device, it’s important to clear all data from the hard drive so that whoever gets hold of your former device can’t leak or steal any personal information. If you’re interested in protecting yourself from malware, identity theft and other risks, then read on to learn how to wipe a hard drive.
Table of Contents:
- How to Completely Wipe a Hard Drive
- Step 1: Back It Up
- Step 2: Hold Onto Passwords and Login Credentials
- Step 3: Use a Program to Wipe Hard Drive
- Step 4: Manually Wipe Hard Drive Yourself
- How to Wipe a Hard Drive on Windows
- How to Wipe a Hard Drive on Mac
How to Completely Wipe a Hard Drive
Your personal life doesn’t need to be in the hands of anyone else except yourself. That said, when it’s time to let go of or sell your device, it’s important to ensure you’re thoroughly wiping your hard drive to reduce the risk of cybertheft or exposing personal information. You don’t have to see a tech-guru to have your hard drive wiped. Follow these simple steps on how to thoroughly wipe your hard drive.
Step 1: Hold Onto Passwords and Login Credentials
Is forgetting your password a universal phenomenon? Trying to remember passwords, especially the lengthy ones you had to create to meet a platform’s requirements, is not second nature.
When preparing to wipe a hard drive, it’s important to remember to save your passwords and login credentials. You can manually write them down for safekeeping, or you can back up a file containing all of them onto your USB or external hard drive. Doing this will prevent the stress that comes along with having to click “forgot password” every time you log in after emptying your hard drive.
Step 2: Back It Up
It’s always sensible to routinely back up your hard drive and devices, but it’s a must when getting ready to wipe it clean.
Often, backing up your data is as simple as connecting your storage device to your computer and transferring files to it. You can use thumb drives or USB flash drives to back up your data. But keep in mind that these are smaller storage devices, so you might not be able to save all the information you need.
A better choice might be external hard drives, which can provide greater storage. Additionally, you can move your data to a different computer. Cloud backups are another practical choice and are often safe.
Backing up your hard drive can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the size of each file and the overall size of the backup. If you need to back up your computer, it’s recommended not to leave this till the last minute so that you have a sufficient amount of time for the backup to complete. If you rush a backup or skip over larger files before wiping your hard drive, those files are lost forever.
Step 3: Use a Program to Wipe Hard Drive
You can permanently erase data on your hard drive with the help of professional programs. Although the chances of retrieving erased data is slim with these applications, the good news is that no one else can recover your deleted files.
The majority of these data-destruction tools replace deleted files with zeros and other confusing information. Software for data recovery is unable to recover the files as a result.
Panda Security’s Cleanup program is an efficient and easy-to-understand program made for exactly this. Cleanup can free up space on a hard drive, monitor cookies and more. Luckily, wiping a hard drive is a common occurrence in today’s technology-driven world, so there are numerous programs that you can use to help you out.
Step 4: Manually Wipe Hard Drive Yourself
If you’re worried that a program may have left files on the hard drive or you just want a safer guarantee, you can manually wipe your hard drive yourself. The drive can actually be erased.
Rare-earth magnet method:
One option that will destroy your hard drive is to use a rare-earth magnet. A rare-earth magnet is a very strong one, so a standard refrigerator magnet won’t do in this scenario.
- Remove the hard drive from your computer
- Place the magnet on one side of the hard drive and let it sit for two to three minutes
- Rub the magnet in circular motions along the drive for about one minute
- Repeat on the other side of the hard drive
This should cause irreversible damage to your hard drive, but use this method with caution as inappropriate use could result in bodily harm.
Screwdriver disassembly method:
You can also use a screwdriver to physically disassemble your drive from your computer. You can harm it using this technique in such a way that any data can only be recovered by a skilled hacker.
- Flip the hard drive over so you can see the main circuit board
- The four Torx screws on the circuit board should be removed using a Torx driver.
- Take the board out, split it in half, and throw it away.
By using this technique, you can recycle the hard drive with confidence that no one will be able to read its contents by simply connecting the drive to another PC.
How to Wipe a Hard Drive on Windows
If you own a Windows 10 or 11 computer there is a simpler way to erase your hard drive. No need for a rare-earth magnet or screwdriver — this process involves multiple steps that can all be carried out from the settings application. Follow these step-by-step instructions for your Windows 10 or 11 devices.
- Go to Settings → “System” → “Recovery”
- For Windows 10 go to “Update & Security” instead of “System”
- Find “Reset this PC” and click “Reset”
- For Windows 10 click “Get Started”
- Click “Remove Everything”
- Reinstall Windows via either prompts: “Cloud Download” or “Local Reinstall”
- Go to “Additional Settings” → “Change Settings” → “Clean Data”
- For Windows 10 toggle “Wipe the Drive” instead of “Clean Data”
- Click “Reset”
How to Wipe a Hard Drive on a Mac
Not all devices function the same way. Therefore, if you own a Mac computer follow the instructions below for wiping your hard drive clean.
- Restart your Mac
- Hold the “Command” and “R” keys while the computer restarts
- Let go when the Apple logo appears
- Click “Disk Utility” → “Continue”
- Go to “View” → “Show all Devices”
- Choose your Mac’s drive → Hit “Erase”
- Fill in “Name,” “Format,” and “Scheme”
- Name: You can name the disk anything you’d like
- Format: Choose “APFS (Apple File System)” or “Mac Os Extended (Journaled)”
- Select “Erase”
- Click “Done” when the button appears on the screen
- Reinstall OS
Whether you’re getting ready to sell or trade in your computer, wiping your hard drive is key to protecting your personal information. To make the process simple and easy, seek help from cybersecurity experts at Panda Security who can help you wipe your hard drive from the comfort of your home.
Panda Security specializes in the development of endpoint security products and is part of the WatchGuard portfolio of IT security solutions. Initially focused on the development of antivirus software, the company has since expanded its line of business to advanced cyber-security services with technology for preventing cyber-crime.
4 easy ways to free up hard drive space in Windows 10
We clean drives from unnecessary and temporary files, large programs and games, look for folders that take up the most space.
Removing and moving programs
Cleaning up temporary files
Analyzing the contents of disks
Removing and moving programs
Cleaning up temporary files
Analyzing the contents of disks
Over time, the drive of a computer or laptop is inevitably filled with various files. Both user and system. This is especially critical if you have an SSD installed. They tend to be much smaller than standard hard drives, so they fill up even faster. There are, of course, SSDs with a capacity of 1-2 terabytes, but they are still a little expensive.
The main problem with disk cleanup is finding out what is taking up usable space. There are 4 easy ways to find extra files and delete them.
Windows 10 Disk Cleanup
The best place to start is with the built-in Windows operating system tool. Right-click on the desired drive and select “Properties”. Next, on the General tab, click Disk Cleanup.
In this way, you can free up space on the system drive. Other drives, if they exist in the system, do not have that many system files
The system will suggest what can be deleted. Go through all the items and note the ones that take up a significant amount of space. Pay attention to the item “Downloads”. This is the default folder where files are downloaded from the Internet. As a rule, the files the user needs are located there, so it is better to clear it manually. The system will simply delete everything that is stored there.
After cleaning, you will have an “Advanced” tab. Here you can proceed to remove installed programs and system restore points. We will discuss the first possibility in the next paragraph. As for restore points, here the system will delete all backup data for system recovery, except for the most recent one. In other words, in the event of a crash, you can only return to the last savepoint. If at the moment there are any problems in the system or it is unstable, then it is better not to touch this item.
Uninstalling and moving programs
Uninstalling programs is, of course, an effective way, but it is not always suitable. Many programs take up insignificant space, so removing them will not do anything. Others, especially games, can take up tens of gigabytes, but they are often used and it’s not easy to delete them. However, when you need space for something important, you can inspect all installed software. So, it may turn out that you have installed a program that you used only once and you no longer need it.
For today’s games, 50 gigabytes is no longer something incredible
To get to the uninstall programs menu, right-click on “Start” and select “Apps and Features”. Notice the two sort conditions here. Select the desired disk and set sorting by program size.
Unfortunately, not all programs have a size listed.
Games installed on Steam or other launchers can be transferred to another drive. This option is available in the program settings. For example, the game was originally installed on an SSD, but now it can be transferred to a regular hard drive. It will be useful if you do not want to delete and then re-download the game when you do need it.
Cleaning up temporary files
The built-in Disk Cleanup program in Windows 10 does not clean up temporary files from third-party programs, such as the browser cache. Therefore, you can use the popular CCleaner program to clean up what the system’s built-in program does not work with.
Note that there are two tabs here: Windows and Applications.
Run the program, make sure you are on the Standard Cleanup tab. Here you need to select the parameters so that the program does not delete anything superfluous. First, check all the boxes on browsers you don’t use. You most likely have both Internet Explorer and Edge, but you are using a different browser. The rest of the options on the Windows tab do not need to be touched.
Second, go to the Applications tab. Here, the first step is to set up browser cleaning. You can’t mindlessly tick all the boxes, otherwise you will lose all saved passwords and site settings. Check “Internet Cache” and “Cookies”. Moreover, after clearing the cookie, you may need to log in again on some sites, or the settings will be lost there. Next, click “Analyze” and “Purify”.
If you actively use several browsers at once, then you can free up quite a lot of space
Disk content analysis
Another way to remove junk is to see which files are taking up a lot of space. Perhaps you have accumulated a lot of unnecessary music or photos. Such files can be deleted completely or only their duplicates.
To determine how much space each folder takes up, use the built-in Windows tools or third-party programs. Right-click on “Start” and select “System”. Next, “Device Memory”.
Many unnecessary and temporary files often accumulate on the desktop
By default, system disk statistics are displayed, but you can choose any other. Click on the item “View the level of memory usage on other drives”, which is located at the bottom of the window. So, you will find out which categories take up the most space and understand what to delete first. Please note that you need to clean the disk manually, and the system only tells you which folders you need to view.
Each category of files is highlighted in its own color
Even more detailed information is provided by a special WinDirStat program. It is free and in Russian. Initially, the appearance of the program may seem complicated, but it is not. Information for clarity is presented in graphical form. However, you can ignore it and even turn it off with the F9 button.. What is really needed is the disk tree at the top of the program. Here you can view any folder and its space.
File managers can also show the size of folders, for example Total Commander
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10 ways to get rid of junk in Windows and free up disk space / Software
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The computer’s drive is packed to capacity and bursting at the seams, and the hand does not rise to delete precious files. A familiar situation, isn’t it? We tell you how to solve this problem with little bloodshed, and as a bonus we share life hacks to save disk space in the Windows environment
Any, even the most modern software platforms, have a tendency to clutter up the disk over time, and Windows is no exception. Temporary files created by the OS and various applications, duplicates of system libraries, shadow copies, logs, installation files, patches, updates, web pages cached by the browser and other garbage – all this accumulates and grows like a snowball, eventually clogging the free space on the drive of any volume. There is little good in this, but you shouldn’t be too sad either: there are simple ways to quickly clear the computer’s disk memory of trash without deleting the necessary data and risking harming the computer.
Image Source: Jürgen Eick / pixabay.com
1. Using Windows built-in Disk Cleanup. The most efficient and secure option, to use which you need to follow the menu “Start → Settings → System → Memory → Temporary files”. The OS will analyze the contents of the drive and display a list of files available for deletion, including copies of Windows updates, image thumbnails, DirectX cache and system services, diagnostic logs, and other data, the total volume of which can reach ten gigabytes. Some of the files are automatically marked by the system for deletion, while others are left to the discretion of the user. Particular attention when working with the utility should be paid to the “Downloads” folder, which may contain important data and documents.
2. Manual removal of temporary files. Experience with Windows shows that the built-in disk cleanup tools leave a lot of garbage unattended. We are talking about the directories C:\Windows\Temp and C:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Temp, the contents of which can be safely deleted. In addition, it would not be superfluous to inspect the C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming folder, which contains numerous “tails” of remote applications – this ballast also makes sense to send to the trash. Working with the mentioned directories requires administrator rights, common sense and attention to detail. It will also be useful in the Windows Explorer settings to activate the display of hidden files.
3. Deleting shadow copies and restore points. Depending on the settings, Windows automatically creates disk volume snapshots, backup copies of system files and user documents. If the system is running like clockwork and there is no doubt about the reliability of data storage, these backups can be deleted and thereby free up disk space. To do this, open the console with administrator rights, enter the vssadmin list shadows command to list the existing shadow copies on the drive, and then type vssadmin delete shadows /all to delete them. A similar result can be achieved by opening the system protection settings (menu “Start → Settings → System → About the system → System protection → Customize”) and clicking on the “Delete” button.
4. Cleaning folder C:\Windows\Installer. Few are aware of the existence of the Installer system directory in Windows, in which installers of various applications store installation files. Over time, this folder becomes clogged with debris and grows to an incredible size. Cleaning this directory on your own is fraught with problems, so in this case it is best to trust the free utility PatchCleaner, which competently and extremely carefully approaches this task. The application analyzes the contents of the Installer directory for connection with the software installed on the computer and finds unnecessary files that can either be moved to another logical disk partition or a larger drive, or deleted without harming the system.
5. Delete browser cache. The simplest procedure that allows you to free up hundreds of megabytes on your PC disk. In Google Chrome, to clear temporary files, you need to go to the web browser settings, then in the menu “Privacy and security → Clear history” specify the time range “All the time”, then check the box “Images and other files saved in the cache” and click “Delete data”. In Microsoft Edge, this toolkit is located in the menu “Settings → Privacy, search and services → Delete web browsing data → Select items to delete”, in “Yandex Browser” – in the “Settings → System → Clear history” window. In Firefox, go to “Settings → Privacy and Security → Cookies and Site Data → Clear Data”. The following screenshots will help you not to get confused in the intricacies of the browser menu.
6. Removing extra accounts. Quite often, the cause of computer disk clutter is unused and long-forgotten Windows user accounts that store documents, photos, music, and other files that do not represent value but take up space. You can get rid of old and expired accounts in the “Settings → Accounts → Family and other users” section. This procedure is possible only if you have administrative rights in the system.
7. Disable unused system components. Windows includes many software modules that users rarely need and can be deactivated to save disk space. You can do this in Settings → Applications → Additional components → Other Windows components. In the settings window that opens, you can disable Internet Explorer 11, Windows Media Player, PowerShell tools, printing tools, the Windows Subsystem for Linux, and other unnecessary components. The deactivation of the latter is accompanied by the deletion of associated files and libraries from the disk, as well as the subsequent reboot of the OS. If necessary, disabled software modules can later be reactivated – Windows will automatically download all the missing files from the Internet.
8. Analysis of disk space content. To solve this problem, we recommend using the free WinDirStat utility, which scans the files stored on the drive and displays the space they occupy in the form of a visual graphic map, which makes it easy to isolate the “heavyweights” from a huge array of data. The application helps you see a detailed picture of disk usage and outline steps to remove unnecessary files.
9. Deleting crash dumps. When critical Windows errors occur, accompanied by “blue screens of death” (Blue Screen of Death, BSoD), the operating system automatically saves RAM dumps in the C:\Windows\Minidump folder, allowing experienced specialists to determine the causes of failures. If the computer is stable, then you can safely get rid of the previously saved crash dumps – there is no need for extra files on the disk.
10. Compressing files at the file system level and by means Windows. If the above steps did not help to achieve the desired result, then you can resort to using the automatic compression functions of the files stored on the drive. This can be done in two ways: using the NTFS file system and using the Compact OS function (available in Windows 10/11). In the first case, you need to go to the properties of the system disk, on the “General” tab, select the “Compress this disk to save space” item, click “Apply” and wait for the files to be processed. In the second, you should open the console with administrator rights, then check the current state of the system with the compact.exe /CompactOS:query command, and then enter compact.exe /CompactOS:always to compress files in the Windows and Program Files folders. Those who are too lazy to fiddle with the command line can use the CompactGUI OpenSource utility, which is a graphical interface for the compact.exe system utility.
According to Outsidethebox.ms, a site specializing in Microsoft software solutions, using Compact OS technology can save up to 40 percent of disk space. Impressive score! At the same time, you need to understand that compressing files on the fly, both at the file system level and using Windows tools, requires some computing resources, and therefore you have to put up with a slight (in most cases, almost imperceptible) slowdown of the computer. To return the standard OS settings and disable NTFS compression, you can always uncheck the corresponding checkbox in the system disk settings, and to deactivate Compact OS, use the compact.