How to Wipe a Hard Drive

By Nichole Liandi

"Wiping" a hard drive can mean different things to different people. But generally, it means removing or obscuring information on the hard drive so that others can't access it. This is usually a precursor to selling or disposing of the the computer. Depending on the level of security you'd like to attain by removing information from your computer's hard drive, here are some practical steps you can take if you're getting rid of an old computer.

Things You'll Need

  • Disk-wiping utility

Step 1

Erase and format your disk. If you don't have any really sensitive information on your computer, this will suffice. Deleting files only removes shortcuts to the files on the disk. Formatting the disk removes all the address labels, which makes recovering the information much more difficult (but certainly not impossible). Format your disk by going to the Control Panel and double-clicking "Administrative Tools." Double-click "Computer Management," then double-click "Disk Management." This allows access to the drives. Select the one you wish to format, and proceed.

Step 2

Employ a "disk-wiping" utility. While there are commercial applications available, any number of free downloads can get the job done. Disk-wiping utilities simply overwrite the information on the disk multiple times with random information. The more times this is done, the better the security. This is not a speedy process by any means, but if done thoroughly, it will serve almost any security purposes.

Step 3

Degauss the drive. Exposing the drive to a very strong magnetic field will corrupt the data so it cannot be read. You'll need to remove the hard drive from the computer to do this. If you don't have a degausser, check with a local TV-repair shop. They have them to degauss television tubes.

Step 4

Destroy the hard drive. Want absolute security? It's simple: Remove the drive, open it and destroy the platters inside. There's no way to read the information. This is a pretty drastic step, and not one you probably need to consider unless you have state secrets on your computer!

Tips & Warnings

  • Consider your security needs. If you're passing your computer on to someone you trust, a simple formatting is all you need to do.

References & Resources