How to Wipe Memory From a Computer

By Kim Linton

Before you donate your computer to charity, give it to someone else, or even send it to the junk yard, remove your personal information first. Web browsing history, passwords and banking information are only a few of the sensitive data files that can be retrieved from a computer. There are several ways to wipe the memory from a computer, including reformatting, and even destroying the hard drive. The method you choose depends on the sensitivity of your personal data, and how important it is that prying eyes never see it.

Things You'll Need

  • High frequency AC magnet
  • Drill
  • Sander
  • Hammer

Reformat the Hard Drive

Step 1

Click on "Start," then "Shut Down," while logged into Windows

Step 2

Select “Restart in MS-DOS mode” from the drop-down list, then select “OK.” After your computer restarts, the command prompt C:\Windows> will appear.

Step 3

Type "CD\" then hit "Enter" on your keyboard. The command prompt will change to C:\>.

Step 4

Type "format c:" and then hit "Enter." Hit the “Y” key to begin formatting your hard drive. This method erases the memory, but is not as secure as other methods. Use this method if you are not that concerned about the data on your hard drive.

Use a Magnet

Step 1

Open your computer case following the directions in your owner's manual.

Step 2

Locate the hard drive. Disconnect both the data and power cables from the end of the drive.

Step 3

Remove any screws that secure the hard drive and its housing. Remove the hard drive from the computer.

Step 4

Set the hard drive on top of a powerful magnet. Small, thin magnets will not work. Move the magnet around a bit, then turn the hard drive over and repeat. Allow the hard drive to remain on the magnet overnight. If the magnet is strong enough, this method will make it impossible to recover the data.

Destroy the Hard Drive

Step 1

Drill four holes through the back of the hard drive. Drill completely through the casing.

Step 2

Remove the screws from the hard drive casing and pry it loose around the edges. Use force if necessary.

Step 3

Disassemble the hard drive and remove the round platters or disks inside. Sand the surface of the platters with a sander until they are no longer shiny.

Step 4

Hit the hard drive casing and platters repeatedly with a hammer until they are crushed. Obviously this method will make it impossible for any data to be recovered. Only use this method if you are very concerned about your personal information.

Tips & Warnings

  • There are several software programs on the market that erase data on a hard drive multiple times, making it harder to recover. This method is more effective than a basic format, but in some cases sensitive data can still be recovered.