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How to totally, utterly, irreversibly obliterate files from a hard drive

Getting rid of your old laptop or desktop? Whether you’re selling it, donating it to charity, or gifting it to a friend or family member, you should wipe the drive before you give it away.

Why? Because that drive contains your personal information, like family photos, financial data, your browsing records, or even confidential work files. Whatever you leave on the drive will go to the next person that uses it, unless you wipe or destroy the drive first.

Dragging the files to the recycle bin does’t count as wiping, unless you’re souped up your recycle bin with a tool like Eraser. Nope, just dragging the files to the recycle bin and emptying is kind of like taking the card catalog out of the library. The files might be hard to find, but somebody who knows how to look will find them anyway.

Want to be utterly, total sure your data doesn’t go with your machine? Get your trusty Phillips screwdriver and remove it. You could use it as a backup drive, but don’t just throw it in the garbage or the “e­-cycle” box at your local recycler. Why? That info’s still there.

So how do you get rid of that data? If you’re the handy type, you can pull the platters ­– the actual disks that the zeros and ones that make up your data are stored on — and sand the surface or hammer ’em until they look all dimpled and cratered. Some folks just drill holes in the drive. There are companies that will professionally shred the drive for you while you watch. Think “will it blend” but with a much bigger blender.

Hard Drive Wipe

Important safety tip: Backup the files or data you want before you wipe or destroy the drive! Once that data is gone, it’s gone, and it’d suck to wipe out your only copy of the baby photos, or last year’s tax files. ­

OS X users are lucky: The Disk Utility can wipe a disk. So are Windows 8 and 10 users: Choose the Fully Clean The Drive option in the Reset your PC feature. Go to settings, update and security, reset this PC, remove everything. If you have an option like “erase data thoroughly,” your files will pretty much be gone.

Related: Stop procrastinating and back up your damn files already! We’ve got the guide

Running an older Windows PC? You’ll need a program like DBAN… Darik’s Boot n Nuke. It’s not the simplest thing to use, because you have to make a bootable CD or use Blanco to create a bootable USB drive to load it. But if you follow the directions, you can overwrite the data on the drive to a ridiculous degree. Think days of erasing.

Reminder: Just get all the data you need off the drive first!