How to wipe a hard drive on your PC or Mac

From personal photos to sensitive work information, our computers host a lot of data that should remain private. If you’re thinking about replacing your old computer or swapping the hard drive, you should wipe it to prevent personal data from falling into the wrong hands.

Wiping a hard drive on a PC or Mac is a simple process that only takes a few minutes. Read on to find out how you should go about cleaning a hard drive you no longer need.

How to wipe a drive in Windows

Step 1: Download Eraser

There are a number of applications that will do a good job of wiping your hard drive or SSD, but Eraser is our favorite. It’s free, intuitive, and comprehensive. Since it needs to run within Windows, you can’t wipe the drive you’re running it from. If you don’t have an alternative drive to boot from, you might want to consider an alternative tool like DBAN.

Download Eraser from the official site and install it as you would any other application.

Step 2: Create task

Open the Eraser application and right-click (or tap and hold) in the main Erase Schedule window and select New Task. In the window that appears, make sure Run Manually is selected and then select the Add Data button at the bottom of the window. Change the Target Type to your drive of choice.

Step 3: Select an erasure method

There are a number of erasure methods to choose from, each with their own particular benefits. To keep things simple, a Pseudorandom Data (1 pass) is sufficient for basic personal information and SSDs. However, if you’re wiping a hard drive or are concerned about anything particular being recovered from your drive, more passes means less of a chance of that data being recoverable, so pick one with more passes for greater peace of mind, if you prefer.

Step 4: Run the task

Although you can set up tasks to run automatically or at a scheduled time, we’ve set this one up manually to give us a chance to double check everything. Make sure any data you can’t afford to lose is safely backed up and that you have selected the right drive and erasure method for this task.

When you’re certain everything is ready, right-click the task in Eraser and select Run Now.

Alternative: Wipe a Windows drive with internal tools

Format HDD

There is a native option to wipe an extra drive in Windows 10. It’s not the same full suite of options that Eraser has, but it’s a very useful option for cleaning out a secondary drive. And it’s quick, too.

Step 1: In your Windows 10 search bar, type This PC. Look for the option to go to This PC app and select it.

Step 2: In the new window, look at the bottom section for Devices and drives, where all your current drives will be displayed. Right-click on the drive you want to wipe, and select Format. This will totally wipe and reformat the drive to your own specifications.

Step 3: A new formatting window will pop up. This will provide options to check the capacity of the drive, allocation, name, and more. When applicable, choose the right options for the drive, and then select Start when you are ready. Keep in mind that you should not check Quick Format if you want your data to be totally impossible to recover.

Now you should have an empty and formatted drive. Keep in mind this won’t work for your primary Windows drive — that would make it a little too easy for Windows t0 delete itself. But there are ways to factory reset even the primary drive if you want.

How to wipe a drive on a Mac

Step 1: Run Disk Utility

Apple

MacOS’ built-in disk erasure tool is fantastic and more than enough for the average hard drive wiping. Access it by booting to MacOS Recovery by turning your Mac on and holding Command + R. Continue holding until you see the Apple logo or a globe. The MacOS utility window should open shortly after.

From the list of options, select Disk Utility.

Step 2: Choose the disk to erase

Select View from the top menu bar, followed by Show All Devices. Using the left-hand menu, select the disk you want to erase.

Step 3: Choose the erase options

Apple

Select the Erase tab in the top menu. Select the new name for the volume after it’s been erased. Choose the APFS format unless you plan on installing a version of MacOS before High Sierra on the drive afterward (in which case select Mac OS Extended). For the Scheme choose GUID Partition Map.

If you’re erasing an SSD, skip on to the next step. If you’re using an HDD, you can make the erasure a little more effective. To do so, select Security Options and use the slider on the ensuing page to change the number of passes that the erasure tool makes over the drive. More than one is enough, and anything over three is probably overkill.

Step 4: Erase the data

If you’re sure that you’ve backed up all of your important data (there’s no going back after this step) select Erase.

Physically destroy the drive

An alternative step to the above digital method of removing data, or a secondary one if you want to make doubly sure your data isn’t recoverable by anyone, is to physically destroy the drive.

If you’re the handy type, you can pull the hard drive platters ­— the actual disks that the zeros and ones that make up your data are stored on — and sand the surface or hammer them until they look all dimpled and cratered. Another option is to take a rare-earth magnet such as a neodymium magnet, and run it over the drive platter. That will deform it and make any data on it unreadable.

SSDs are a somewhat different story. Because of the way modern SSDs store data, a lot of data can still be recovered if you just try drilling holes, or even hammer-smashing. If you really want to make sure absolutely no data on the drive can be accessed again, you have to take other measures. For an easy fix, some people fully encrypt the hard drive and just throw it away: Without the encryption key, the average thief will never be able to make sense of the data.

The other option for SSDs is to take them to a professional service that destroys them. These companies use industrial blenders or perforation devices (like an iron maiden for your hard drive) to destroy them beyond salvaging any data.

Editors' Recommendations