Many people spend a lot of time trying to preserve their hard drives or even upgrade them, but it isn’t every day that you try to completely wipe it clean. If you’re planning to replace your computer, you probably don’t want all the sensitive information to end up in the hands of a stranger.
While it can be tricky to wipe your hard drive on a PC or Mac, we’ve provided all the steps you need to get the job done to keep your identity and information safe.
How to wipe a drive in Windows
Step 1: Download Eraser
Several applications will do an excellent 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 a new task
Open the Eraser application. Right-click (or tap and hold) in the main Erase Schedule window. 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 several erasure methods to choose from, each with their 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 mean there is less of a chance of that data being recoverable, so pick one with more passes for greater peace of mind.
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 satisfied that everything is ready, right-click the task in Eraser, then select Run Now.
Alternative: Wipe a Windows drive with internal tools
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 handy option for cleaning out a secondary drive. I’s quick, too.
Step 1: In your Windows 10 search bar, type, “This PC.” Look for the option to go to the 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, then select Format. This will wipe and reformat the drive to your 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 correct 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 impossible to recover.
You should now 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. There are ways to factory reset even the primary drive, though.
How to wipe a drive on a Mac
Step 1: Run Disk Utility
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
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 to the next step. If you’re using an HDD, you can make the erasure a little more productive. 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 considered 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 destroy the drive physically.
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 surfaces 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. Due to 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 want to make sure absolutely no data on the drive can be reaccessed, 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.
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