To Wipe, to Degauss or to Smash? Ways to Erase Your Hard Drive

edited August 2023 in PC Tech

Every dog has its day, and every computer will reach a point when it becomes obsolete. So, when your trusty computer finally reaches the end of its journey with you, instead of putting it in the loft to sit and gather dust, take action and dispose of it at a recycling center, or donate it to a charitable organization.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t throw it out with the trash! Before you say goodbye, make sure you back up or transfer all of your files to your new PC. After this is sorted, you will want to completely wipe your computer to ensure that any personally identifying and confidential information is permanently removed. Read on to discover practical methods to erase a hard drive from the basic level of cleaning a hard drive to the more extreme measure of physically destroying a hard drive.

How to destroy a hard drive

Before we get into the details and steps of how to erase a hard drive, it is worth mentioning  that although the words delete, erase, wipe, shred, and destroy sound similar and are often used interchangeably, they have quite different meanings. Put simply:

  • Delete: hides the file without removing it 
  • Erase: gets rid of a file, you won’t get it back 
  • Wipe: completely and permanently erases everything on a drive 
  • Shred: completely and permanently erases individual files

We will first look at how to completely wipe a hard drive. Regardless of your OS, there are two options: use built-in methods provided by the operating system or third party drive-wiping software. For most users, built-in wiping options will be sufficient to protect your information, but for extra peace of mind, or to guarantee the protection of confidential and valuable data, third-party software such as DBAN provides an extra layer of security.

Windows 10 users how to erase your hard drive

  • Click the Windows icon then the Settings icon 
  • Click Update and Security, then Recovery in the sidebar 
  • Click Reset this PC, click Get started, then Remove everything 
  • On the Additional settings screen, click Change settings and ensure to enable Clean data and click Delete files from all drives option

For a more detailed description including how to reformat your hard drive for users of other versions of Windows, have a look at this helpful guide.

Mac OS users how to erase your hard drive

  • Restart your Mac and hold down the Command and R keys while the computer restarts 
  • Login and click the Disk Utility icon 
  • Select the drive you want to wipe and click Erase 
  • Click Security Options and choose to which level you want to erase the disk

Similarly for Mac users, your individual systems and requirements may vary, this guide should answer any questions you may have regarding wiping your hard drive. Here you can find the official Mac guidelines to erase your Mac and reset it to factory settings. Regardless of your OS, erasing your hard drive is a slow process that typically takes several hours, so ideally run the process overnight and leave laptops plugged in to a power source for the duration of the process.

The best way to destroy a hard drive

For many users, especially if you do not intend to extend the lifespan of your PC by donating your computer to a charity, then physically destroying the hard drive might be the safest option. Your computer is likely to be a quarter plastic and contains a multitude of toxic substances such as lead, mercury and arsenic, so first of all, don’t burn it!

Will a magnet erase a hard drive?

The answer is yes, but realistically, no. It is a common misconception that magnets can destroy the data on your hard drive. If you have seen the TV show Breaking Bad, you will be aware that a huge magnet is needed to corrupt the data on a computer. So, if you want to follow in the (fictional) magnet computer destroying footsteps of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, you will need a really really big magnet to destroy your hard drive. A magnet strong enough to get the job done will need a minimum pull force of 450 pounds, so with this massive magnetic force, you will most likely destroy everything else in the vicinity of the hard drive, including the computer and possibly yourself!

How to degauss a hard drive

A degausser is a machine that disrupts the magnetic domains on the drive. The magnetic field generated by the degausser permanently removes the magnetic properties from the oxide coatings in the hard drive, thus erasing or randomizing the recorded data, rendering it unreadable. This approach is useful for larger organizations with large volumes of drives to permanently delete. Degaussed drives cannot be reused, but can be recycled for precious metals.

How to physically destroy a hard drive

If you can change the form of your hard drive so that it is no longer a hard drive, then there is no way that anyone can use it to get any of your confidential data! Depending on your level of handiness and access to tools, there are several simple steps that can be taken to physically destroy the hard drive. But wait, before the smashing starts, shield your eyes with suitable eye protection.

Next, locate the hard drive platter, and using a suitable drill bit, drill several holes through it. If you don’t have access to a drill, hammering nails through it will have a similar effect, or simply smashing it with a sledgehammer or rock should do. If you prefer a more hands off approach, there are various companies that can assist you in destroying your hard drive, using varying approaches from melting to pulverization and incineration.

The takeaway

As we have learned in this article, there are several approaches that you can take in order to ensure that your confidential data remains confidential after you part ways with your computer. Do your research and decide which method best suits your needs. From simply using the hard drive erase function offered by your built-in OS, to taking the hard drive to a specialist for total obliteration, correctly wiping your hard drive is the way forward.

 *The opinions reflected in this article are the sole opinions of the author and do not reflect any official positions or claims by Acer Inc.

About Edmund McGowanEdmund is an English copywriter based in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He is a widely published writer and translator with two decades of experience in the field of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps between Chinese and English.  

Edmund is an English copywriter based in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He is a widely published writer and translator with two decades of experience in the field of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps between Chinese and English.


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