How do I permanently delete files from my hard disk?

Follow these simple instructions to completely remove files from your drive.

Did you know that when you "delete" files from your computer, they can still remain on your hard disk? In many cases, deleted files can be recovered with little effort because most computer operating systems will only delete links to the data so they no longer appear to you, but the actual data remains on the disk. Getting access to the deleted data is as simple as restoring the links.

This method of deletion is fine for most circumstances -- where security is not an issue -- but you wouldn't want some people to recover your financial statements or medical records. For sensitive data, you need to make sure that your computer overwrites both the links to the information and the information itself.

Eraser

To make sure a file is truly gone, a number of tools are available. Eraser is a free and easy-to-use solution that will overwrite your private information with random patterns until the data is no longer recoverable. It works with nearly every version of Windows and offers a number of methods of overwriting your data, including methods approved by the Department of Defense.

Once installed, Eraser integrates nicely into Windows. Whenever you want to securely erase your data, follow these steps.

1. Navigate to the files or folders that you want to securely erase.

2. Right-click on the files and/or folders and an Eraser menu will appear.

3. Highlight and click Erase in the Eraser menu.

Eraser will automatically create the secure erase task and execute it immediately. You will be notified in a popup window when the task is complete and the files are permanently erased.

Eraser has a number of settings and options that you can configure, including securely deleting recycle bin contents and scheduling and automating secure deletion tasks.

SDelete

For users who don't need graphical interfaces, Microsoft has a downloadable command-line tool called SDelete. Here's how to use this tool.

1. Click Start > Run... , type cmd and press OK or Enter (Return). (Windows Vista and Windows 7 users can just click Start and type cmd in the Windows Search box.)

2. Navigate to where you have SDelete downloaded. For example, if it's located at C:\cmdtools, type cd C:\cmdtools, and press Enter.

3. Now type sdelete <path to file or directory>, and press Enter, where <path to file or directory> is a standard Windows path. For example, to delete C:\mysecuredata.txt, you would type sdelete c:\mysecuredata.txt, and press Enter.

4. Once they're deleted, you will receive confirmation that your files or folders have been permanently deleted, and you're done!

Now that you have the right tools for the job, you can feel confident in knowing that your data has actually been removed from your hard disk and will no longer be recovered by anyone (not even by you).

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags security

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael King

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?