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Erasing Hard Drives for Beginners

Updated: Apr 4

Before you or your church donates, recycles, or repurposes old computers, make sure you erase all the personal data on it. This can be a time-consuming task, as well as confusing for novices. Here are some items to keep in mind as you consider wiping your hard drive clean.

1. “Trash” and “Recycle Bin” Does Not Mean Erased.

BACK UP YOUR FILES before you begin! Backup options include either a cloud account or an external hard drive.

2. Deleting does not mean erasing.

Many people think deleting information by moving files to the “Trash” or “Recycle Bin” erases them from the operating system. It only removes them from the directory, hiding them. The files can be reconstructed; thus the computer isn’t truly “cleaned” of important files.

3. Don’t just erase – overwrite!

To wipe your computer clear of personal files, overwrite the data so it cannot be recovered. Overwriting means to record or copy new data over existing data. Data that is overwritten cannot be retrieved. Do this at least three times, more if you are very concerned about security.

The easiest way to wipe your hard drive clean is to buy a program that will lead you through the process of overwriting your data. Be patient. It may take several hours to overwrite a hard drive.

TIP: Use programs that meet the US Department of Defense Media Sanitization Guidelines. Look for programs that meet or exceed these guidelines.

4. Keeping Your Operating System and Software.

Formatting or overwriting the hard drive will erase files and software from your computer. The operating system and software will need to be reinstalled if the computer is to be used again. Make sure you have access to those programs to reinstall them.

There are overwriting programs available that allow you to select files and programs to erase. This is only advised if you have a good understanding of computer directories.

5. SSD or HDD?

There are different methods for cleaning a conventional magnetic hard drive (HDD) versus a solid-state drive (SSD). SSDs have built-in programs and systems for wiping information. Many of the major technology producers began offering SSD in their consumer PCs and laptops starting in 2009. Make sure the program you select will work with an SSD, if you have one.

GCFA’s IT Services Department offers a wide range of services - including backup and recovery solutions - to local churches, annual conferences, and agencies. We are committed to supporting the servant ministry of all those working within the United Methodist connection to spread the gospel of Christ with the technology of today.

Call us for a free IT assessment or to inquire about our other services today: 1-866-367-4232 or


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