You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting your sensitive information and you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that just wiping a hard drive clean might not be taking things far enough. Whatever your reasons for wanting to completely destroy your hard drive beyond any recognition, we’ve got you covered.
Just because you don’t want anybody else seeing what’s on it, doesn’t mean you should neglect to back up the information on your hard drive for yourself. Holiday snapshots and favorite memes aside, your hard drive likely also holds bank details and social security numbers, copies of legal documents you might have received by email, and warranties for appliances you bought online. Take care to go through all of your folders and back up anything that might be useful to a separate flash drive, memory card, cloud storage, or external hard drive.
You can purchase specific software that essentially wipes all information from your hard drive beyond all but the most sophisticated recovery attempts. We’ve gone into more detail about wiping your hard drive here. (internal link to separate article)
In order to destroy your hard drive, you need to first remove it from your computer. The actual location of the hard drive will depend on whether you’re running a PC or a laptop, as well as the make and model of your device. We recommend looking up these details before removing any screws.
The next step is to remove the drive from its casing, which involves removing as many screws as possible. This can only be done with a very specific type and size of screwdriver, so it may not be possible for everybody. It’s still possible (and less risky) to safely destroy your hard drive without removing the casing or completing the next step.
If you’ve managed to remove the casing, you are now in a position to remove the magnets. These magnets are ridiculously powerful and not particularly safe to play with. You need to unscrew the arms holding them in place. If you’re going to complete this step, you need to take great care both when removing them and disposing of them.
Underneath the magnets, you’ll find the platter. Depending on the capacity of your hard drive, there may be more than one platter mounted on the same spindle. This shiny disk is the hard disk drive itself and the component you need to destroy in order to render the whole thing irrevocably useless.
While destroying the platter is the only way to 100% guarantee that absolutely nobody will be able to access or retrieve your data, there are lots of ways to carry out the actual destruction.
In reality, this doesn’t take as much force as you think. If you have removed the casing and the magnets, using a screwdriver or the claw end of a hammer to scuff and scratch the platter will effectively render it unreadable without physically destroying it.
Other methods available are - without exception - considered dangerous and highly risky, regardless of any experience you might have with tools and safety equipment. We’ve listed the ways you can physically destroy the disk for information purposes but must stress that we do not recommend any of these methods due to potential injury risk.
Drilling: Multiple punctures in the disk with a high-powered drill and appropriate drill bits will prevent any level of reading or recovering the data on the platter. Even with appropriate safety gear and high-quality tools, the risk of injury from a shattering or breaking disk is significant.
Incineration: Burning the hard drive will definitely ensure that your data is gone forever, and quickly, too! Please don’t try this at home. Toxic fumes and chemicals that will be released upon the melting of your hard disk are not ones you want in your lungs or the atmosphere. Don’t even think of doing this with a blow torch.
Smashing: Breaking your hard drive into pieces by hitting it repeatedly with a hammer is as straightforward as it gets. While extra precaution can be taken by wrapping the platter in a fabric bag, this may not be sufficient to protect against injury from sharp or flying pieces.
Crushing: If you happen to have access to a hydraulic press (or a steamroller), you could - in theory- use this to crush your hard disk. We don’t recommend this method for obvious reasons. As with the smashing method, just hitting the hard drive with something heavy will likely result in flying shrapnel and potential injury.
Now that we’ve covered all the ways you could but definitely should not destroy your hard drive at home, we can look at the safe and super easy way of doing it.
Shredding: Again, we categorically discourage attempting this at home, even if you have a power tool for that. There are licensed, reputable organizations that will physically shred (and sometimes incinerate) your hard drive for a fee of around $70. They’ll also be able to provide you with all the proof and legal documentation to show that it was destroyed and not auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Wiping your hard drive is the quickest and easiest way of keeping all your personal information away from anybody who might be interested in it, especially if you’re selling or recycling your computer. However, the only way to absolutely guarantee that your data will be 100% irretrievable is to destroy the platter - the hard disk - itself. Doing this is not technically difficult but it does involve risk of injury to yourself and others. We wholeheartedly do not recommend the “at home” methods described above, for this reason.
The only safe way to completely destroy your hard drive is by taking it to a reputable company that will shred or incinerate it beyond all recognition and provides you with documented evidence of its demise. And don’t forget to back up any information you do want to keep, first.