Erasing old devices and computers can be expensive, even if you’re only trying to delete a small number of files. However, most of what can be accomplished by erasure software can actually be done with a little bit of research and elbow grease. If you’re looking for the most cost-effective way to erase sensitive data from your hard drive, doing it yourself is the way to go.

Keep in mind that these methods should not be used by companies that are required to comply with data destruction standards, particularly those handling sensitive information from clients and employees. These DIY techniques are best used by individuals looking to recycle or resell private devices. If any sensitive data whatsoever was stored on your computer, you should always opt for irreversible techniques.

Level One: File Erasure

The simplest, easiest way to destroy data on your hard drive is to erase the files. Although this method doesn’t guarantee that your files will be unrecoverable, it does reduce the risk of an average user stumbling across your information. This method should only be used if you’re simply selling or throwing away an old household computer, or a similar situation in which sensitive information is not at risk.

For Windows users, follow these steps to remove files from your hard drive:

  • Right click on the file and select “Delete.” To delete more than one file, hold down the Shift key and select the first and last file you’d like to delete. You can also drag files into the Recycle Bin.
  • On Windows 7, you can permanently delete the file by navigating to the Recycle Bin and clicking “Empty the Recycle Bin.” For Windows 8 users, select “Manage” under Recycle Bin Tools, and then “Empty the Recycle Bin.”
  • You can permanently delete the file without having to go to the Recycle Bin by selecting the file and pressing Shift + Delete.

There are also a variety of free programs you can use to securely delete your files, including Eraser and DP Shredder. While there is no built-in way to accomplish it, these free programs can enable you to effectively protect your data without spending too much time or money in the process.

If you’re operating on a Mac OS X, this can be done securely by following these steps:

  • Drag the files you’d like to delete to the Trash icon at the end of the Dock.
  • Open the Trash and select Finder in the upper left-hand corner.
  • Select “Empty Trash” and then “OK” when the dialog box appears.
  • To securely empty your trash, select “Secure Empty Trash” and then “OK” when the dialog box appears.

The “Empty Trash” and “Secure Empty Trash” use different security protocols to delete data. “Empty Trash” uses a “Zero Out Data” protocol, while “Secure Empty Trash” uses the “7-Pass Erase” method. The first option erases files and writes over the open space. It only passes over the unused disk space once, so this is the quickest but least secure option. Your second option writes over the disk space seven times and is a highly efficient way of securely erasing your data. These options significantly reduce the risk of the files being recovered, but they don’t eliminate the possibility altogether.

Level Two: Disk Erasure

Sometimes, simply erasing the files stored on your hard drive isn’t enough. If you’d like a little more security, you can completely (and permanently) wipe your hard drive.

For Windows users, complete disk erasure involves the use of a third-party software that can not only go through your hard drive and delete all information, but it can also overwrite the drive and make it impossible for anyone to recover your data.

A list of free programs include:

  • DBAN
  • CBL Data Shredder
  • ErAce
  • HDShredder (Free Edition)
  • HDDErase

There are a variety of other programs available that can perform the job efficiently without costing you an arm and a leg. Once you’ve installed the program, simply follow its prompts and instructions to permanently delete your entire hard drive.

If you use a Mac, you can use Disk Utility to erase the disk. Follow these steps to erase your hard drive using Disk Utility:

  • Restart your computer, and hold Command + R as it restarts.
  • Select “Disk Utility.”
  • Choose your disk on the left-hand side, and then select the “Erase” tab.
  • Under Format, select “Mac OS Extended,” type the name of the disk, and then click “Erase.”

After erasing the disk, you’ll need to reinstall Mac OS X, but your files will no longer be stored anywhere on the computer.

Level Three: Disk Destruction

Sometimes data is just too important to risk falling into the wrong hands. If that’s the case, you might want to take extreme measures when it comes to protecting your information. You have a few options when it comes to complete drive destruction:

  • Drill holes through the platter.
  • Sand or scuff the surface of the platter until it’s completely dull.
  • Burn/crush/smash/melt/shred the hard drive.

In order to access the hard drive, follow these steps:

  • Open the computer case and locate the hard drive. Consult your computer’s manual if you have a hard time finding it.
  • Open the hard drive casing and remove the magnets to expose the platter.

The platter is what you need to destroy, so once it’s exposed, you can use your chosen method to render the hard drive permanently unusable.

These methods will help you protect your information without having to use a professional service or costly software in the process. Whether you’re comfortable with a simple wipe or you’d like to destroy the hard drive all together, you have the ability yo perform DIY data destruction.