Best Free Hard Drive Eraser

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Data Recovery Risk

We've all heard the horror stories about someone buying a used hard drive at a flea market or garage sale and then finding tons of personal data left on the drive by the previous owner.

Or even worse, people getting their credit trashed by ID thieves that make their living by taking that information and using it to wipe you out financially.

"That would never happen to me," you say. "I'll delete all the files first" or "I'll re-format the drive before I trade it in or sell it." Not so fast there Scooter! That data you think you erased is still stored on the drive.

When you delete a file it isn't really removed from the disk. The file content remains on the disk until another file is written over it. Basically the same thing happens when you re-format a hard drive. Most of the data remains; the space on the drive is just made available to be written over.

Recommendations: Dealing with the Risk

To be as safe as possible, you must overwrite/erase/wipe both the slack space and free space. Also, the Windows swap file (a.k.a page file) could contain private data that you wouldn't want to have fall into the wrong hands.

  • For wiping the free space on large hard drives, a single pass of random data should be more than sufficient (NIST Guidelines, CMRR, Wright -- all cited for easy reference at Wikipedia).

    The best policy is to wipe the free space regularly. I find almost nothing after a full free space wipe on a sizable drive. With just a single pass of random data, PC Inspector File Recovery only finds 0 byte nonsense files, or many nonsense files full of useless random data in my testing.

    But on smaller drives eraser programs tend to leave behind more files of random data, and the data may be recoverable to varying degrees depending on the quality of the erasing pattern.

  • Since free space wiping takes so long, you may want to use file shredding in the meantime. For individual files and folders, note that the files can't "hide" as easily with an entire drive of erased random data, and some devices use wear leveling that may interfere with the effectiveness of wiping.

  • Erasing the Page File isn't a normal feature of eraser programs. You can easily set Windows to delete it at shutdown with a registry setting (remember to backup the registry before making changes to it). These programs set the registry for you to automatically delete it at shutdown: Ultimate Windows Tweaker, XP-AntiSpy, or Microsoft Fix It. But you can also encrypt the paging file. You can encrypt it with Ultimate Windows Tweaker, with registry or Local Group Policy changes (see Seven Forums), or from a Command Prompt:

    Encrypt the Page File:
    1. Start a Command Prompt, elevating it in Vista or later
    2. Key in "fsutil behavior set EncryptPagingFile 1" (without quotes)
    3. Restart your computer

  • If you need to erase a drive before getting rid of it, then Darik's Boot and Nuke (DBAN) is designed for wiping an entire drive, but be ready to spend time installing and updating windows from scratch afterward.


EraserEraser allows you to easily add tasks to securely erase selected files and folders, unused disk space (aka free space), cluster tips (aka slack space), and the recycling bin. Eraser can overwrite the data area with your choice of a variety of random data patterns (14 default patterns and a custom pattern creator). It comes with a very detailed built-in help file. And the forum seems quite responsive to questions and problems. It works with any drive (including IDE, SCSI, and RAID), and with FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS partitions.

It was very effective in my testing on a medium size hard drive (with 120+ GB partitions). After it erased the free space with a single pass of random data wiping ("simple pseudorandom data"), PC Inspector File Recovery only found 0 bit nonsense file names (none of which were recoverable). And it produced informative reports for files it could not erase, such as those in use.

If you consult its FAQ Forum section (here), you can also set it to wipe data in the Internet cache, temporary files, Internet cookies, and other custom locations, but CCleaner is easier to use for such cleaning (see below).

In the negative, it was fairly heavy in memory use. It also became heavier over time as I used the windows explorer extension to erase particular files/folders. If it starts to get too heavy, then I suggest deleting the "Task List.ersx" file (it will delete all your existing tasks, though). My task list file got around 200 MBs before I thought to delete it; it's located in your user folder under "AppData" > "Local", but you can just use the search box to find the file. I suggest exporting your existing tasks at an early stage to be able to import them later (in case the program starts to bulge). The new interface received a bit of criticism, but the underlying erasing engine surpasses the competition.


CCleanerCCleaner is a unique and useful file shredder because it cleans a number of places where data can secretly lurk. It will help you scrub data left behind by web browsers and other applications (windows explorer, system temporary files, and excess files created by applications/utilities/windows). These are difficult to find and erase on your own, so CCleaner has advantages over other file shredders. Before it can erase the junk files that it finds, you must set it to erase what it deletes (Options > Settings > "Secure File Deletion").

It wipes the free space of a drive in "Tools" with a "Drive Wiper" (preset with four erasing methods). It also allows you to automatically wipe the free space during its normal cleaning: select "Wipe Free Space" (scroll down in the Windows tab to Advanced) and "Run Cleaner", but you still have to manually check/uncheck the "Wipe Free Space" option (to avoid waiting a lengthy time every time it runs).

Finally, it shreds custom files/folders, but you have to jump through a few hoops by manually selecting the file or folder (Options > Include), setting it to clean "Custom Files and Folders", and clicking Run Cleaner. Alternatively, you could delete files normally to the recycling bin and then have CCleaner erase it later. Other file shredders are much easier to use for erasing custom files/folders.


FileShredderFile Shredder - Despite its name, it has both free space wiping and file shredding capabilities. File Shredder has a small download size, simple interface, and it's very easy to use. It's a lot lighter than Eraser on active memory resources, but higher in CPU usage on my system. It lacks scheduling or a built-in help, and has very limited online help.

It uses a DoD (5220-22.M 3 pass) erase pattern by default, but it has four other patterns to choose from (versus the 14 patterns of Eraser). The default may be way too slow for free space wiping, so you may want to change it to one or two passes. The free space wipe works a little differently than Eraser, leaving behind more temp files of nonsense information (whereas Eraser doesn't usually allow recovery programs to read any bytes as recoverable). But I wasn't able to view anything of use from File Shredder's full wipe leftovers.

Eraser and File Shredder have explorer and context menu extensions, so you can right click on a file and send it to the erasing/shredding programs.


SDeleteSDelete: A command line utility that securely erases using a default DOD 5220.22-M pattern at a specified number of passes. It can erase files/folders, or the free space of a drive. Like other erasers, it doesn't erase file names (instead it renames them 26 times). To quibble, I found it a bit less effective on a 1 pass wipe of free space than others above (some data was recognizable in PC Inspector's hex view, but not much of importance).

Since it has no interface, you have to use old school DOS commands, but you can easily copy and paste over the commands (you may have to use the context menu to paste). After you download it, open a command window (click Start > Run > type "CMD"), and then, for example, enter "sdelete -p 2 -z c:" (without quotes) to wipe the free space of C drive with two passes. See its download site and Bright Hub for guides.


Related Products for Erasing

Recuva: A recovery program that can erase individual files it finds (editor review).

EraserDrop: From Erik Pilsits at and the team behind Eraser, this flexible portable app sits on the desktop to allow for quick drag and drop erasing. It also performs free space wiping. Supports Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7.

UltraShredder: It's small, easy to use, and will work from a USB flash drive. Supports Windows XP/2000/98/98SE.

Darik's Boot and NukeA somewhat different alternative is Darik's Boot and Nuke (DBAN). It's used to construct a floppy disk or CD that will automatically wipe the hard drives of any PC that's booted from the disk. It's great for bulk disk cleaning of PCs, and is also useful as an emergency tool for quickly removing sensitive information. However, the power of this app makes it a dangerous tool in the hands of beginners.

Related Topics and Information

Introduction Continued

When you delete a file it isn't really removed from the disk. The operating system (OS) only removes the reference to the file from the file allocation table. This is like going into a book or magazine and removing a chapter reference from the table of contents. The actual chapter is still in the book. The only thing removed was the page number reference in the table of contents. With the file location reference removed the OS now sees that disk space as being available for use.

The DOS and Windows file systems use groups of disk sectors, known as clusters, to store data. These clusters are of a fixed size which is normally determined by the size and number of partitions of the disk volume itself and the file system being used. If the data you're storing requires less space than a full cluster, the entire cluster is still reserved.

For example, you've saved a file that required 15.5 clusters of drive space. Because the OS can't reserve a half cluster, the allocation table had to reserve 16 whole clusters for the file. That remaining half cluster that was not used may still contain data from a previous file. That unused half cluster is known as "slack space".

Data recovery programs can read slack space and retrieve the data stored there. Even worse, let's say the file system places your 15.5 cluster file over the "unused" area of a deleted file that originally took up 35 clusters. More than half of the previous file would still be retrievable! You could have thousands of clusters on your hard drive (a.k.a free space) that contain data you thought was deleted! Scary thought, huh?

To test this idea, use a data recovery utility (such as Recuva or PC Inspector File Recovery) and see if it recovers any files.

You can also use recovery programs to check whether an erasing program successfully overwrites your data. Some data gets nicely erased down to 0 bytes, some mixes with other random data to create files of nonsense information, some fails to get erased (whether because it's in use or it's in a protected area), and some are more difficult and require free space wiping. Very little of consequence is leftover after free space wiping on modern drives.


Do You Need to Use 35 Passes?

The quick answer is "no." In the epilogue to Peter Gutmann's secure deletion paper, he notes the importance of huge hard drive sizes and the use of perpendicular recording on modern computers. He compares the thinking behind the wide use of his Gutmann 35 pass erase method to the belief in voodoo:

In the time since this paper was published, some people have treated the 35-pass overwrite technique described in it more as a kind of voodoo incantation to banish evil spirits than the result of a technical analysis of drive encoding techniques... It will have no more effect than a simple scrubbing with random data. In fact performing the full 35-pass overwrite is pointless for any drive... If you're using a drive which uses encoding technology X, you only need to perform the passes specific to X, and you never need to perform all 35 passes. For any modern PRML/EPRML drive, a few passes of random scrubbing is the best you can do. As the paper says, "A good scrubbing with random data will do about as well as can be expected". This was true in 1996, and is still true now.

Looking at this from the other point of view, with the ever-increasing data density on disk platters..., it's unlikely that anything can be recovered from any recent drive except perhaps a single level via basic error-canceling techniques. In particular the drives in use at the time that this paper was originally written have mostly fallen out of use, so the methods that applied specifically to the older, lower-density technology don't apply any more. Conversely, with modern high-density drives, even if you've got 10KB of sensitive data on a drive and can't erase it with 100% certainty, the chances of an adversary being able to find the erased traces of that 10KB in 80GB of other erased traces are close to zero.


Why Would Anyone Want to Erase?

  • Identity theft is not pure paranoia. Someone could recover personal information from a computer you just sold or from a stolen computer, or perhaps even from malware. It would be very weird to shred all your paperwork and then treat your computer as a secret lock box. It's probably more likely for someone to recover your data electronically than to come to your house and look through your trash!

If I delete something, I may actually want it deleted. Isn't it silly to throw something in the trash and then not take it out? Sometimes a file you delete will get overwritten, but it's not guaranteed and it may still be partially recoverable. Many file/drive cleaners now include secure erasing features, such as CCleaner, Revo, and most All-in-One cleaners. For these programs, erasing is just a natural extension of deleting files.

I've found erasing very useful in partitioning since the built-in windows tools won't partition unless it detects enough extra free space. After erasing, I was suddenly able to partition my drive the way I wanted.

I've seen some types of software regenerate. I've tried to delete files before and found them risen from the dead right after a restart. But not after erasing! Erasing might even prevent malware from using the same technique, but I'm not sure any exists that could.

Many people like the idea of protecting their privacy. In the US, for example, liberty can only be removed after a due process of law (personal privacy isn't explicitly mentioned in the US Constitution, but it's inferred from the two due process clauses in the 5th/14th Amendments -- that all people have a right to life, liberty, property -- and the 4th Amendment search and seizure protections).

Some organizations are required by law or policy to erase data; however, some of them use more extreme measures!

General Sources and Information

Related Products and Links

Have Your Say
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Quick Selection Guide

Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Works with any drive, including IDE, SCSI and RAID, and CD-RWs. Excellent for scheduling, rich features, and has good help and forum support. Gives informative reports, noting any unerased files/cluster tips.
Heavy on system resources, starts slower than FileShredder, the scheduler is of minimal usefulness for resource conscious users, and some forum posters have criticisms of its new interface.
8.68 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows XP/Vista/Server 2003 & 2008/Windows 7

The portable version is available here.

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Quickly finds private and unneeded data lurking in secret places, portable version available
Installs Yahoo toolbar by default
4.54 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 2000 to 7 and 8 Beta

The portable version and a slim version with no toolbar are available here.

Darik's Boot and Nuke
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Great for bulk disk cleaning and emergencies
Dangerous tool in the hands of beginners
15.5 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
All Windows/Linux/Mac version
File Shredder
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Small, easy to use, free space wiping and enough features to increase effectiveness.
Not as comprehensive, no scheduling, very little help.
2.33 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
WIndows NT, 2000, XP, 2003 Server, Vista
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Light on resources. Created by Mark Russinovich.
No interface. Its erase pattern has not improved since 2006 and its not quite as good as the other products.
84 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Supports XP and higher, or Server 2003 and higher


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eraser, secure erase utility, data erase, erase/wipe hard drive, erase sensitive data, secure delete, erase deleted files, securely erase data, eraser review, eraser 6, Darik's Boot and Nuke, File Shredder, CCleaner, SDelete

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by admrich on 13. March 2012 - 20:40  (90336)

No answer still?
I was waiting to see if anyone else had an answer.
I don't have any access at all to any systems with this setup at all, we updated all our similar systems to Win 7 x64 late-ish last year.

by pc (not verified) on 7. February 2012 - 11:50  (88446)

Not sure if anyone reads this thread anymore as the last date was 2008 - but basically I want to sell my old PC and need to delete all (already deleted) files. I have rebooted from recovery discs so all that is on PC is operating system - I have also used CCleaner (3 passes), will this suffice or can files still be recovered? Thanks

by admrich on 8. February 2012 - 10:25  (88490)

Can you please clarify exactly what the 3 passes with CCleaner were?
Was that the Free Space Advanced Overwrite.
That should certainly clean away all old data.


by hangdawg on 12. January 2012 - 6:59  (87061)

can you take a look at

i found this after trying eraser but eraser after wiping a file added in its tasks

why would it add to the task list after it wiped the file thanks

by Gaz666 (not verified) on 29. April 2012 - 9:54  (92753)

I'm no expert, but I have installed just about everything out there under the "secure erase" category and not just the ones listed on here. I have uninstalled them all because they just don't meet exactly what I'm looking for.

Tried Hardwipe as you suggested and "Bingo" ...... this is the one for me!
It integrates well into the right click menu and you can control the entire program from right click also.
It has a simple, yet easily tweakable interface and you can set from "1 pass erase" (either zeros or random) right up to a 35 "Gutmann" pass.

A big thumbs up from me hangdawg! ;-)

by admrich on 6. February 2012 - 10:33  (88391)

Hi hangdawg,

I'm taking a peek at this now.
Has anyone else seen & used this at all & able to provide further comments.
Hangdawg I'm not sure I understand your comment/query regards Eraser => "eraser after wiping a file added in its tasks
why would it add to the task list after it wiped the file"
Are you able to detail what you did, how you actually did it so that we can try to understand the result & your query please.



by hangdawg on 8. February 2012 - 16:20  (88515)

hi admrich after wiping a file with eraser it shows in the erase schedule

i erased a test file you can see how it has been added to erase schedule

thanks for taking a look at hardwipe

by Misty27 on 29. January 2013 - 23:50  (104950)

This is a bug I reported, that was supposedly fixed (at least in 6.1.x nightlies), but isn't fixed for me.
It still occurs, but on a random basis - for me. Currently, using v6.1.0.2804.

Under certain circumstances, this could be a security / privacy issue.

by admrich on 11. February 2012 - 11:07  (88671)

I'm uncertain why, but as you can see it does say "Tasks executed manually" & Next Run "Not queued"
It seems that everything it does happens via its Schedule, including manual tasks & these remain logged as it seems in the Schedule.

by hangdawg on 11. February 2012 - 17:49  (88687)

yes and you have to right click on erasers icon and manually delete the entry and also after wiping the file it remains running in the notification area and have to right click erasers icon to exist seems like alot to go through thats why i asked you to look at hardwipe it shows the progress of the file wiping and then click close and it exists for me its easier to use than eraser i just dont know how well it erases files or how well it cleans free space thanks

by admrich on 2. March 2012 - 4:24  (89790)

Hi hangdawg

Just a query, are you using the default Eraser settings?

Please check =>

Scheduler settings

& can you indicate if =>

Automatically remove tasks which run immediately and completed successfully

is ticked/checked at all ??

by hangdawg on 7. March 2012 - 5:21  (90039)

hi admrich i downloaded and installed the newest version of eraser Eraser

thats what ive always tried the version you have listed is i installed to verify it i didnt see the options you mentioned but now it shows in task manager as running but no notification icon the version ive always used is listed under stable builds im going to stick with hardwipe i havent had any problems so far with it eraser just seems to buggy for me but thanks for trying

by bestchoice (not verified) on 20. April 2011 - 16:00  (70609)

I tried ccleaner but it doesn't work,but i tried another software and it is free,but i don't know why you didn't list it.
It is Disk Wipe and its ltest version is v1.5 i think it is the best because of:-
1) software size is small about 1.04M
2) It is very fast and light
3) Its portable
4) It works on windows 7
5) It has a lot of erase algorithms.

[Moderators comment] Please read the site rules before posting and do NOT link directly to download files

by Rizar on 21. May 2011 - 7:53  (72429)

CCleaner doesn't allow its built-in full "nuke" to be used on the boot drive. (It's only possible to nuke non-boot drives; if anyone doesn't know, you can do this with the Drive Wiper tool by selecting to wipe an entire drive.)

See here:

by JEfromCanada (not verified) on 20. May 2011 - 16:04  (72400)

Diskwipe is in the same category at DBAN - it erases an entire partition (not just free space).

by peg (not verified) on 18. April 2011 - 19:09  (70481)

Re: Eraser 6x (latest stable releases) & several latest beta builds. When Eraser 5 was current, it was probably one of best free wiping programs. Now, v6 is below avg in some areas, IMO.

I've used Eraser since 4.x versions. The v5 platform may have had problems w/ later OSs, but in terms of options & user friendliness, I consider v6.0.x a step back from later 5.x versions. I considered it so bad, I went back to 5.8x for a while.

6.0 lost so much ability to schedule or carry out tasks easily, from v5.x., I consider 6.0 a shell of former 5.x version, IMHO. Some features, options & UI ability of 5.x have been put back in later 6.1.x betas. It may HAVE some features other apps don't - they just don't work consistently.

Later after many 6.1 builds, I started testing several. It's been since Jan 2011 since any new builds, even though stated in their beta forum should see about 1 beta release / wk. Development is stalled because there's only one developer. I've used the latest beta 2284 for several mos, & it crashes for many, many reasons - regularly.

I read the crash logs & often reasons given are ridiculous (that it would actually crash for stated reason). I don't consider it anywhere near beta level, nor alpha. I truly hope it improves, but doesn't appear will happen soon. After the former developer stopped maintaining it (somewhere in v5), there was immediate change in it's quality, IMO.

by Teetime (not verified) on 1. February 2011 - 1:02  (65597)

How do I wipe the Windows Virtual Memory Cache/Paging File in Vista? Thanks

by Rizar on 21. May 2011 - 6:05  (72421)

You can set Vista to clear the paging file at shutdown. Many programs can do this for you or you can set it via a registry change.

These three programs can tweak it for you:

Ultimate Windows Tweaker
XP-AntiSpy (Comes with LiberKey, and says it supports Vista/7)
Microsoft Fix It #50463 (

Like the comment below says, it's just a registry change and isn't a secure erase method.

by Gerardo (not verified) on 18. April 2011 - 21:56  (70495)

Can someone answer this inquiry please?

by peg (not verified) on 18. April 2011 - 19:23  (70483)

Only way I know is to make changes in registry that will cause Windows (at least XP / Vista) to over write the paging file w/ single pass of (1's or 0's ??). It takes place at Windows shut down, which increases shutdown time. It's not a HIGHLY secure wiping method. You can easily find the registry key to alter by searching the web. BE CAREFUL making registry changes - back up the entries being altered or the whole registry.

Eraser 5x used to have an option to erase it, but it really was just making the changes in registry as described. Eraser 6 has removed this option. Maybe other apps still have it.

One other way is to move the paging file to it's own dedicated partition. Then thru windows security settings, turn off the paging file for the partition & reboot. Then wipe free space on that partition. Turn paging file back on. This isn't a user friendly way, but about only way I know to truly wipe paging file securely.

by Panzer (not verified) on 23. January 2011 - 19:07  (65076)

EraserDrop Portable:

by knine on 19. January 2011 - 19:21  (64864)

I found eraser to be different from ccleaner and the gui was a bit boring, but it did have some great erasing features. also had problems wiping a drive without any errors. a bit frustrating. dont know whether this is a problem with the drive or the software.

at first it didn't work, kept crashing itself. couldnt really find anything.
finally found the problem, it was the version.
uninstalled it and installed the latest under Build version 2. this is not the stable version but for me more stable than the stable

by Anony (not verified) on 29. October 2010 - 22:48  (60445)

CCleaner 3 adds an additional Drive Wiper to avoid some of the hoops to go through, but its old wipe method is still included.

by bibzgi on 27. September 2010 - 22:36  (58542)

This article by The Bat is comprehensive and very well written.

IMO, secure erasing is one of the fundamentals of computer security just as important as a good firewall, a good anti-virus program, good encryption, and good cleanup programs.

Many people who otherwise use good security measures are unaware about the free space and page file security risks.

Most of my free space doesn't especially require erasing because it's in encrypted and password protected files that open up into virtual drives with TrueCrypt software. See:

I got into the habit of securely erasing instead of deleting unneeded files with Eraser or File Shredder. It's a quick right click menu option!

by sh4rkbyt3 (not verified) on 14. October 2010 - 22:10  (59542)

Not sure how old this post is but TruCrypt is now crackable as proven by a POC document written around Feb-Mar 2010.

by justsaying (not verified) on 22. December 2010 - 14:39  (63083)

TrueCrypt has not been cracked as far as I know.

A team of encryption experts found what they think are vulnerabilities in old versions of TrueCrypt v5.1, where the existence of an encrypted volume may be detected. Even if someone detected the existence of an encrypted volume, they would still have to decrypt it. Even the FBI couldn't manage to do that this year, when asked by the Brazilian authorities (after their own experts failed failed) to crack the hard drives of a banker under investigation.

by Walker (not verified) on 14. July 2010 - 20:13  (54291)

There are two corrupt Word files on my wife's laptop (Windows 7) which I can't get rid of and I would appreciate suggestions. I've tried Eraser, the Glary shredder, other shredders, an unlock program, a program which was supposed to change names. Nothing worked.

by Anonymousioioi (not verified) on 9. August 2010 - 6:56  (55670)

Use a Free program called 'Unlocker':

You can find it:

by desigar (not verified) on 15. January 2011 - 3:53  (64581)

Link forbidden

by Anupam on 15. January 2011 - 6:15  (64586)

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