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How to Destroy a Hard Drive Permanently

Would you ever hand your debit card pin number to a stranger? Jot down your social security number for an acquaintance or email your passwords to everyone on your contact list? 

Most likely not. 

Shredding important documents is vital to keeping your records secure and confidential. The data stored on your computer's hard drive is no different.

This is why it's important to destroy your hard drive before discarding it. This device can hold confidential information from bank account records to tax return information.

So just tossing it in the trash isn't really an option.

But how do you effectively destroy your old hard drive and all the information it contains?

You've probably heard methods like dousing it in water, using magnets or even a hammer. Some of these actually work. And some don't.

Here we'll cover how to destroy a hard drive and do it right!

How Does a Hard Drive Work?

Before we discuss how to destroy a hard drive properly, we must first understand how they work.

Data is stored on hard drives in blocks of 1s and 0s on a platter, which looks like a CD. These platters can be made of aluminum, glass or ceramic. 

The platter is centered on a spindle, where it rotates - very similar to a record player. A head in the hard drive uses electric current to read and write data. Other electronic components help control the whole operation. 

How Does a Hard Drive STOP Working?

Your primary goal when deciding how to destroy a hard drive is figuring out how to stop the platter from spinning. 

Aluminum Platters

These platters are found in more old school devices, like desktop computers. They are also a little harder to destroy. 

Just putting a scratch or crack in the platter isn't enough to permanently erase data. This is because someone can look at the individual blocks on the platter, without rotation, and still recover information.

The best method of how to destroy hard drives with aluminum platters is to drill holes in them. Drilling holes produces heat, which can cause permanent damage. Distorting the aluminum platter enough will make data unretrievable.

Glass & Ceramic Platters

Well, this one seems pretty simple, right? Both glass and ceramic are pretty fragile materials. Just shatter it.

This concept isn't too far off.

Most laptop hard drives have glass or ceramic platters. Often, brute force is enough to shatter these beyond repair. This can be done by simply smashing the hard drive against a hard surface or with a hard object. 

Destroying platters made of these materials gives you a good excuse to grab a hammer and get whacking! Just be sure to wear safety goggles. Tiny fragments could go flying and cause injury.

Once the glass platter is shattered, putting the small pieces together would be unbelievably time consuming and expensive.

How to Destroy a Hard Drive the Right Way

Many people have interesting ideas about how to destroy a hard drive. Some include driving out to a remote location and tossing the hard drive overboard, while others propose microwaving the device.

Let's take a look at what methods work, and which ones are simply urban legends.

Water Damage

Will submerging your hard drive in water erase the data it holds?

The simple answer is no.

Water might cause a short circuit in the electronics of the hard drive, but it won't erase the data from the platters. Water is easily wiped from the hard drive, leaving the information discoverable.

If the water is allowed to dry onto the surface of the device, it could leave a hard-to-clean film on the platters that would make data retrieval more difficult, but not impossible.

Magnets

A common-held belief is that holding ultra strong magnets up to a hard drive causes internal and irreversible damage.

Sorry to disappoint, but this too can be classified as an urban legend of how to destroy a hard drive. 

Most platters are protected by a steel sheathing. After surpassing this obstacle, you would then need and extremely strong magnet to do any damage to the hard drive. A magnet that most don't have hanging on their refrigerator at home.

The strong magnetic fields found in Neodymium magnets are believed to scramble or erase digital data. This may be true for data found on VHS tapes and credit cards, but unfortunately, it doesn't apply to hard drives.

Fire 

Everyone loves a good bonfire. You can most certainly torch your hard drive in hopes of destroying it. 

Fire alone won't necessarily eliminate all the data contained on your hard drive, but intense heat over a period of time will do a pretty effective job of melting the platter.

There are some more, shall we say creative, ways of producing intense heat strong enough to melt your hard drive's platters. Ideas include blow torches and some small, homemade explosives.  

Use caution when attempting any of the above stunts.

Acid

Similar to fire, acid has enough strength to completely melt the platters of your hard drive beyond repair. 

Battery acid will definitely do the job, as will any strong acid.

Wipe Your Hard Drive Clean

It never hurts to be doubly sure that your hard drive is completely void of any important information. So before taking a hammer, blow torch or bottle of acid to your computer, you should manually delete the data from your hard drive.

To erase the data from your hard drive, you can spin the platters. Then, it's suggested, you use the most secure method, which is known as the seven-pass erase. This means that after erasing your hard drive's data, the program writes over the drive another seven times.

This is the same method used by the Department of Defense. 

You are the first line of defense in your own security. How to destroy a hard drive and the vital information it contains is equally as important as how you store the information for 'safe keeping'. 

Be sure to take all the necessary steps to safely, and effectively, discard of your hard drive.

Need help disposing of your important documents or sensitive information? Contact us today