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Getting Rid of an Old Hard Drive

Sylvia from New York, NY writes “I wanted to get rid of an old Dell computer with Windows XP, but not with the hard drive in it. I was able to remove the hard drive and put it in the sink with hot water for abt 20 minutes. Then with a screw driver I pulled it apart and let the water run inside. I then put it in a plastic bag and tied it up tight and threw it in a basket on the street. Do you agree that I got rid of what was on my hard drive?”

Hi, Sylvia.  Thanks for the great question.

I think that you forgot running a jackhammer on it, giving it to a rabid pit bull and dropping a hydrogen bomb on it.

All kidding aside, no, I don’t think that you destroyed the data on the plates. 

The plates are designed to be tough and to survive a fair amount of abuse.  Simply disassembling it and giving it a bath is probably not enough.  I’ve actually seen data retrieved from hard drives that have been subjected to much harder abuse than that, such as being beaten with a hammer.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that you really don’t have to resort to such extreme measures to eliminate the data on an old hard drive.  When you delete something from a hard drive, it’s not really gone until you write over it.  Your computer simply marks it as data that CAN be overwritten. 

Using a program such as Diskwipe or Fileshredder will actually overwrite every bit of data on your disc.  Multiple times.  For instance, the US Air Force, which is one of the algorithms used by Discwipe, overwrites your entire disc three times with either ones or zeroes.  Really, overwriting is the only way to insure that your data is safe.  

Also, throwing your disc drive into a trash bag on the street is not a recommended disposal method once you remove the data.  The disc drive contains heavy metals such as mercury, which leach into our groundwater when they’re disposed of in a landfill.  So please… in the future when you dispose of a hard drive, find out which of your local retailers offers safe disposal of electronics like this.

Hope that this helps!

Randal Schaffer