Ask LH: What’s The Best Way To Destroy A Hard Drive?

Ask LH: What’s The Best Way To Destroy A Hard Drive?

Dear Lifehacker, What’s the best way to dispose of a used hard drive? I’ve knocked a hole through using a crowbar and hammer near the spindle and through the circuit board. Is that sufficient to prevent any data recovery? Is there an easier way to destroy the hard drive? Thanks, Kade

Dear Kade,

Erasing hard drives is markedly easier when you’re not planning to reuse or donate them as you can add physical destruction to the mix. With that said, it’s still a good idea to wipe or repeatedly overwrite your sensitive data first, just to be on the safe side.

Your best bet is to open the hard drive casing with a screw driver and severely fragment the platters. These are thin, circular components made of glass or alloy that store your data. Forget the spindle and circuit board — the platters should be the main thing on your kill list.

As we’ve said in the past, the only limit to how inoperable your disk will become is the amount of time you want to invest in destroying it: you can nuke the platters with a power drill and/or blow torch or just go to town with a hammer and scissors. Alternatively, toss the platters into a fire and watch ’em melt. (Note: be sure to do this outdoors to avoid dangerous fumes.)

If you follow the above tips, it will be next to impossible for anyone to recover your data. But for extra peace of mind, you might want to dispose of the pieces separately — better safe than sorry.

TL;DR version: securely delete your files via a total disk wipe, then go “Hulk smash” on the physical platters. You can find more detailed instructions here, here, here and here.

If any readers have a favourite method of disposing of unwanted HDDs that’s not mentioned above, let Kade know in the comments!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Drill press, multiple times.
    i imagine a microwave for the platters would be pretty good too – but it would have to be one you no longer use for food.

  • When my dad passed away, we multipass reformatted, stuck a powerful magnet on em, hulk smashed em, then stuck the bits in a Magic Bullet. What was left was sprinkled in the garden.

    If that didnt destroy them, nothing will.

    And before anyone comments, it was a) a lot of fun for us, and b) cathartic to do so. They were all tiny drives not fit for any real purpose either (biggest was well under 100 gig), so we couldnt even recycle into old PC’s.

  • We drop ours off for secure destruction in a massive shredder. The drives actually explode in a ball of flame and smoke as they go through. Endless fun.

  • Every-so-often we have bonfires and just throw the platters into it. I doubt anything survives that.

  • Also, for an entertaining take on this, watch Zoz Brooks’ DEF CON 23 talk on youtube “And That’s How I Lost My Other Eye…Explorations in Data Destruction”

  • A big multinational company I know has a standard which says hard drives and other memory devices are to be shredded to 3mm or less. For home the simplest is drill a hole straight through the platters. For total obliteration dismantle and sand the surface off the platters with a belt sander or flap disc in a grinder. You arent that special though, drill a hole and bin it.

  • Erase drive multiple times
    Dismantle drive.
    Remove platters and strong magnets.
    Rub magnets all over platters

    Recycle platters in crafty purpose

    Magnets are great and extremely strong qatxh your fingers

  • If you haven’t already physically damaged the drive then you can save yourself a whole heap of trouble by just using DBAN.

  • After a successful sector wipe, my sledge hammer comes out to play.

    Great way to ‘destress’ and I have comfort knowing that nothing will be recovered from it.

  • My best ways of destroying it:
    wipe them with wipe tools, then put a drill through the platters.
    If you have kids, give them the platters, a hammer and enjoy the peace and quie… peace for a few minutes, while they hammer them flat(ter).
    Another good one: Remove the magnets (best frigging fridge magnets ever), remove the platters and you have some awesome coasters. Yes, they will get finger prints and scratches – who cares. One of my coasters is/was/used to be some data disk. Everyone asks me where I got it from – just an old hard disk. No one needs to know the true origin of it.

    • Second using the platters as drinks coasters. They have a great deco look. Especially those from 2.5 inch drives.

      Though I’ve found not all HDDs can be dismantled for this. On some the platters seem to be fused onto the spindle.

  • as @cryptonemesis said, DBAN ( then take it apart. As soon as the seal is broken only data recover experts with a clean room could recover your data. To be sure of it. put the platters in the microwave

  • One wonders why this guy feels that it’s absolutely critical that no one can find out what was on that hard drive…

  • Drop saw, through the platters and the centre spindle. Heats the disks, generates lots of metallic dust, scratches platters, makes them VERY hard to align again.

    If you want more extreme than that, consider sticking a shirtload of sprinklers in & around the platters. Light them up and you’ll be bordering on a thermite reaction (aluminium mixing with steel). Do this outdoors, in an isolated area.

  • Open the drive casing using a screw driver. Some screws might be hidden behind labels.

    Remove spindle shaft etc to get access to platters.

    Remove the platters.

    Rub a high strength magnet all over the platter. You can use one of fth magnets in the drive it self.

    Use it for craft work or destroy by finding a brick or concrete surface and rub the platter until the surface on both sides is dull and scratched.

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