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How to Destroy a Hard Drive

written by: Lucinda Watrous•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 8/28/2009

When you get a new hard drive, chances are you want to make sure that your data and other information is not accessible to anyone else, but what if you want to go one step beyond formatting the hard drive, to destroy it? What's the best way to do that? Find out how to destroy a hard drive here.

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    Destroying a hard drive is the best way to ensure that your data never gets into the wrong hands. Even though a format should erase all the information, there are some instances where a hard drive will fail and not allow you to format it before you dispose of it. There are several different ways to destroy a hard drive, and this article will walk you through some of them . . . Beware, some of them may actually be fun!

    We’ll also be covering some accidental and unintentional ways you can destroy your hard drive, and point you to where you can get some help with data recovery, should you need it.

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    Destroying your Hard Drive on Purpose

    Smash it with a hammer and use a hacksaw. You probably think I’m kidding don’t you? Well, I’m not. There’s no way a hard drive that is in tiny pieces will ever be salvaged—to use for data recovery, anyway—so you will certainly be safe. Take out your aggressions, but be sure that you are wearing the appropriate safety equipment as pieces will go flying!

    Use a really big magnet to demagnetize your hard drive. Gather some magnets (it may take a bit to get enough of them to make one powerful enough to destroy it) and pass the drive over the magnets repeatedly. Move the magnets around to be sure you get enough exposure. The hard drive will be intact, minus the data or the ability to recover the data.

    Grind it to dust. Using a vice, clamp the drive to a place where you know it is sturdy and will not move. Take a grinder and have fun turning your hard drive into a pile of dust. You’ll never have to worry about any data being recovered then!

    Burn it with acid. Make sure that you have all the required safety equipment including safety glasses, and gloves that are acid resistant. I also suggest that you wear a suit over your clothing. In a large container, pour enough acid into the container so that when you lower the drive into it, it does not splash over the sides. Attach a wire to the drive so that you can lower the drive into the acid without touching it. Leave it sitting long enough to work its way in, and if you want to really watch it go, expose the acid to sunlight. Remember though, this will cause the acid to bubble up so you need to make sure that you are really well prepared for the reaction.

    Burn it with Thermite. This is a chemical used by the military that burns at around 3000 degrees Fahrenheit, so it may not be easy to get your hands on. If you do manage it, place the hard drive in sand away from other flammable materials, put a few pounds of Thermite on top, ignite it, and watch it burn. After it has burned long enough to amuse you and assimilate your drive, make sure the fire is completely out. Be sure to practice the appropriate safety behaviors so that you do not burn yourself.

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    Destroying your Hard Drive Unintentionally

    Drop your computer. This is easier said than done with a desktop, but with a laptop is a strong possibility. Be careful, because you could trip over a cable and cause the laptop to come falling down onto the floor with a loud crash, and your drive could be a bit confused or dead.

    Drop the drive while installing or uninstalling it. Without the protection of the computer casing, you run a higher risk of destroying your drive if you drop it. Speaking from experience, it does not mean it's done with, but you will could possibly have a few issues.

    Install or Uninstall the drive without discharging static electricity. There's a reason they tell you to touch the metal casing of your computer or use an anti-static bracelet (runs about $3-$5 at an electronics store) when you are handling your drive. The static electricity could render your drive useless before you even use it.

    Downloading some malware. Not all malware will render your drive useless, though some can take over and erase your files for you. The longer the malware stays there or the more serious the malware is, you could end up needing a new drive.

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