Updated April 2014
Data destruction software, sometimes called data sanitization software, disk wipe software, or hard drive eraser software, is a software-based method of completely erasing the data from a hard drive.
Data destruction software is just one of several ways to completely erase a hard drive.
When you delete files and then empty the Recycle Bin, you don't actually erase the information, you just delete the reference to it so the operating system can't find it. All the data is still there and, unless it's overwritten, can be easily recovered using file recovery software.
Data destruction software, however, truly does erase the data. Each data destruction program utilizes one or more data sanitization methods that can permanently overwrite the information on the drive.
If you need to remove all traces of a virus or you're planning on recycling or disposing of your hard drive, wiping your hard drive using data destruction software is the best way to protect yourself.
Below is a list of the best, completely free data destruction software programs available today:
Darik's Boot And Nuke, usually referred to as DBAN, is the best free data destruction software available.
DBAN is freely available in a ready-to-go ISO format so all you need to do is burn it to a CD and boot to it. The DBAN program's menu interface is also very easy to use.
DBAN is an open source project.
Eraser works much like Freeraser listed above in that it is best used to permanently erase individual files and folders. Eraser isn't quite as easy to use as Freeraser but it's still a very well designed data destruction program.
As far as advanced options go, Eraser wins the data destruction competition hands down. With Eraser, you can schedule data destruction with all the precision you'd expect with any scheduling tool.
Eraser works in Windows 7, Vista, and XP. Eraser also works on Windows Server 2008 R2, 2008, and 2003.
Important: Because Eraser runs from within Windows, you can not use the program to erase the drive that Windows runs on, usually C. Use a bootable data destruction software program from this list or see How To Format C for other options.
Freeraser, very much unlike some of the other programs on this list, is a full-fledged Windows application, complete with a setup wizard and Start Menu icons. Freeraser doesn't wipe an entire drive like DBAN, HDDErase, and others do but it should be the program of choice if you want to completely erase individual files and folders from Windows.
I like Freeraser so much because it's incredibly easy to use. Freeraser places a Recycle Bin-like icon on your desktop that you can use like a shredder. Just drag a file or group of files to the bin and they'll be forever erased from your computer.
Important: Because Freeraser runs from within Windows, you can't use the software to erase the C drive, assuming that's the drive you have Windows installed on. If you want to completely erase the C drive, you'll have to use a bootable data destruction software program from this list. See How To Format C for other options as well.
Disk Scrubber is a data wiper program that runs in Windows 8, 7, Vista, and XP. Disk Scrubber can remove individual files and folders or wipe an entire drive.
There are two sections to Disk Scrubber. You can scrub an entire disk drive or add files and folders for removal. Either method can use any of the above sanitization methods.
Data Sanitization Methods: Write Zero
Since all Windows 7 and Windows Vista users already have the format command at their disposal, this is a quick and effective data destruction method. Granted, you won't be able to satisfy some stringent data sanitization standards, but if that's not a concern then this option is perfect.
Note: The instructions I link to here explain how to use the format command either as a data destruction tool from a bootable disc, enabling you to completely erase the primary drive, or as a way to erase any other drive from Command Prompt from within Windows.
Important: The format command included with Windows XP and prior operating systems does not support this option. However, there is a way to use this method on a computer with Windows XP if you have access to another computer with Windows 7.
Complete Data Wipe is a great alternative to the other non-bootable data destruction programs in this list.
Complete Data Wipe works by creating tasks that run certain operations. For example, you’d make a new task that cleans unused disk space, files, folders, or entire drives. You can then choose to restart or shutdown when the task is complete.
Note: During setup, Complete Data Wipe asks to install other programs. You can easily decline these offers by clicking the “Decline” button.
7. Disk Wipe
Disk Wipe is a completely portable data destruction tool that you run from within Windows.
Disk Wipe is really easy to use because it walks you through a wizard to perform the data wipe. You must erase the entire drive with Disk Wipe – you can’t remove just certain files and folders like some other programs in this list. This also means that it can't be used to erase the drive you have Windows running on.
Disk Wipe works in said to work only in Windows Vista and XP, but I tested it in Windows 8 without any issues.
Hardwipe is another data destruction program that runs from inside Windows. You can clean free space, remove just files and folders, or even wipe an entire drive, so long as it's not your primary drive.
Hardwipe is easy for anyone to use. Just load up a folder or file and choose a data sanitization method that should be used.
A small advertisement is always displayed in the program, but it’s not too intrusive.
Hardwipe works with all the most recent versions of Windows, from Windows XP to Windows 8. You can also grab a portable edition of Hardwipe from the download page.
Secure Eraser is a software suite that serves not only as a registry cleaner but also as a data destruction tool. You can remove free space, files, folders, partitions, or entire drives with Secure Eraser.
After selecting what should be wiped, using Secure Eraser is as simple as choosing one of the sanitization methods and then clicking “Start deletion.”
10. PC Shredder
PC Shredder is a portable data wipe program that runs like any other software in Windows. You can destroy whole folders and drives, or just individual files.
I like that PC Shredder is portable and has a simple interface. It doesn’t seem apparent that you can wipe an entire disk, but if you choose “Add Folder,” you can simply select a disk and it will erase everything that’s on it.
PC Shredder is said to work in only Windows Vista and XP, but I used it in Windows 8 and didn’t find any problems.