How to permanently delete a file on Windows

Most of the time when we erase files on a computer, we just drag them to the recycle bin or press Delete. And for most files, that’s fine. However, deleting files like that doesn’t actually remove them from your hard drive. All it does is updating the file directory to remove the entry for that file and making the space it occupied available for other files. That means that the file can be recovered using any decent file recovery tool. That might be good news for files you delete accidentally, or later discover you need, but it’s a nightmare for dealing with sensitive data.

Why deleting files securely is important

Securely erasing files on Windows 10 involves more than just removing the file’s entry from the directory. It must be overwritten multiple times until it’s completely unrecoverable. That way, no disk recovery software will be able to get it back and you won’t have to worry about anyone finding anything they shouldn’t. 

If, for example, you run a business and store customer details, when it’s time to remove those details to comply with data protection regulations, you should securely delete them, rather than just dragging the file to the Recycle Bin. Also, if you plan on selling your PC or giving it away, you should securely delete all files that contain personally identifiable information, relating to you or anyone else who’s data you hold. This is very important in order to avoid identity theft.

There are a couple of ways to securely erase files on Windows 10.

Securely delete files with PowerShell

To delete files securely you may use a built-in tool called Cipher, accessible from Windows’ PowerShell command line interface.

1. Right-click on the Start menu and choose Windows PowerShell

2. To securely overwrite everything that has been deleted on your C: drive, type: cipher /w:C:

This won’t impact files and folders on your C: drive that haven’t been deleted, so your data is safe. However, it’s likely that you’ve deleted quite a few files and so there will be a lot to overwrite and this process could take a while. So, to speed it up and only securely erase files from a specific folder that has already been deleted, type the path to the folder after the “C:” For example, if you want to securely erase everything I’d delete from my Documents folder, I’d type:

cipher /w:C:\Users\Kenny\Documents

You should replace “Users\Kenny\Documents” with your username and the name of the folder you want it to apply to. If you’re not sure of the file path of the folder you want to securely erase data from, navigate to it in File Explorer and copy the path from the address bar in the window.

Delete files securely with CleanMyPC

Using a command line interface, even when it’s relatively simple, isn’t for everyone. Some of us would rather not have to deal with typing commands at all and would rather stick to using a comfortable user interface. Fortunately, there is a tool that allows you to securely erase files using a much more user-friendly interface - CleanMyPC. Not only does it allow you to erase files securely, but it has several other features that help you give your PC a clean up. 

If you want to securely delete files with CleanMyPC, you should do the following:

1. Once CleanMyPC has downloaded and installed, launch it

2. Click on Shredder in the left hand sidebar

secure eras files on Windows computer

3. Press Choose Folder if you want to securely erase a folder, and navigate to it; or

4. To erase specific files, select Choose files and navigate to them

5. Once you’ve chosen the files or folders you want to securely delete, make sure they are all checked in the Shredder window

6. To set a specific level of security, press the “Adjust security level” at the bottom right of the window

7. Choose minimum, medium or maximum security – each level increases the number of times files are overwritten, so minimum overwrites them once, medium twice, and maximum three times. While maximum is the most secure, it also takes the longest

delete files on Windows with CleanMyPC

8. Click Erase

The files you selected will now be overwritten. You can also invoke CleanMyPC’s Shredder by right-clicking on any file and choosing “Secure Erase by CleanMyPC” from the shortcut menu or by dragging it to the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.

Securely erasing files is an important part of keeping your data secure and maintaining your privacy. There’s a big difference between dragging files to the Recycle Bin or pressing delete, and erasing them securely. With first method you merely make the space the files occupy available for use, and the files can be easily recovered. The second writes over them multiple times so they can never be used again. CleanMyPC makes it very simple to erase files securely and has multiple other features to make your computer safer and cleaner.

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