How To Permanently Delete Files – The Quick, Dirty, And Correct Way


By John Cao

You may or may not know that when you drag items to the trash on your computer, they aren’t permanently deleted. Just watch an episode of your favorite CSI show, and you’ll see that its possible to recover files that haven’t been deleted properly.

And while I’m sure you’re not guilty of any CSI type crimes (or are you???), I’m sure you want to figure out how to permanently delete your files and keep your private things private — after all everyone has to have some secrets!

Why emptying your recycling bin doesn’t permanently delete your files

When you tell your computer to empty its recycling bin, your operating system only deletes the records it has of the files you want to delete. Yet the files still remain on the hard drive memory.

Here’s an analogy: If you think of your files as books in a library and you decide you no longer have use for a certain book.

Emptying the trash is equivalent to removing the entry in the library’s card catalog. The book is still there but not easily found by everyday visitors. But if someone really wanted to find it, and had a clue where to look,

they quite possibly do so since it is still physically there.

What it means to permanently delete a file

To permanently delete a file, you need to not only delete its record, but also overwrite the physical portion of the hard drive where it lives. A low level format is equivalent to replacing your private file with random bits (1’s and 0’s). Continuing with the library analogy you need to remove remove the book, shred it, light up in flames and possibly replace it with a different book

A simple way to permanently delete?

According to Microsoft, there is a keyboard shortcut in Windows to, quote, “permanently delete files”. You do this by selecting your file and hitting SHIFT+DEL. Convinced? Neither am I. What they’re really explaining is a shortcut from having to move the item to the trash and then emptying the trash.

Take it a step further

Here’s a poor man’s version of permanent deletion. Delete your files, empty your recycle bin, and run Disk Defragmenter located in the Start menu under Accessories/System Tools. What this will do is optimize your hard drive by rearranging (most) of your files, and in doing so will most likely overwrite the files you want permanently deleted. Nice!

Do it right and do it better

While performing a defragmentation will probably do the trick, it’s really not a viable solution. Waiting for disk defragmentation is not something I’d do every time I wanted to do a permanent deletion. The defragmentation process is waaaaay too long. The right way to how to permanently and quickly delete files is to use a program specifically designed for that purpose. You’re in luck too because most Windows operating systems have a command line tool called CIPHER to do the trick!

Here’s how to use CIPHER:

1. After closing all windows, open up a command window.

2. Type the following: cipher /w:driveletter:\foldername where driveletter and foldername correspond to the drive a location of where your deleted file used to live.

3. Sit back and enjoy your freedom and privacy while your file is truly permanently deleted!

Here’s an example:

I have a picture I want permanently deleted which stored on my computer at the following location:


After deleting this picture and emptying the recycle bin, I would type the following (in a command prompt) to ensure that I can still run for senator (as long as they don’t catch me in the airport bathroom):

C:>cipher /w:C:\images

I can then move on to my life of privacy and carefree surfing!

You can do better!

Although I’m comfortable working with the command prompt, you may not be. No worries, there are plenty of other graphical based software tools that perform true permanent file deletion. []This article gives even more compelling reasons to delete personal files and refers a graphical based deletion tool called Evidence Nuke.

John Cao is a full-time software engineer that specializes in high performance computing. While spending most of his waking hours in front of a computer, John helps others enhance their computer experience by recommending the latest software, hacks, and shortcuts.

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