10 Free Tools to Permanently Delete Files and Prevent Data Recovery

In Windows, if you delete an important file, even from the Recycle bin, it’s still entirely possible to recover that file as long as it doesn’t get overwritten between its deletion and your attempt at recovery. That’s because the file is never truly deleted and Windows is just told that the space the file occupies is available to write over when needed. In this case, a free tool that you can use to recover data is all that’s required. But this is obviously not good if you want to permanently delete a personal or private file because anyone could just try to recover it.

Once a deleted file has been overwritten by something else, it’s very difficult to recover and more professional methods would be needed to get any readable data back. There are various ways to overwrite deleted files; If you sell/give your drive to somebody else, it needs to be completely wiped so nothing is left on it that can be recovered at all by the new owner. You can also erase the deleted data off a currently used drive by wiping all its free space, which overwrites all old deleted files.

Then there’s the method we’re talking about here which is to completely overwrite and wipe the file or folder as you go. This method is the quickest and most secure as the files are erased immediately and not left in a recoverable state until the next time you decide to wipe the drive’s free space, which could take a long time depending on its size. Here are 10 free tools which can securely erase or “shred” your files making them unrecoverable. This is something which should be used with care as once the file is gone, you won’t be able to get it back even with recovery software. All tools were tested in Windows 7 64-bit but should also be XP, Vista, 8/8.1 compatible.

1. WipeFile

wiping files and folders with wipefile

WipeFile is a portable only program so is also useful for your USB toolkit. It supports 14 different erasing methods ranging from a quick 1 pass zero fill up to a full 35 pass Gutmann erase. Individual files or whole folders can be added to the program, something that is very useful is an editable file mask for folders so you can filter what gets erased by file extension. The default of *.* will delete all files in the folder, whereas a mask of *.doc will only shred the Word documents and leave all other files. WipeFile is multilingual with 18 languages supported and in Settings you can create a context menu or Send To menu entry to send files to the program via right click. A few options such as a user defined erase string and logging are only for the Pro version which requires a donation.

Download WipeFile

2. HardWipe

hardwipe file erasing

There’s quite a lot to like about HardWipe because it has several different types of erasing on offer, such as wiping Recycle bin contents on selected drives, wiping a drive’s free space, wiping a drive or volume completely or shredding files and folders. There’s also a portable version as well as a setup installer version, the latter is needed to use the right click context menus. Sadly an annoyance in the program is the inclusion of advertisements inside its main window unless you upgrade for $8.99. There are 6 wiping algorithms to choose from (1 pass up to 35 pass) and an option to rename the files up to 10 times to lessen the chance of recovering the filename. A speed mode can help system responsiveness on long operations and the system can be auto powered off after a wiping operation has completed.

Download HardWipe

3. CyberShredder

drop files to erase onto cybershredder

CyberShredder is a small and compact tool that needs you to enable the “Confirm file deletion” option in the Settings menu if you want a final warning. Otherwise any files or folders dropped onto the program window will be instantly erased which could be a costly problem if you make a mistake. There are Very Quick (a single zero pass), Quick (a 3 pass of 0’s, 1’s then random) and Normal (an NSA approved 7 pass) shredding methods available in the settings menu. During erasing files are also renamed multiple times to help reduce recovery chances even more. CyberShredder is portable but still allows you to create a Send To right click entry to erase files and folders instantly through Windows Explorer.

Download CyberShredder

4. Eraser

eraser settings

The Eraser application is definitely a more serious and focused shredding tool with some advanced features compared to many other tools of this type. One such addition is the erasing scheduler which allows you to run tasks to shred files, folders, free space or the Recycle bin contents at specific times or on system restart etc. It also has 13 different erase algorithms to choose from, Windows Explorer integration, an option to unlock locked files before erasing them, drive free space erasing when you right click on the drive in Explorer, and the ability to replace erased files with pre selected files to allow for “plausible deniability” as the program calls it. The latest version of Eraser is installer only but there is a slightly older version on PortableApps.com.

Download Eraser

5. File Shredder

the file shredder interface

File Shredder is more of a permanent erasing solution because it needs installing and there’s no portable version, but it does have some useful functions which could make it worthwhile. Erasing algorithms include simple 1 or 2 pass, DoD 3 pass, secure 7 pass or the Gutmann 35 pass method. There’s also Explorer integration which can directly erase the file/folder immediately or add it to a queue to be shredded later on. Another useful function is the free space shredder which will completely erase all unused space on the selected drive using one of the above methods. Files and folders are added to the list using drag and drop or the add buttons on the left.

Download File Shredder

6. Zer0

erase files with zer0

Made by KCSoftwares, Zer0 is a plain and simple tool that will allow you to drop files onto its window (folders are not accepted), and then deletes them securely. There appears to be very little information about the erasing method used by the program although some reports suggest it could be as many as 100 passes for each file. The procedure is still fast though thanks to the multithreading nature of the program. Zer0 has both a portable and installer version, installing will add a “Delete with Zer0” option into your right click context menu. Make sure to use the “Lite” installer as the full setup package contains several items of adware.

Download Zer0

7. DP Wipe

simple drag and drop erasing with DP Wipe

DP Wipe is a little bit like Zer0 in that it’s easy to use and only requires you to drop what you want to erase onto the main window. Where it does differ though is firstly, dropping folders onto the window is supported, and secondly the erase method to use is selectable. Zero’s, pseudo-random, RCMP, 2 US DoD’s and Gutmann are available so you can decide based on the importance of the data to shred. It does only come as a setup installer which will place a Send To icon in the right click menu, a portable version can easily be created by extracting the setup exe with 7-Zip.

Download DP Wipe

8. TurboShredder

java based turboshredder

Although the TurboShredder tool itself is small and portable, it does require the Java Runtime Environment to be installed which some users won’t have. TurboShredder does work in a way similar to most other tools allowing you to drop files and folders onto the main window or via the + button, but the number of erasing cycles is completely configurable. Just select the method of zero’s, one’s, random or securerandom and drag the slider to anywhere between 1 and 100 passes, obviously more is better security but slower. Using the zero pass option adds a +1 to the number of passes. The Regex box gives those with more experience the ability to filter filenames to be erased by using regular expressions. Command line options are available.

Download TurboShredder

9. EraserDrop

eraserdrop delete from desktop icon

This tool is based on the Eraser program API albeit the slightly older version from PortableApps.com, meaning EraserDrop itself is also portable. It works by simply adding a drop target icon onto your desktop, any files and folders you want to shred just drag and drop them onto the icon. Right clicking on the icon (you can move it around by holding the left Shift key) will bring up the Options menu where the erasing method of 1 pass up to 35 passes can be chosen, a hotkey can be setup, warnings and reports are turned on or off, or even change the icon if you wish. A few other useful tasks in the menu are wiping the free space on a selected drive and erasing the Recycle bin contents.

Download EraserDrop

10. SDelete

SDelete is different from the other tools here because it’s a command line tool making it more useful in scripts and batch files. SDelete is made by SysInternals, the same people behind Process Explorer and AutoRuns. In addition to being able to wipe files and folders with the number of passes you choose, it can also clean or zero the free space on a selected drive letter. The syntax is:

SDelete -p {number of passes} {files and folders to erase}
SDelete -p {number of passes) {-z for zero pass/-c for clean} {drive letter}

sdelete commands

You can also use -r or -s to recurse into sub folders and -q to suppress errors. The default number of passes is 1 so you don’t need to ue the -p command unless you want to increase it. There does seem to be some sort of bug in the current version which won’t delete a folder and its contents, the contents will be erased but the folder itself will remain intact with a “directory not empty” error. Running the same command again will then delete the folder as well.

Download SDelete

Editors Notes: As you might expect, the secure file delete function is also found in many other programs as an added on feature. Optimize/repair suites such as Glary Utilities and Tune-Up Utilities, security products like AVG antivirus and everyone’s favorite privacy tool CCleaner all have a file shredding option in some form. It’s worth checking the software you have already installed to see if a secure erase function is hidden away in the settings somewhere, although most of the tools in this article do make the job simple and easy to manage.

Because of the way they work, drives such as SSD’s and USB flash drives have a limited number of write cycles. We don’t advise you use too many erase passes because it will place extra wear on the drive reducing its lifespan, 2 or 3 passes is about the maximum you should go. For the most effective SSD erasing method, a secure erase is the best way but this will erase the whole drive completely, something to use perhaps a few times a year after backing up your system.

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