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, it’s very difficult to recover and more professional methods would be needed to get any readable data back.

Delete from recycle bin

There are various ways to overwrite deleted files. If you sell or give your drive to somebody else, it needs to be completely wiped so nothing is left that can be recovered by the new owner. You can also erase the deleted data off a current drive by wiping all its free space. 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. Here are 10 free tools that can securely erase or “shred” your files making them unrecoverable. All tools were tested in Windows 10 and 7 64-bit.

Important Note: Permanently deleting files is something that should be used with care as once the file is deleted and overwritten, you won’t be able to get it back, even with recovery software.

1. 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 single pass zero fill up to a full 35 pass Gutmann erase. A single random pass should suffice in most cases. 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 name or extension.

Wipefile

The default mask of * will delete all files in the folder whereas a mask of *.doc will shred the Word documents and ignore all other files. Double click the folder entry to change the mask. In the settings, you can create a context menu or “Send to” menu entry and send files to the program via right click, create a user defined erase string (used with WipeFile erase methods), and enable logging. The .NET Framework 4 is required for Windows 7 users.

Download WipeFile


2. HardWipe

HardWipe has several different types of data erasing, 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. Unfortunately, the portable version is no longer free so the software needs to be installed. An annoyance is the inclusion of advertisements inside the main window although it’s not overly intrusive.

Hardwipe

Click File Data on the left and browse for the files and folders to securely delete. Shift or Ctrl is supported for multiple selections. There are 6 wiping algorithms ranging from a single random or zero pass up to 35 passes and an option to rename the files up to 9 times to lessen the chance of recovering the filename (default is 3). A speed mode can help system responsiveness on long operations and the system can be auto powered off after a long wiping operation has completed.

Download HardWipe


3. Permadelete

Permadelete has a pretty user interface and is quite basic but most users don’t need loads of options anyway. Files and folders can be deleted by either dropping them onto the window or using the two browse buttons provided. After selecting files for deletion, a box pops up asking how many passes the shred process will run. The default of one pass of random data can be changed in the options.

Permadelete

It’s worth noting that Permadelete does not shred files on SSDs and relies on TRIM and garbage collection. This has the effect of wiping the data after a period of time anyway while decreasing the wear and tear on your drive. If you must shred a file on an SSD immediately, use something else in this article. Permadelete has portable and installer versions, is open source, and requires .NET Framework 4.5+ for Windows 7 users.

Download Permadelete


4. Alternate File Shredder

Alternate File Shredder is another program that can permanently delete files and also wipe free drive space if you need it. The number of times you can overwrite a file can go up to a massive 100 passes, although only the most paranoid users will find it useful. Overwriting can be with random data (recommended), with zeros, or with a predefined pattern of your choice. Changing the pattern is done from the Options window.

Alternate file shredder

You can add files and folders (including the Recycle Bin) by either drag and drop or by using the buttons in the toolbar. Extra security options are available such as shredding file names and original file sizes. An interesting feature is a binary viewer where you can look at and directly edit files with the ability to add, remove, insert, or even replace specific bytes in the file.

Download Alternate File Shredder


5. File Shredder

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.

File shredder

Files and folders are added to the list using drag and drop or the add buttons on the left. The default shred method is DOD 5220.22-M, which is three passes consisting of zeros, ones, then random data. Go to Shredder Settings > Algorithms to change it to something else. A shred free space option is also available if you want to remove previously deleted files from the drive entirely.

Download File Shredder

6. Blank and Secure

This is another useful portable tool by SoftwareOK and it’s only a few hundred KB. It’s very easy to use and has not many options, but the options that are available are useful. Blank and Secure can overwrite files and folders between 1 and 35 times. The overwrites will all be with random numbers before the files are deleted. The overwrite and delay before deletion options are drop down menus in the middle of the window.

Blank and secure

Files and folders are added to Blank and Secure via drag and drop. Alternatively, you can enable a context menu entry or a “Send to” entry from the menu at the top left. Another feature in the menu is the ability to wipe the free space of a drive and fill it with random numbers. That’s useful if you have previously deleted important files but not used a secure deleted option.

Download Blank and Secure


7. Eraser

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.

Erase files

It also has 13 different erase algorithms to choose from, Windows Explorer integration, an option to unlock locked files before erasing them, free space erase when you right click the drive in Explorer, and the ability to replace erased files with pre-selected files to allow for “plausible deniability”. Eraser defaults to 35 passes for file shredding so it’s best to go into settings and change it to something more sensible, like 1 or 2 passes of random data.

Download Eraser


8. 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 Zer0 although some online comments suggest it could be as many as 100 passes for each file. Because of this lack of clarity, we’d recommend you avoid using the program on SSD drives.

Zer0

However many passes are used, the procedure is still fast 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. There is an ad button for another KC Softwares product near the top so don’t click on it thinking it’s a function or feature of Zer0 itself.

Download Zer0


9. DP Wipe

DP Wipe is easy to use and only requires you to drop what you want to erase onto the main window. Dropping folders onto the window is supported, and also the erase method to use is selectable. Zero’s, pseudorandom, RCMP, 2 US DoD’s, and Gutmann methods are available so you can decide based on the importance of the data to shred. The single pass pseudorandom option should be enough for most use cases.

Dp wipe

It does only come as a setup installer which will place a Send To icon in the right click menu. However, the program is really only a single executable so extracting the setup installer with 7-Zip will easily create a portable version, minus the send to shortcut.

Download DP Wipe


10. SDelete

SDelete is different from the other software here because it’s a command line tool making it more useful in scripts and batch files. SDelete is made by Microsoft owned 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. The syntax is:

SDelete -p {number of passes} {files and folders to erase}

or

SDelete -p {number of passes) {-z for zero pass/-c for clean} {drive letter:}

Sdelete files

You can also use -s to recurse into subfolders and -r to remove file read only attributes. The default number of passes is one so you only need the -p command to increase it. SDelete overwrites a file three times using the DOD 5220.22-M standard, firstly zeros, then ones, then random data. As a single pass already overwrites three times, there really shouldn’t be any need to use more passes.

Download SDelete


Final Note: As we have a separate article on wiping free drive space, there are some tools listed there that can also shred files that we haven’t listed here. They include Hard Disk Scrubber and ASCOMP Secure Eraser. The secure file delete function is also found in many other programs like optimize/repair suites, antivirus suites, and privacy tools like CCleaner and BleachBit.

Memory based drives like SSD’s and USB flash drives have a limited number of write cycles. We don’t advise you to use too many erase passes because it will place extra wear on the drive reducing its lifespan. SSD functions like TRIM and garbage collection naturally erase the files anyway after a period of time so securely deleting a file from an SSD is only required if you need to shred its contents straight away.

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