Deleting an unwanted file in Windows and on other operating system doesn’t actually remove it from your hard drive—that file may be stored in the Recycle Bin, which keeps it intact in case you wish to restore it.
Even if you empty the Recycle Bin, the file’s clusters still reside on the disk unless they are overwritten with other data. And even then, a professional recovery product can often restore an overwritten file, experts said. And nobody wants their private files to fall into the hands of snoopers and hackers.
So if you want to completely and securely delete a file that contains sensitive information, or you plan to dispose of your computer and want to be sure no one can access or view the file, the best thing to do is to turn to a third-party deletion or shredding tool that fully deletes a file by overwriting it multiple times with random data so the file is virtually impossible to recover. To do this, you can use some programs like Eraser, Shredder and Freeraser.
Eraser can securely delete individual files, whole folders, entire disk drives or partitions, and even unused space on a disk. The program adds itself to File Explorer so you can easily select a file, a folder, or a drive to erase. You can also set up various tasks to run manually, run each time you load Windows, or run on a scheduled basis.
Download and install Eraser from its website. After installation, open the program, select Settings, and make sure the option to Integrate Eraser Into Windows Explorer is enabled if you want to remove files via Explorer. Open File Explorer. Right-click on a file you wish to remove. Hover over the Eraser command in the pop-up menu and click Erase. Eraser asks for confirmation to erase the file. Answer Yes, and then the file is deleted.
File Shredder is another erasure utility that you can run from the program or within File Explorer. It can shred files, folders, partitions, and free disk space.
Download and install the program from its website. To manually remove an item, open the program and select the option to Add File or Add Folder. You can add multiple files and folders.
Freeraser is designed as a quick way to securely delete individual files. Rather than appear as a full-screen program or integrate itself into File Explorer, Freeraser floats on your Windows desktop as a trash can icon. You can drag and drop files you wish to delete or select them from the icon.
Download Freeraser from the Softonic software site. When you install the program, you can opt for a standard installation to put it on your hard drive or a portable installation to place it on an external drive or a USB stick. After installation, right-click on the program’s desktop icon. From the pop-up menu, click the option to Select File To Destroy. You can select multiple files, though you can’t select an entire folder. Open the files you selected and click Continue at the icon to delete those files.
Deleting data in Android
When you delete a file from your Android phone, it actually remains in your device’s storage until it’s overwritten with new data. This used to be a major privacy concern, because it meant that deleted files could be retrieved using data-recovery software.
Since Android 6 (Marshmallow), all Android phones are encrypted by default, which should prevent recovery tools from accessing their contents.
Delete items using a File Manager
The worst way to delete a private file from your Android phone is from within the associated app. This risks the item being moved to a Trash or Bin folder rather than being permanently removed, or continuing to exist as a synced cloud copy.
The Google Photos app, for example, stores deleted images and videos for 60 days, unless you manually empty its trash. Even if you bypass this by choosing Delete from device, items will remain in your Google account.
A much better option is to use a file explorer or file manager app to permanently delete sensitive items. There are lots of free file explorers for Android, including Google’s own excellent Files app.
Select the item in your file explorer, then either tap the trash button or press the three-dot menu and choose Delete. Confirm you understand deletion can’t be undone and tap Delete again.
Erase data with a File Shredder
If your phone’s encryption doesn’t reassure you that deleted files can’t be recovered, or if you’re running an old version of Android, consider installing a file shredder. This will securely erase “free” space on your device that may still contain deleted data.
File shredders such as iShredder, Shreddit, and Data Eraser offer a choice of shredding algorithms. This lets you decide how many times the data is overwritten with random characters. Each overwrite is known as a “pass” or “cycle”, and the more passes, the slimmer the chance deleted data can be retrieved.
You’ll need to grant these apps permission to access your files (and optionally your contacts, which we wouldn’t recommend), but they won’t shred anything without asking you for confirmation.
Wipe free space using Data Eraser
Here’s how to make deleted data unrecoverable using the ad-free file shredder Data Eraser. Confusingly, this is called Android Eraser in the app itself.
- 1. Tap Freespace on the home screen (be careful not to choose Complete Erase!) and select Internal Storage. The app will calculate how much free space to wipe.
- 2. Tap Continue and choose a shredding algorithm. NATO Standard and BSU TL-0342, which perform seven and eight passes respectively, are the most thorough. However, they also take a long time.
- 3. Confirm you want to proceed, and Data Eraser will wipe all available free space on your phone, so that files you’ve deleted can’t be recovered.
- 4. Your phone will be slow while the wiping process is in progress. You can abandon it at any time by opening the notification at the top of your screen and tapping Cancel.
Although Data Eraser doesn’t charge to wipe the free space on your phone, you can only shred 100MB of individual files for free per day.
Shreddit is a completely free alternative, but its ads can be obstructive and it doesn’t work in Android 11.
Delete Android files from your PC
If you don’t want to install an app to permanently delete a file, you can connect your Android phone to your PC and wipe the data via Windows. This method makes it easier to quickly find and confidently remove specific items, using File Explorer.
Connect your phone using a USB cable and choose Open device to view files from the AutoPlay options. Alternatively, open File Explorer, select This PC, and double-click your phone’s drive icon.
If the drive looks empty, pull down the notification tray from the top of your phone’s screen, tap USB charging this device and select File transfer or Transfer files. Or go to Settings > Connected devices > USB and enable the option there.
Browse the folders on your phone to locate the file you want to delete. If it’s a photo or video, it’s likely to be in the DCIM > Camera folder.
If the private file you want rid of is located on an SD memory card, rather than in your phone’s internal storage, there are a couple of ways to delete it.
First, go to Settings > Storage > SD card. Locate the file and delete it from there. However, this won’t make it unrecoverable, so you may want to format the card, too. This will completely wipe its contents, so make sure you move any files you want to keep to your phone first.
Tap the three-dot menu in the top-right corner and choose Storage settings. Select Format, then tap Erase & Format or Format SD card to wipe and format the card.
Alternatively, you can connect your phone to your PC, as described above, or insert the SD card in your computer’s card reader. You’ll need to “unmount” the card first by choosing Unmount or Eject before you remove it from your device.
Browse the SD card’s contents in File Explorer, locate the file, right-click it, and choose Delete.
Additionally, some Android file shredder apps can delete and overwrite data stored on SD cards, including Data Eraser.
Restore your phone to factory settings
The most drastic way to permanently delete private files is to perform a factory reset. This will erase all the data on your phone, so is best used prior to selling or recycling your device. You should back up any Android data you want to keep beforehand.
To ensure that data can’t be recovered after a factory reset, double-check that your phone is encrypted. Go to Settings > Security > Advanced and tap Encryption & credentials. Select Encrypt phone if the option isn’t already enabled.
Next, go to Settings > System > Advanced and tap Reset options. Select Erase all data (factory reset) and press Delete all data.
Enter your security code or pattern when prompted, then tap Delete all data to restore your phone to factory settings. You can wipe its free space with a file shredder if you’re still paranoid about your data being recovered.