How to Permanently Delete Files and Folders in Windows

This guide will take you step by step through the process to permanently delete files and/or folders so that they can’t be recovered, even with the most advanced tools in the world.

About Deleting Files in Windows

When you delete a file in Windows you might think the data has been erased. That’s not exactly accurate. Windows doesn’t really remove the file from the disk, it just removes all the references to that file. It’s still there, and will remain there until another files gets written on top of it. Even then, it’s sometimes possible for advanced data recovery software to bring it back to life.

The solution is to not only remove the file, but to write on top of it multiple times. With random data. That’s where the free and open source tool Eraser comes in. When you delete a file with Eraser, the file is deleted and then data is written on top of that file over and over again until it can’t be recovered.

Eraser uses the Guttmann (Default), Pseudorandom Data and US DoD 5220-22.M methods to securely delete data. If none of that makes sense to you, don’t worry about it. In a nutshell, the Guttmann method is the most secure, and it’s the default.

Using Eraser to Permanently Delete Files and Folders

  1. First things first, download and install Eraser. The installation is very straightforward – mostly you’ll just click “Next” a bunch of times. On the screen that asks you the which type of setup you’d like, select Typical
  2. the setup type window in the Eraser installation wizard

  3. Once installed, right-click on a file or folder (or several) that you want to securely erase (maybe start with a test file or two – remember – deleting files this way makes sure that they are totally unrecoverable). Select Eraser from the context menu and then Erase from the sub-menu.
  4. right clicking 3 image files in Windows with an arrow pointing at the Eraser item in the context menu

  5. If you’re using Windows Vista, 7, 8 or 10, the User Account Control prompt will appear. Click the Yes button.
  6. the Windows User Account Control warning screen

  7. When you’re asked if you want to erase the selected items, click the Yes button.
  8. a yes no selection to permanently delete files in Windows 10

  9. Depending on the number and size of the files and folders you selected, permanently deleting them can take anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
  10. That’s it! Those files are gone and cannot be recovered.

Permanently Delete the Contents of the Recycle Bin

You can also use Eraser to securely and permanently delete all of the files and folders in your Recycle Bin. The process is almost identical to right-clicking on a group of files and folders to delete them.

  1. Right-click the Recycle Bin on your Desktop and select Eraser and then Erase
  2. right clicking on the Windows Recycle Bin with an arrow pointing to Eraser in the context menu

  3. If you’re using Windows 7, 8 or 10, the User Account Control prompt will appear. Click the Yes button.
  4. the Windows User Account Control warning screen

  5. When you’re asked if you want to erase the selected items, click the Yes button.
  6. a yes no selection to permanently delete files in Windows 10

  7. The Eraser app will now delete all of the files and folders in your Recycle Bin and write over the space where the files used to be with random data. This can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes – it depends on how many files and folders are in your Recycle Bin, and how large they are. Once it’s done, your Recycle Bin will be empty and its contents unrecoverable.

    the empty Recycle Bin icon

If you’re concerned with keeping the contents of your hard drive as private as possible, you may want to take a look at this guide on how to securely store your files in Windows.


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3 thoughts on “How to Permanently Delete Files and Folders in Windows”

  1. Thanks for the article. I was getting ready to donate an old PC to charity and was looking for some help in making sure all the old data was removed and came across this page. Great!

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