How do you recover a hard drive which has been wiped?

A wiped hard drive is one that has had all of its data deleted or overwritten so that the previous contents cannot be easily accessed anymore. There are several reasons why someone may need to try to recover data from a wiped hard drive:

  • The drive was accidentally wiped, deleting important files.
  • The drive was wiped before disposing of a computer, but critical files were missed.
  • The drive failed and was wiped during repairs, losing data.
  • The drive was wiped to cover up information, but data now needs to be recovered.

Recovering data from a wiped hard drive can be challenging but is sometimes possible with the right tools and techniques. The ability to recover the data depends on how thoroughly the drive was wiped.

Assessing the Wipe

The first step in recovering a wiped hard drive is to determine what type of wipe was performed. There are different levels of wiping that make data recovery more or less difficult:

A quick format simply removes the file system structure from the disk but leaves the existing data intact and recoverable. This is the easiest type of wipe to recover from, as data can often be restored using recovery software [1].

A full overwrite wipe repeatedly writes random data across the entire disk, making traditional file recovery difficult. However, advanced recovery methods may still be able to recover some data [2].

A secure multi-pass wipe overwrites the disk with alternating patterns of data multiple times, offering high security. This can make the likelihood of recovery very low, but Trace Lab and Chip-Off recovery methods may still be attempted [2].

Understanding the type of wipe used is crucial, as more thorough disk erasure substantially increases the difficultly and decreases the likelihood of successful data recovery. The next step is assessing potential recovery methods based on the wipe assessment.

Recovery Methods

There are a few main approaches to recovering data from a wiped hard drive:

Software Recovery

Software recovery tools like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard can scan wiped hard drives and recover deleted files. They work by searching for file signatures that remain on the drive despite it being wiped. Software recovery has limitations though – it works best on freshly wiped drives before too much new data has been written over the deleted files.

Hardware Recovery

Hardware recovery involves opened up the wiped hard drive in a clean room environment and working with the physical platters to extract raw data. This low-level approach can recover data even after multiple wipes. However, it requires expensive equipment only found at professional data recovery labs like uBackup.

Clean Room Recovery

Clean room recovery is the most advanced hardware technique. The wiped drive is dismantled in a dust-free clean room environment to extract the platters. Recovery experts then use specialized equipment to read low-level magnetic data from the platters and reconstruct files. This method offers the best chance of recovery from even a multi-pass wipe.

Software Recovery

One method for recovering wiped hard drives is through software recovery tools. These programs are designed to scan wiped hard drives and attempt to locate files that still exist in fragments that can be pieced back together.

Some examples of popular software recovery tools include:

  • Recuva – Developed by Piriform, Recuva is a free recovery tool for Windows that can recover files that have been deleted from your computer or external drives due to accidental deletion, virus infection, or disk formatting.

  • TestDisk – TestDisk is an open source tool that works on Windows, Linux, and macOS. It analyzes the file system on a drive and can recover lost partitions as well as undelete files.

  • PhotoRec – PhotoRec is a companion recovery tool to TestDisk focused specifically on recovering multimedia files like photos, videos, and audio files.

These tools scan wiped drives sector-by-sector looking for file signatures and patterns that indicate a deleted file. They can reconstruct files by assembling recovered fragments. The effectiveness depends on how thoroughly the drive was wiped and how much data fragmentation existed prior to wiping.

Hardware Recovery

Hardware recovery involves physically repairing or manipulating the hard drive hardware to recover data. Some common hardware recovery methods include:

PCB Swap: The printed circuit board (PCB) on a hard drive contains the controller chip and firmware. Swapping the PCB from a matching donor drive with the same model and firmware version may allow the drive to function again and recover data. This method works if the drive’s read/write heads are still intact but the PCB is damaged.[1]

Head Swap: If the read/write heads on a drive are damaged, a specialist may carefully open the drive in a dust-free clean room and swap the heads with matching ones from an identical donor drive. This is an extremely delicate process requiring special tools and expertise.

Head Repair: Similarly, the heads may be repairable instead of fully replaced. Specialized microsurgical tools can repair heads and allow data recovery.

Platter Transplant: As a last resort, the platters containing the data can be removed from a damaged drive and transplanted into an identical working chassis. This is also a clean room procedure needing specialized experience.

Hardware recovery maximizes the chances of recovering data but can be expensive and technically challenging. Consult a reputable data recovery company for hardware solutions.

Clean Room Recovery

Clean room recovery involves performing hard drive recovery in a literal clean room environment. Technicians wear protective suits and the room is kept at a positive air pressure with highly filtered air to prevent contamination. The hard drive is opened up in the clean room and its platters are removed and placed in specialized equipment to read the magnetic data. The platters themselves are never touched during this process to avoid corruption.

Clean room recovery has an extremely high success rate for recovering data, even from drives that have been completely wiped or formatted. However, it is also the most expensive option for data recovery. Costs typically start around $1000 for basic recovery and can run up to $3000 or more for complex jobs. The high costs come from the specialized facilities, equipment, and expertise needed. Clean room recovery is usually only utilized for critical recoveries where cost is not the primary concern.

Choosing a Service

When looking for a data recovery service, it’s important to consider their reputation, capabilities, security, and pricing. Do your research to find a trustworthy provider with proven expertise in recovering data from your specific type of storage device (HDD, SSD, etc.). Check reviews and testimonials to evaluate their track record. A long history in the industry is a good sign.

Make sure the provider has the technical capabilities to handle your type of case, including using advanced techniques like clean room recovery if needed. Not all services can recover data after a full overwrite or physical damage, so choose one that advertises those specialized services.

Data security should also be a top consideration. Look for rigorous standards around digital and physical security. Your data should be handled securely throughout the process. Avoid any provider that doesn’t describe their security protocols.

Finally, compare pricing options. Costs can vary drastically depending on the data recovery method required. More complex cases usually cost more. Be wary of unrealistically cheap offers, which may indicate a lack of experience. Expect to pay a premium for reputable seamless service. (Quora: How do you choose the right data recovery service?).

Recovery Tips

One of the most important tips when trying to recover data from a wiped hard drive is to avoid overwriting the drive further. Any new data written to the drive can overwrite deleted files making them unrecoverable. Always work on a disk image or cloned copy of the wiped drive rather than the original (Source).

Use read-only recovery software and do not install or save anything to the wiped drive. Read-only software can scan the drive and recover deleted files without risk of alteration (Source). Perform the actual recovery and file saves to a different empty drive. This preserves the wiped drive in its original state and gives the recovery utility the best chance of restoring lost data.


The best way to prevent permanent data loss from drive wiping is to regularly back up your data. Backups provide an extra copy of your files in case of accidental deletion or drive failure. Consider using cloud backup services like Backblaze or Carbonite that continuously backup your data.

You should also enable drive encryption using BitLocker on Windows or FileVault on Mac. Encryption protects your data if your drive is lost or stolen. The data will be unreadable without the encryption key.

When wiping a drive, follow careful procedures to avoid accidentally wiping the wrong drive. Refer to the drive serial number or label to verify you are wiping the correct drive. Use wipe software that requires confirmation before executing the wipe. Monitor the wipe process to ensure it completes successfully.

For more tips, see this guide on best practices for preventing accidental data loss: Unveiling the Truth: Free vs Paid Data Recovery Software


To summarize, recovering data from a wiped hard drive depends largely on the method used to wipe the drive. A quick format or simple delete typically leaves data intact and easily recoverable with recovery software. More advanced wipes using multiple passes make software recovery difficult but still possible depending on the number of passes. A full cryptographic wipe likely means the data is gone for good.

In general, the more passes used to wipe a drive, the lower the chances of recovery. While software recovery can often work for simple wipes, more advanced techniques like hardware or clean room recovery may be needed for drives wiped with many passes. These services can be expensive but may retrieve critical data in some cases.

The most foolproof way to recover data from a wiped drive is to have a backup available. Maintaining regular backups of important data provides a safety net in case of accidental or malicious wiping. Backup drives kept unplugged protect against many data loss scenarios. Following best practices for backups can give peace of mind when faced with potential drive wipes.