Is it possible to wipe an SSD?

Quick Answer

Yes, it is possible to securely wipe data from an SSD (solid state drive). While SSDs work differently than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), data can still be erased using drive wiping software or the SSD’s built-in secure erase command. However, SSD wear leveling techniques can make full data erasure more difficult. Performing a full overwrite of the drive multiple times is recommended for maximum security.

How Do SSDs Store Data Differently Than HDDs?

SSDs have a fundamentally different design than traditional HDDs that affects how data is written, stored, and erased. Here’s a quick rundown of the key differences:

  • SSDs store data in NAND flash memory cells rather than on magnetic platters like HDDs.
  • Write operations in NAND flash can only flip 1s to 0s and not the reverse. This is called the “program/erase” cycle.
  • SSDs use a logical mapping system called the Flash Translation Layer (FTL) that maps data blocks to different physical locations.
  • To ensure all cells wear evenly, SSDs use a process called wear leveling to distribute writes across different cells.

These characteristics have important implications for securely erasing SSDs. Since incoming writes can get distributed across different physical locations on the drive by the FTL, erasing a file may not wipe that data from the flash cells it was originally written to.

Is It Possible to Overwrite Data on an SSD?

Overwriting data on an SSD is possible, but works differently than HDDs.

On a traditional hard drive, overwriting a file means writing new data directly over the physical area where that file’s contents were originally stored. This ensures the old data gets fully replaced with the new data.

On an SSD, when you overwrite a file, the new data gets written to a different location on the flash memory. The old data may still physically exist on the original cells until they get reused in the future.

This makes traditional overwrite procedures less reliable on SSDs. Multiple overwrite passes may overwrite the logical file record but not necessarily the underlying physical data.

Does TRIM Delete Data on an SSD?

The TRIM command does not securely erase data already written to an SSD.

What TRIM does is tell the SSD which data blocks are no longer being used and can be wiped internally. The SSD will then mark those blocks as invalid, wiping them when it performs its next garbage collection routine.

This is beneficial for performance, as it lets the SSD know it doesn’t need to keep track of deleted data anymore. But a TRIM command does not immediately delete data. The old data blocks may continue to physically exist until the garbage collector erases them.

So TRIM offers no security – it simply informs the SSD of which blocks can be considered free space again once the actual deletion is performed. Any data in discarded blocks could potentially remain accessible until overwritten.

Can SSDs Have Deleted Data Recovered?

Yes, it is often possible to recover deleted files from SSDs. This is due to the fact that erasing data in flash memory is a lengthy process, combined with the wear leveling techniques SSDs use.

When a file is deleted on an SSD, typically only the metadata pointing to it is removed. The actual data contents may still reside in the original flash blocks until the cells are reused.

Forensic data recovery tools can scan the raw NAND flash memory and reconstruct files that have been “deleted” by the operating system. Wear leveling exacerbates this effect since overwritten data may be moved to a new location rather than erased.

More intensive methods like degaussing and physical destruction are required to make SSD data recovery infeasible. Simply formatting an SSD or deleting files does not necessarily make that data unrecoverable. The only way to fully erase an SSD is to directly overwrite all cells containing data.

How Does SSD Garbage Collection Work?

Garbage collection is the process SSDs use to find unused data blocks, consolidate valid data, and securely wipe invalid blocks. Here’s what happens:

  1. The SSD controller identifies blocks that no longer contain valid data based on the operating system deleting files or issuing TRIM commands.
  2. Valid data from partially filled blocks is relocated to new blocks. This consolidates the remaining active data into fewer pages.
  3. The now-empty blocks are erased by applying a high voltage that resets all the cells to a 1 state. This prepares them to be rewritten.
  4. The process repeats as needed during idle periods to continuously free up used pages.

Garbage collection enables some level of automated, built-in data wiping on SSDs. But if time hasn’t allowed a full pass across all cells, some recoverable remnants may remain. Erasing the entire drive simultaneously provides higher security.

Can You Use Disk Utilities Like fdisk on SSDs?

Standard disk utilities like fdisk, dd, and nwipe can be used on SSDs, but they may not fully erase data on their own.

For example, using fdisk to delete and recreate an SSD partition table will not overwrite existing user data. It simply marks the blocks as available for reuse – the old data still resides physically until the cells are rewritten.

Likewise, using dd or nwipe to zero out an entire SSD drive may be hindered or negated by wear leveling. Only directly overwriting all cells can reliably erase old contents.

So while disk utilities can be used as part of a secure erase process for SSDs, they have limitations compared to HDDs. Their effectiveness depends on also leveraging the SSD’s own internal deletion mechanisms.

How Does SSD Secure Erase Work?

SSD manufacturers provide a secure erase feature that performs a full drive reset to cryptographically wipe all data. Here is an overview:

  • A firmware command erases the encryption key that allows access to the SSD’s contents.
  • Without the key, all data instantly becomes irrecoverable gibberish.
  • The drive is now essentially blank since no data can be decrypted, including remnant data in unused cells.
  • A full format of the drive then wipes all internal storage ready for reuse.

Secure erase provides reliable and immediate drive-wide deletion. However, the wiped SSD can still contain recoverable data traces in unused memory until it gets fully rewritten. Most vendors recommend following up with block overwrites.

Can SSDs Be Securely Wiped with Software Tools?

Special software tools are available that can securely erase SSDs through techniques like:

  • Issuing ATA erase commands to internally wipe blocks
  • Overwriting all logical blocks on the drive
  • Filling empty disk space to obliterate deleted file traces
  • Deallocate file system structures to render data unreadable

Combined with built-in SSD garbage collection, these methods can reliably overwrite all data on an SSD. Multiple passes are generally recommended for maximum security.

Popular secure erasure tools for SSDs include:

  • HDDErase
  • Parted Magic
  • Active@ KillDisk
  • Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN)

These tools automate complex SSD wiping procedures that would be difficult and time-consuming to perform manually. They provide an efficient way to maximize sanitize SSDs before disposal or reuse.

How Many Overwrite Passes Are Needed for SSDs?

Most experts recommend performing at least 3-7 overwrite passes to securely wipe an SSD, though standards vary:

  • U.S. Department of Defense: Up to 7 passes
  • Peter Gutmann: 35 passes
  • NIST 800-88: 1 pass sufficient for SSDs
  • Bruce Schneier: 3-7 passes for maximum security

The more passes, the more securely remnants are covered. But even after just one pass, recovering data is largely infeasible without specialized forensic tools.

For quick sanitization, a 1-3 pass overwrite or built-in secure erase command can provide reasonable assurance. For maximum security like sensitive financial data, up to 35 passes or physical destruction is preferable.

Is Physical Destruction the Most Secure SSD Erase Method?

Physically destroying an SSD, like crushing or smashing it into pieces, is the most infallible way to guarantee the data inside can never be recovered. No traces will remain if the NAND flash chips are broken.

However, physical destruction is overkill for most consumer uses. It permanently damaged the drive hardware, making data recovery impossible even with specialized tools.

Software-based erasure techniques like block overwriting or secure erase commands sufficiently wipe SSDs for reuse or disposal in typical scenarios. Physical destruction is really only necessary for highly classified data requiring absolute sanitization.

Can Deleted Files on an SSD Be Recovered After Overwriting?

Once an SSD has been fully and directly overwritten at least once, deleted files cannot reliably be recovered – even with advanced forensic tools.

The reason is that a single overwrite pass will replace all data cells containing the old contents with new random data. This destroys the original binary patterns making up the deleted files.

Without those coherent magnetic or voltage patterns, specialized scan tools have no baseline to reconstruct the files bit-by-bit. The noise of the new data conceal any traces left behind.

There is a small chance remnants could remain after 1 overwrite pass. But for most purposes beyond forensics, secure data erasure is achieved. More passes provide diminishing returns for increased security.


While their internal behavior differs from hard disk drives, SSDs can still be reliably wiped through a combination of overwrite passes and built-in erase commands like secure erase. Wear leveling may leave data traces until all cells are overwritten, so multiple rewrites are ideal for maximum security. But with the right techniques, it is definitely possible to fully sanitize an SSD between uses while ensuring previously deleted data cannot be recovered.