What should I do with old hard drives?

Quick Answers

Here are some quick answers to common questions about old hard drives:

Should I keep my old hard drives?

It depends. If the hard drive still works and has important personal data, you may want to keep it for backup purposes. If it’s broken or you no longer need the data, it’s best to properly destroy it.

Can I reuse an old hard drive?

Yes, you can install an old hard drive in a new computer as extra storage. However, it’s best to completely wipe and format the drive first to remove any existing data.

Is it safe to throw away an old hard drive?

No, you should never simply throw an old hard drive in the garbage. You need to damage it first to destroy the sensitive data, or use a drive eraser tool.

What is the best way to destroy an old hard drive?

Physically destroying the drive platters is the most secure method. You can drill holes through the platters, smash them with a hammer, or shred them.

Should You Keep Old Hard Drives?

With the constant need for more digital storage space, it can be tempting to hang onto old computer hard drives rather than getting rid of them. However, there are some important factors to consider before deciding whether to keep or discard old hard drives.

Reasons to Keep an Old Hard Drive

  • It still functions properly and has important personal data you want to backup.
  • You have unused storage capacity you can still utilize.
  • It contains an operating system or programs you may want to access in the future.
  • You have sensitive data you want to physically secure.
  • You want to harvest working parts from it.

Reasons to Discard an Old Hard Drive

  • It is malfunctioning or has bad sectors.
  • It contains obsolete or useless data.
  • You want to prevent personal data from falling into the wrong hands.
  • It takes up unnecessary physical space.
  • It contains confidential business information that needs to be destroyed.

Overall, the best practice is to examine each hard drive on an individual basis and determine if the potential benefits outweigh the risks of keeping it. For drives that are broken or containing sensitive data, it is typically best to properly destroy them.

Reusing Old Hard Drives

If you have an old hard drive that is still functioning properly, you may be wondering if you can reuse it rather than throwing it out. In many cases, you can install an old drive in a new computer and access the files or use the extra storage capacity.

Steps to Reuse an Old Hard Drive

  1. Connect the drive – Use cables or a drive enclosure to connect the old drive to your computer via USB, eSATA, or internally.
  2. Check the file system – Make sure the drive’s file system (e.g. NTFS, FAT32) is compatible with your OS.
  3. Scan for errors – Use the CHKDSK tool in Windows or a disk utility on Mac to scan for file system errors.
  4. Securely wipe data – If the drive contains sensitive data, use drive wiping software to overwrite the data.
  5. Format the drive – Use Disk Management on Windows or Disk Utility on Mac to reformat the drive.

Once the drive is wiped, reformatted, and free of errors – you can begin using it for storage again. Be sure to check the drive regularly for developing bad sectors which can lead to data corruption or drive failure.

Precautions When Reusing Hard Drives

  • Don’t reuse a damaged drive prone to errors.
  • Thoroughly wipe personal data off the drive before reuse.
  • Check for compatibility issues with your computer’s hardware and OS.
  • Don’t overwrite your current OS drive with an old one.
  • Watch for deteriorating performance that indicates age-related wear.

As long as you take the proper precautions, reusing an old but functioning hard drive is a great way to save money and avoid sending hardware prematurely to the landfill.

Is It Safe to Throw Away Old Hard Drives?

With the pace at which computer technology evolves, most people upgrade their computer every few years. This raises the question – what should you do with older hard drives that are replaced during upgrades?

Many people’s instinct is to simply throw the old hard drive in the garbage. However, this is extremely unsafe from a security standpoint. Why?

Data Remains on Drives

Even when you delete files or reformat your hard drive, data remnants often remain that can be recovered. Files are not completely erased from the physical platters. This dormant data is easy to access for someone scavenging through the trash.

Risk of Identity Theft

Old hard drives contain vast amounts of personal data – financial records, business documents, medical info, and more. Identity thieves can use this data to steal your identity, access your finances, or worse. Even if you’re not an identity theft victim, you still face privacy violations.

No Guaranteed Destruction

When you throw out a hard drive, you’re not guaranteed it will be destroyed or rendered unusable. It could be scavenged from the trash and accessed or sold to dubious parties. Even if the drive is destroyed, pieces of the platter may be left intact.

Unless you take matters into your own hands, you cannot be 100% certain your data will be destroyed when you dispose of an old hard drive.

Best Practices for Disposing Hard Drives

Since simply trashing hard drives is a major security risk, you need to take steps to properly destroy or wipe drives you no longer want. Here are some recommended methods to safely dispose of computer hard drives.

Destroy the Drive Platters

For ultimate assurance that data cannot be recovered, you need to physically destroy the disk platters inside the hard drive. Options include:

  • Drilling holes through platters
  • Smashing with hammer
  • Shredding or disintegrating platters

Specialty shredder and crusher devices are available for physically destroying drive internals. This method may create debris so take safety precautions.

Wipe the Drive

Drive wiping (also called disk wiping or data clearing) uses software to overwrite a drive with meaningless 1s and 0s. Options include:

  • Free drive wiping programs like DBAN
  • Built-in Windows/Mac disk utilities
  • Commercial disk wiping software

Wiping performs a “secure erase” and sanitizes the drive. However, with forensic data recovery methods, some data remnants may still be recoverable.

Degauss the Hard Drive

Degaussing exposes the drive to a powerful magnetic field that disrupts magnetically stored data. There are both software and hardware degausser products available. However, degaussing may not fully sanitize newer high-density drives.

Recycle Hard Drives Responsibly

Many electronics retailers offer hard drive recycling services. You can also search for local recyclers who will either wipe and resell drives or properly destroy them. When recycling, call to verify how they sanitize data.

As long as you take responsible measures to wipe, destroy, or recycle hard drives, you can safely dispose of old computer equipment without worried about data breaches.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it bad to keep using an old hard drive?

It’s generally not recommended to keep using a hard drive that’s over 3-5 years old. Older drives are more prone to failure due to worn-out parts. They also have slower speeds and higher chance of developing bad sectors. It’s best to replace outdated drives.

Can you recover data from a dead hard drive?

In some cases, yes data can be recovered from a dead, non-functioning hard drive. However, this requires special tools and expertise. Professional data recovery services use specialized equipment to access and image drive platters in a sterile environment.

How do I transfer data from an old hard drive?

To transfer data from an older hard drive to a new computer, connect the drive via cables or USB adapter. Then browse the drive contents and use copy/paste or drag-and-drop to transfer files and folders you want to keep to your new system drive.

Is it worth selling old hard drives?

Old used hard drives usually don’t have much resale value, especially smaller ones. Larger drives in good condition might sell for a few dollars. However, you need to securely wipe all data first. It’s often more hassle than it’s worth trying to sell old consumer hard drives.

Can you turn an internal drive into an external drive?

Yes, you can convert an internal hard drive into a portable external drive with an enclosure. The enclosure is a special case that connects to the hard drive’s SATA or IDE interface so it can be plugged into a computer via USB. This allows you to access the old drive like any other external drive.


When deciding what to do with old computer hard drives, avoid the temptation to simply throw them in the trash. This poses major security risks if someone can access confidential data off discarded drives. Instead, properly destroy or wipe drives, or recycle them responsibly. Physically destroying the drive platters provides maximum assurance your data cannot be recovered. With a bit of extra effort, you can securely get rid of old hard drives without worrying about sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.