Some time ago, we talked about ways to recover deleted files from your hard drives. We've seen that deleted files are not necessarily lost forever and that with the appropriate programs you can restore them. But what if you don't want that? Maybe you have some files that you really want to delete. Maybe they contain personal or sensitive information, that you don't want anybody to be able to recover. To do that, you'll have to make sure the files are not just deleted, but also overwritten in such a manner that they cannot be recovered no matter what. In this guide, we will test and show you some of the best free tools for securely wiping files from your Windows computers.
The Testing Procedure
Before testing each file shredder, we created an empty folder on our test computer. Then, we placed lots of different files inside it. In total, the folder contained 1 GB of data in 34 files, with various file formats: pdf, doc, docx, rtf, epub, azw3 (Kindle eBooks), iso, mp3, jpg, nef, pptx, exe, avi, mp4, 7z, tar and zip.
Next, we used every secure erasing software from our roundup, in order to wipe everything inside this folder. For each of the shredding programs we used the most complex erasing method it offered. We also noted how many erasing algorithms each of the programs offers and how well made their user interface is. Then, when all our test files were deleted and securely overwritten, we ran Recuva to check if any of the deleted files could still be recovered.
In order to get the right results, we repeated all these steps for each of the erasing programs we tested. We chose the programs you see below because, for now, they are all free and very popular. We didn't want to include any commercial software, as not many home users would be willing to spend money on such programs.
Eraser is a small program that can securely delete files, folders, unused disk space or even entire drives. To use it Eraser, you'll need to download and install it. When done, it will automatically add secure delete options to the Windows contextual menus.
In addition to the contextual menu options, Eraser's interface also allows you to create scheduled erasing tasks. This feature is very useful in case you work with data that you want wiped out on a recurring basis.
While it supports 13 different erasure methods, the default used by Eraser is the Gutmann standard. This method overwrites the deleted files 35 times, which means that, depending on the number of files you delete, the process might take a while.
Now it was time to check how well Eraser performed. So we ran Recuva on the wiped folder. The result was that none of the deleted files could be recovered.
Alternate File Shredder
Alternate File Shredder is a small application that lets you permanently delete files. It's interface is simple and easy to understand and, if you select this option during its install process, the program also adds a Send to File Shredder erasing option to the contextual menus from Windows. Alternate File Shredder lets you delete both individual files and entire folders.
Alternate File Shredder offers only one erasing method: random data writing. However, you can choose the number of times the deleted files will be overwritten. A nice detail is that you can also choose to shred filenames, so not only the contents of the files gets erased, but also their names.
When the erase was complete, we started Recuva and checked to see if any of the files were recoverable. Fortunately, none was detected.
Moo0 File Shredder
Moo0 File Shredder is another lightweight application, with a very simplistic interface. Once you launch it, all you have to do is drag and drop any file or folder you want to permanently delete. Unfortunately, Moo0 File Shredder doesn't add any erasing option to Windows' right click menus.
By default, the interface only lets you select the erasing method to be used. If you press the Detailed Description button, the program's window expands and lets you see more details about each of the methods available. Moo0 File Shredder offers 4 erasing algorithms, including Gutmann.
When we ran Recuva to check if any of deleted files can be recovered, we were happy to find that they were all permanently wiped.
Freeraser is another software designed to help you securely delete files. It's interface is extremely minimalist: it's just a simple trash bin.
However, if you right click it, a contextual menu opens, offering you more options. We would have also liked if Freeraser would have an erase option in Windows' contextual menus. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
Common sense and the official documentation tells us that, in order to delete files or folders, it suffices to drag and drop these kind of items onto Freeraser's icon. However, on our Windows 8.1 test computer this feature didn't work, so we had to use the app's menu to select the set of files we wanted to wipe.
Once you select the files to be wiped and confirm the action, Freeraser's bin interface changes so that you know the erasing process was started. Freeraser offers 3 shredding algorithms, including the 35 passes, Gutmann method.
After all the files were securely deleted, we launched Recuva again, to see if any of them were still recoverable. Fortunately, that was not the case.
File Shredder is another program designed to help you delete files permanently. It's interface is a bit more complex than the majority of the other programs included in our roundup. However, it is really easy to use and understand. Also, File Shredder adds erasing options in Windows' right click menus.
In order to wipe files or folders with File Shredder, you can simply drag and drop them on its interface, or you can use one of the Add File(s) or Add Folder buttons. File Shredder offers 5 erasing methods, including the complex Gutmann method.
After File shredder erased every file from our test folder, we tried to recover them using Recuva. However, none of the deleted files could be recovered.
The Best Free File Shredder
Below, you can see a table we created in order to get a better picture of our findings.
If you look at the numbers and features each program has and offers, the winner immediately stands out. Out of all the free programs we tested in this roundup, Eraser is the best file shredder. When compared to the other apps, Eraser offers the largest selection of erasure algorithms and the best user interface, as well as more configuration options.
All the other programs are lagging when compared to Eraser. None of them comes close when it comes to the number of erasing methods included, even if some of them do offer the best ones on this line of work: the Gutmann and the DoD algorithms.
Others do work well enough but lack contextual menu options, which we think is a pretty important thing, as it does the whole erasing thing much faster and easier. And Freeraser, even if we liked the idea on which its interface was built, simply hasn't been updated to work on Windows 8.1 devices.
We hope our free file shredders roundup will prove to helpful for you. Even if you don't use such a program on a regular basis, it doesn't hurt to have one ready on your Windows device. You never know when you'll need to make sure that some files are deleted permanently, with no chance of recovery. Even more so, if you're working on a computer you share with others.