The longer you are employed at a job, the more information there is to clean from your computer when you resign. Wiping your computer's hard disk can range from light cleaning (saving your personal files to a flash drive) to extensive (reinstalling the operating system to overwrite everything on the computer). The methods used to clean the computer are a reflection of the number of personal files you store on the work computer, information you're required to leave for the next person and the administrative access you have to make changes to the hard drive.
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Make a list of all of the personal data you have accessed on your work computer. This serves as a checklist in safeguarding your personal files and data. The list should include all non-work related websites such as social networking sites, banking sites and e-mail accounts. The list should also include folders on the hard drive where personal files are downloaded such as My Documents (on a PC) and Documents (on a Mac). List any other file folders you have created on your computer or networked drives. Finally, list applications that store your passwords or account information such as iTunes or instant messaging programs.
Plug an external hard drive into the USB port on your computer.
Click on "Finder" in your dock (Mac OS X) or click on "My Computer" on the desktop (Windows). Navigate to the folder containing your personal files.
Highlight the files you want to save and drag them onto the icon for the external hard drive in the left column of the file explorer. Verify that the files have moved by double clicking on one file icon.
Delete the files from the folders on your computer by highlighting them. Right click and then click "Trash" (on Mac OS X) or "Recycle Bin" (on Windows).
Double-click on the web browser icon you use most frequently. Click on "Tools" in Firefox or "Internet Options" in Internet Explorer to access controls to delete all data from the cache, cookies and browsing history. For the Safari web browser, click the "Safari" menu and then click "Reset Safari".
Locate your desktop e-mail application system files and delete them. For example, Microsoft Outlook stores all of your messages in a ".pst" file. Deleting the pst file removes e-mail messages from Outlook.
Empty your computer recycle bin. All of the files you have deleted from your computer are stored in the recycle bin for secure deletion. Locate the recycle bin, which usually looks like a garbage can. Right click on it, and then "Empty Recycle Bin ("Empty Trash" on Mac OS X). Confirm that you have backed up the files, music and pictures that you want to keep and then delete all files permanently from the trash.
Tips and warnings
- Deleting work e-mail is optional. Your employer may prefer that these files are left intact for your successor.
- Download and install hard drive wiping software if you are concerned about left over data.
- Administrative access is required to install programs and alter certain settings. Contact your network administrator if you experience complications.
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