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How to clean out an old computer. Article

Prepping Your Computer For Disposal
posted by Suzanne Kantra on March 08, 2011
Ready to give your old computer the heave-ho? Before you do, remember that
computers often hold all kinds of personal and financial information that
thieves could find valuable, passwords, account numbers, license keys or
registration numbers for software programs, addresses and phone numbers,
medical and prescription information, tax returns and other personal
To ensure your hard drive doesn’t become a gold mine for thieves, there are
things you must do before you shut down for the last time.
Save important files. Back up your files to an external hard drive or online
backup service, or transfer them to a new computer. Drives as large as 1TB
cost a little over $125 and there are good free and low-cost online backup
options, such as Dropbox (2GB free),
Carbonite (unlimited backup for $54.95 per year)
or SugarSync (30GB for $49.99 per year).
“Wipe” your hard drive clean. When you delete a file, the file name is
removed from the list of available files and the computer knows it can use
that space to save new data. The old file data is still there, though, until
it is overwritten. And the data can be retrieved with a data recovery
program. To remove data from your hard drive permanently, it needs to be
wiped clean-preferably overwritten multiple times with a dedicated
hard-drive wiping program. For Windows PCs try Eraser (free)
or EgisTec Shredder ($9.95 on, supports Windows 7)
For Macs try ShredIt X (free).
Ideally, you’ll want to completely reformat your hard drive, as well. But if
that sounds a little daunting to you, at least try to follow the additional
steps we recommend below.
Uninstall your programs. Some programs, such as Microsoft Office, may
contain personal information such as your name and address or other details.
While others, such as iTunes, only allow you to install on a limited number
of computers. So be sure to deactivate iTunes and uninstall any programs
before disposing of your PC.
Delete your browsing history. Most browsers save information about your
browsing history and, if you set them to, even your user names and passwords
for sites you visit. So it is critical that you delete this information from
your browser before disposing of your computer. For Internet Explorer, you
click on the Safety tab and then Delete Browsing History. Make sure all of
the check boxes are selected so everything gets removed. Repeat this for any
other browsers on your computer-Firefox, Safari, Chrome.
Consult your employer about data disposal policies. If you use your computer
for business purposes, check with your employer about how to manage
business-related information on your computer. The law requires businesses
to follow data security and disposal requirements for certain information
that’s related to customers.
Once you have a “clean” computer, consider recycling, donating or trading it
in – and keep the environment in mind when disposing of your computer.
Disposal Options
Recycle it. Your first stop should be EcoSquid.
The site will help you determine the easiest and most cost efficient way of
disposing of your computer. If that doesn’t yield results, many computer
manufacturers have programs to recycle computers and components. The
Electronics TakeBack Coalition found at:
has a list of the major manufacturers’ policies plus resources for finding a
local recycler. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has
information on electronics product recycling programs. Found at:
And always check with your county or local government for recycling
programs, and the local landfill office for disposal regulations.
Donate it. Many organizations collect old computers and donate them to
charities, including Goodwill.
has a list of organizations that will help with donations.
Trade it in. A multitude of websites and major retailers-including Radio
Shack, Sears, Wal-Mart, Costco and Best Buy-are running trade-in programs,
competing to buy a surprisingly wide assortment of used consumer electronics
products directly from individuals. They will also pick up the shipping
costs, or conduct the transaction at a store near you. And even if your
stuff is truly worthless, they’ll still take it for proper recycling, albeit
usually without free shipping or compensation.
There are too many trade-in websites to list and cover in this space, but
some of the leaders-which you should consider checking first-are,

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