Wipe Free Disk Space With Windows’ Cipher Command

By | April 26, 2014
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Hidden Windows Feature: Wipe free disk space with a simple command

This tip applies to Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8x

By now you know (or you should know) that when you delete files or folders in Windows, they’re not really deleted. Not even close. Deleting a file or folder merely tells Windows that the space occupied by the file or folder that you deleted is now available for use, and Windows considers it free space, space it can use. So everything you delete is still on your computer, but the hard drive space it used shows as free space. Of course this means any of those files are very recoverable at least for a while. In fact, with the right software, everything you’ve ever had on your computer, every word you’ve typed, every picture you’ve saved and deleted, everything is recoverable.

Did you know there’s a hidden utility in Windows that will overwrite all the free space, thus making the files you’ve deleted virtually unrecoverable – or at least very much more difficult to recover? There is and all it takes is a simple command to run it.

Press the Windows Key plus the “R” key and type:

cipher /w:C (where C is the letter of the drive you want to wipe). So if you want to wipe drive C, type: cipher /w:C . If you want to wipe drive D, type cipher /w:D . Please note the space between cipher and the forward slash.

Also, it’s important to note that wiping the free space on your drives does not affect any of your data or programs. It merely wipes the space Windows shows as free to use. So you aren’t going to lose any data by doing this.

One more thing: If you have a very large hard drive with a lot of free space, this process is going to take a long time, so be prepared. Also, closing all open applications while the free space is being wiped, helps speed up the process. So it’s best to do this when you’re not actively using your computer.

11 thoughts on “Wipe Free Disk Space With Windows’ Cipher Command

  1. Maxine Funk

    “So everything you delete is still on your computer, but the hard drive space it used shows as free space” Does this apply to external disks and if so, why can mine be recovered?

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      It depends on how much has been overwritten. You can recovery many things if the free space hasn’t been overwritten. There are many free tools that will help you recover files — one is called Recuva. But, if your drive is used frequently it is very likely that the space has been overwritten. And if it has been overwritten many times you’d need expensive forensic software or a forensic software recovery service to recover files which exist on free space which has been overwritten multiple times. The point of the articles is that nothing is ever really deleted from your computer — depending on how much you want to spend almost everything is recoverable — but the condition of the recovered files may not be pristine — but they most often are recognizable. You should not count on your deleted files being recovered in a useful state if the space they occupied has been overwritten many times with newer data.

      Reply
  2. Lorraine

    What a cool little trick to add to our computer arsenal. Love the little ‘extras’ you share with us; thanks!

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      SSDs handle data the same way as traditional hard drives when it comes to file deletion. Deleted files are not removed from the SSD, the space they occupied is marked open/free to use. The data you deleted is still there. So yes, Cipher works on SSDs too.

      Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      I don’t know what EAM clean application is. There are many free space erasers out there — for instance Eraser. The point of the article wasn’t to promote free space erasing it was to let everyone know that if they did want to erase free space and make deleted files more difficult for someone to recover, Windows already has a built-in program (Cipher) to do that. It’s not fancy and it doesn’t offer to let you choose how many times you want the free space overwritten (the more times it’s overwritten with gibberish the more difficult it is for someone to recover the data you’ve deleted Notice I said ‘more difficult’- I’m pretty sure that no matter how many times you’ve overwritten the deleted data/free space with no matter what program, someone like the FBI or NSA could surely recover usable data from it. If you want to hide something from them, my advice is to boil the hard drive then take it out to your driveway and pound it with a sledgehammer until it’s flatter than a pancake, then get a metal saw and cut it in four pieces and take the pieces and throw them in different rivers and lakes. I’m not advising you pollute the environment, by the way. I’m just making a point.

      Reply
  3. Don

    I went to “my computer”, selected OS(C:), selected EAMClean from dropdown menu, opened it and got- Notepad-EAMClean “removing detected objects now.”

    I am just a curious Super Senior guy that likes to know how things work !!! Thanks for a reply

    Reply
  4. Don

    Regarding my post about EAMClean—I found my answer . EAMClean. exe is part of Emsisoft Anti Malware, a “File and Registry Notification Engine” located in C:/windows/system32\folder.

    Yeah, I’m curious-just didn’t go far enough. Have a good day.

    Reply
  5. Linda

    Having read all your newsletters and all the articles on the Web concerning the demise of Windows XP, I installed Chrome on my XP laptop and desktop computer about a month ago as you recommended, (to give them that extra “year of life”). I’ve spent the better part of the past week deleting/removing tons of stuff off both, sending a lot of things to various Cloud storage places until I get my new laptop set up the way I like. I hid all icons and references to IE and Outlook Express as I will still be letting the grandkids use the desktop occasionally. I then used this method to wipe the hard drives – twice on the laptop and 3 times on the desktop. I will wipe it several more times once Chrome is no longer safe to use. I was really worried about what to do with them once they were no longer usable, but it’s good to know that doing this will make it more difficult for information to be recovered. Thanks to you both for all the help and information you share with us – where would we all be without you?!?!

    Reply

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