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7/7/06 Strategies for wiping out file footprints without reformatting PC

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / July 5, 2006 5:05 AM PDT

Hi CNETers, I am changing jobs soon and want to leave my computer as clean as possible. Since I have been periodically deleting my cookies and temp files, I have found that Windows stores things in multiple and confusing locations. I don't know how many different folders I have found just TMP files in; it is time consuming to sift through them all.

So I want to know: after I delete all my personal fluff, what is the best strategy for deleting the redundant backup files that Windows saves, Internet cookies, and so on without massive destruction? It is not my computer, so reformatting is not an option. I have nothing illegal, incriminating, or even embarrassing, and my replacement will need most of the files that are on my computer, including most of my Internet bookmarks. What they will not need are things like confidential work I have done for the HR department, my babbling notes to self, or Internet search history when I check my personal e-mail. When I started data mining on this PC, I found the person I replaced left a lot of non-work related fodder to sift though, so I don't want to do the same. Thanks!

Submitted by: Lorraine W. of Lafayette, California



Before you perform any of the steps listed below, open My Computer or Control Panel and make sure that your View options are set to show you hidden and system files and folders and to not hide extensions of known file types.

1. Select Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disc Cleanup. Select the drive that you want to clean up. After the tool scans your drive, accept the default selections. This will get rid of at least most of the TMP and temporary Internet files. If you have more than one drive or partition, repeat this for all of them.

Note: Do not delete the Office Setup Files. Uncheck this option if it is selected. If you delete them, your successor will have trouble installing updates to Office.

2. If you use the Automatic Backup feature in programs such as Microsoft Word, use the Search tool to find all instances of Microsoft Word backup files. Select "All files and folders," then Local Hard Drives, and enter the following: *.wbk

Place your cursor in the Results window and press CTRL-A to highlight each file, then press Shift-DEL. This will delete the files entirely instead of simply moving them to the Recycle Bin. (Be sure that Word is not open when you do this, otherwise you won't be able to delete files that are currently in use.)

Repeat for any other program that creates backup files, using the appropriate extension. Also repeat this for TMP files, but be aware that most of them will be in use and not able to be deleted.

3--Open Start > Control Panel > Internet Options. (The assumes that you are using the Windows Classic interface. If not, drill down in the Control Panel options until you find this applet.) On the first page, under Temporary Internet files, delete the files and cookies. Under History, clear the History files and optionally change the number of days to 0.

One the Content page, under Personal Information, select Auto Complete and clear the forms and passwords.

On the Advanced page, under Security, select the option to clear the Temporary Internet Files cache when the browser is closed.

Select Apply to save your changes, then click OK.

4--Using Windows Explorer, open the folder "c:\documents and settings\<your_user_name>" and look through the various folders for things that you might to clean up. For example, you can clear out any cookies that might remain or remove shortcuts from your desktop that the new person would not need. You can also clear your Recent Documents list.

Be sure to open the Local Settings folder as well and check out the History, Temp, and Temporary Internet Files folders for things that the steps taken above did not catch.

5--I am assuming that you know the folders where your working files are stored and don't need any help finding them. The defaults are My Documents, My Pictures, and so forth. If you have a CD or DVD burner, you might want to archive these files to one or more blank discs.

6--As for your personal e-mail messages, if any, the best thing to do would be to delete them. You can forward any important ones to your personal e-mail address. Be aware that when you delete a message, however, your e-mail software may simply move it to a Trash or Deleted Items folder.

You'll have to find the option to empty these folders. Afterward, you should also compact your mailboxes to completely get rid of the deleted records in them.

7--Empty the Recycle Bin to catch anything that might have been moved to it instead of being deleted altogether.

8--Run Defrag. This will help to overwrite any traces of the files that you've deleted.

This may not cover everything but it should give you a good start.

Submitted by: Robert S. of Sterling, Virginia
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Honorable mentions
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / July 5, 2006 5:06 AM PDT

Hi Lorraine, I can quite understand your concern, and you're obviously very wise and thoughtful. As you clearly know something about the issues, I'm going to suggest a some free programs that can help clear up the clutter.

I understand you've four main areas you're concerned about so let's split the task into three parts.
Finding your personal files
Windows and temporary files
Internet junk
Personal files

Then we must consider
Security - has the data really gone when it's been deleted?

Finding your personal files.
If you're not sure where you've put sensitive files you don't want to leave, you can search on filename and file content using Explorer's own search. Alternatives would include a desktop search such as Google's, however, that itself creates an index which takes time to build and then needs to be deleted. So perhaps Agent Ransack is the answer if you need more flexibility in searching, available as freeware (

Windows and Temporary files.
What you need is something to do the hard work for you and find all those bits and pieces floating around.

Space Odyssey - not to be confused with the film! ( does just that. IT will scan what you choose, and you can choose what it looks for and select what it should delete.

If you have Norton Utilities on your PC, it may be protecting your recycle bin, so it's best to right click on the recycle bin and 'Empty protected files' and 'Empty recycle bin'. Leave this to the end after you've deleted everything else (I'll remind you).

System Restore
If you're running Windows XP, it would be wise to turn off System Restore and then reenable it. Assuming you have enough rights to do this, click Start, point to Settings, click Control Panel, click Performance and Maintenance and then click System. In the System Properties dialog box, click the System Restore tab. Select 'Turn off system restore on all drives', apply. Then enable again.

Internet Junk
Now let's shift that Internet junk - but keep the cookies we want.
The first is Clearprog ( Clearprog is useful as it addresses a range of browsers , not just IE. I don't know which browser or browsers you use; this handles Cookies, Cache, History, Types URLs, Autocomplete and, of course, index.dat for IE, Mozilla, Netscape and Opera . For these last three, it offers selective cookie deletion, so you can leave just the ones you want and delete the rest.

Clearprog also empties the recycle bin, Windows Temp folder, Open-save file list,search lists and more. It even allows you to specify 4 folders of your own.

Internet Window Washer ( does the above and offers to deal with over 100 applications.

MRUs(Most recently used filelists)
Clearprog also deals with some MRU lists (recently used documents such as Office recent file lists (MRUs), Windows media player, Real player and several more programs including Google's toolbar. But for this I recommend MRU blaster ( This has to be the definitive MRU blaster as it finds MRU lists you never knew existed - it knows about over 30,000. One caveat: the database has not been updated for some time, however.

Once you've run those, you might also consider CCleaner ( which actually lists the details of all the items to be cleaned, an addresses more areas you may not have thought of. It is also updated. Please check the license details as it's free for personal use, not business use.

Internet favourites.
You'll want to selectively delete some favourites in IE. Internet explorer doesn't offer the best favourites management. One trick is to right click on a favourite or favourite folder and select 'Explore'. That offers more flexibility in looking at your favourites in a very familiar way.

Firefox, if you use it, offers better management of it bookmarks.

Now we've deleted everything, this is the time to clear the recycle bin and Norton protected files (if any) - remember, I promised to remind you?

So now you've cleared away a lot of bits and pieces- but they're really still there on your hard drive. To make sure everything is really gone- any reference to credit card numbers, financial data and so on which can readily be retrieved by someone determined enough, we need one more step, and that's to securely wipe the newly created free space.

Eraser lets you do just that and more (it has a GNU license)

I think that covers everything, but I'm sure you'll come across more!

Submitted by: David L. of Shaanxi Province, China



Hi Lorraine,

Your topic is one of the most argumentative topics among most. Why? There is the age long argument on what to delete, what not, what should or shouldn't I use, what will hurt my system if deleted, what won't, what will slow it down\clutter it, if kept or not and probably thousands of methods and opinions. I can only hope you will form your own after this and decide what's best for you.

That said, I will respond to you in what manner I feel is best for me or new user as almost anyone may differ in preferences here. (Also, I will assume you have XP in some form) (and knowing you can't do a fresh install, we move on)...

Let's first touch on what temporary files and cookies are. Here are some links to read...

Temporary files...


First of all, there are many different levels of cleaning your PC. Do you want to simply delete cookies, temporary files, and history? Here are some tools that Windows has to get you started. That big blue E on your desktop that says internet explorer underneath? Right click it and choose PROPERTIES. You will see the TEMPORARY INTERNET FILES in blue. You can choose the delete cookies, files or even go to settings to choose the amount of space used for temporary files. There is also an option to view the files, view objects and move folder but for your purpose, we'll leave these alone for now. There is also the HISTORY listing right underneath and you may clear your history and choose how many days to keep it. This may be useful if you want the history deleted all the time, but remember, once gone, it's gone.

Also, if you go to START\ALL PROGRAMS\ACCESSORIES\SYSTEM TOOLS\DISK CLEANUP , you can do a bit of a deeper cleaning as it will clear other temporary items well. You have the option to choose what you may or may not want cleaned. If you highlight the object it will give you a brief explanation as to what it is\does and if you should delete it or not. There is also the MORE OPTIONS tab. Here you will find in blue , WINDOWS COMPONENTS, which is more for removing unwanted programs use by the Windows operating system and such (but I don't recommend using this unless you absolutely know what you are doing and this simple little option can cause many applications not to work). There is also the INSTALLED PROGRAMS tab which is pretty much self explanatory, but allows you to remove installed programs you don't use. Lastly there is SYSTEM RESTORE, which will clean up old restore points but once again , if you clean these up and need to restore, you won't be able to so I don't typically suggest using it unless you are experienced in backing up on your own, which I am but I still leave these restore points as they do come in useful. However, if you must pass the PC on, and no valuable info must be passed on, you may want to delete them so someone may not do a restore and get your info back. I am not recommending the advanced options you understand, but if you were to see them and use them without an understanding of them, you may cause yourself problems in the future. Eventually you may get a better understanding and be able to use them efficiently but for now, we'll stick to basics.

Your bookmarks are another matter and using the tools above and many others, you will not have to worry about deleting them. These are typically set in place and must be manually deleted by going into favorites, organize favorites, where you can delete these. While some programs may allow you to do so, many typical cleaning programs do not.

Although the next two items are not cleaning tools, it is good to run them, depending on the pc use, weekly etc... The first I mention is mainly because the next often requires you to do this, Check Disk. You can run check disk to check your drive for errors and repair them. If you go to the MY COMPUTER icon on the desktop, double click to open it, then right click C:\ or whatever main drive is, and choose PROPERTIES\TOOLS. You can then click the Check Now button which will bring up a box of options. I typically check both and click START. On your next boot, this will kick into action and attempt the scan \fix\recovery, and when done, will load into Windows.

This isn't something you may have to do all too often but Defragmenting <<which is next >>often asks you to run this, so it's more of a guide then a have to although I run mine weekly.

Defragmenting. This is the method of not really cleaning up, but organizing all the holes left from clean up. On your hard drive you have files, etc...let's pretend the 0s are files..


Now when you uninstall, clean up, delete files you get left with this...

0000 000000 00000000000000 000 000000 0000000

When you install other programs, Windows may place them in these open spots but not next to each other in order which may slow down your access time. So to defrag we do this...go to START\ALL PROGRAMS\ACCESSORIES\SYSTEM TOOLS\DISK DEFRAGMENTER. once you run this, your files will be back to looking like this...


With this said, I truly feel the Windows tools are currently the safest to use in your case as you are simply looking to clean up junk.

Note: Below I state what I use and trust and there are far too many clean up utilities to list but may do basically the same as what I use...

This is "my way" of keeping my computer clean so "opinions" may vary but I use Ccleaner which you can find here...

This program does a wonderful and quick clean up I want on a daily or more than once in a daily basis. It will clean cookies, or let you choose as I clean all, but put Cnet in the Do Not Clean section so i don't have to keep signing in. It will clean the history, temp files etc...but remember, a bit more advanced may include getting rid of something you didn't want to and although Ccleaner is a fairly safe program, learn what you are cleaning before cleaning it.

Speaking of Ccleaner which has a <fix issues >cleaning option that I feel I should touch on since this gets into a bit deeper cleaning level. The Registry. If looking just to keep your PC tidy of cookies and temp files, I don't suggest getting into the registry or getting registry cleaners as they can confuse you even more and the registry is the heart of the Operating System which keeps a record and keys of everything installed, removed etc...but can get cluttered also. The problem is, one wrong move can mean a corrupt operating system. The reason I like to use Ccleaner is that it doesn't delete much needed registry files when using the issues\fix issues option. It does just enough to keep your pc running decently for every day use. Even as safe as I feel using Ccleaner is for <minor registry cleaning>, it is still advised to look at the tour and help site to see what you may or may not want to delete. Ccleaner does have an option to back up the registry quickly each time in case you need to restore it. So in fact, I feel Ccleaner is the 2nd safest choice to clean your PC. You may also use both Windows options and Ccleaner.

Lastly is the deep cleaning which the tools and topics may go on for centuries about what's best, what's not etc...The deeper cleaning is not only deleting items, but over-writing them many times as to make sure they are not recoverable, going into the registry, covering internet tracks and many others. This is far more in depth than I think you need to or want to go. As you said, you are not trying to cover up anything illegal so I would stay with the first two cleaning methods.

Perhaps other cleaning needed? While you may be talking Temp files, Cookies and things on that order, what if you want to be able to delete old downloads, get rid of programs, etc...? If you do have an installed program that is just collecting binary dust and you know you don't need it, or that it is vital to your system you can do this...

Go to START \ CONTROL PANNEL\ADD REMOVE PROGRAMS.. here you will find all the installed programs which you have the option to uninstall. Some may not be listed and have their own uninstall in the C:\ PROGRAM FILES folder. Some may show the uninstaller in the START\ALL PROGRAMS menu but it is preferred to do it through ADD REMOVE. Keeping track of where you download items to helps when wanting to remove the installer file if no longer needed. Whether it be a compressed\zip folder or have the .exe extension, a good method is to create a folder and select it when downloading so that the setups\downloads all remain in one place that you can find for later deletion or install. This is the same for pictures, notes to self, or whatever you put on your computer. Keep them in certain folders for easy access.

There is also a word called prevention. I say this because going to bad web sites, downloading over P2P, bit torrents, a good way to get junk on your PC which then needs extensive cleaning. Keeping spyware and viruses off the PC is a good idea as they are doorways for hordes of garbage, tracking cookies, malware, what have you. If you want your information private, keeping these baddies out is a good way to do it. Keep a good anti-virus software and perhaps Ad aware, or Spyware blaster (which helps prevent spyware from getting on pc). Both have free versions. Let's not forget about a firewall. Windows has a built in firewall or there are free versions such as Zone Alarm.

While you ask about cleaning the PC , I won't get into the anti-virus\firewall issues too much but I do feel this ties in, and needs to be said. It is clutter\junk and you don't want it.

Remember this, it is always good to back up your information regularly as anything can happen. Also note: there are hundreds of cleaning tools, far too many to list and you can alway look on for user reviews on the said cleaners. That said, I hope this answers many of your questions.

Take care and happy cleaning.

Submitted by: Paul K.



Dear Loraine,

As you didn't mention what windows operating system you have, I will presume you have windows XP. Now, to actually delete files that are not needed anymore can be a tricky task. The only files that are required to be deleted are:

? cookies
? My Recent Documents
? My Documents
? History
? Temp
? Temporary internet files
? autocomplete files

Now, cookies can be the easiest thing to delete but can also be the most hardest. To successfully delete all your cookies open an IE>CLICK TOOLS>INTERNET OPTIONS>DELETE COOKIES. If it deleted them all, you should see only an index.dat file under C:\Documents and Settings\your username\Cookies. My recent documents list all the latest documents opened in the last fortnight. To delete these you go to C:\Documents and Settings\your username. Then go to tools up in the toolbar and click folder options. Click the VIEW tab and click on 'Show hidden files and folders'. Click ok. Now you will see more files that were hidden. Right click on recent documents and select delete. Now it is your turn, all you have to do now is go through and delete all of the documents that are not needed. Once you have done that, deleting the history is the easiest thing to do. Go to My Computer>C drive>Documents and settings>click on your name>Local Settings>History. Under History there will be so many time periods, delete them all. To delete temp files go to go to My Computer>C drive>Documents and settings>click on your name>Local Settings>Temp. Click on 1 file and press ctrl + A, then press Delete. To delete temporary internet files, go to My Computer>C drive>Documents and settings>click on your name>Local Settings>Temporary Internet Files. Click on 1 file and press ctrl + A, then press Delete. To delete autocomplete files which store all the search engine information go to start>right click Internet Explorer>Internet Properties>Content Tab>AutoComplete>click delete forms and then click delete passwords.

Submitted by: Joshua W.



I understand the Lorraine's concern about leaving non-business "stuff" on her work PC.
Any work related documents should be stored on a network share in the first place so they are backed up at night. I would include any bookmarks that are necessary for doing the job, in a folder labeled as such. Once all of the work related documents are safely stored on a logically labeled network share (or even on a CD that you could burn, or have burned) You can clean up your ID and what you would like to get rid of.

If she has administrative access to her PC, she can delete her profile directory which is located normally under c:\documents and settings\<user id> .
That is where all of her temporary stuff is stored. When the new user logs in, they will have a new profile created for them, and they can start working with their settings and can pull the needed files from the network.

Personally, for me, going into a new job or having a new employee coming into a department, I like to have a PC "reimaged". This way, there is no old "stuff" floating about, and any file corruption that may have taken place while the previous user had the PC is set straight. Most medium to large companies use some sort of package like Norton's Ghost or even Microsoft's automated system building tools so that it only takes an hour or so to do this. More importantly for the employee's piece of mind, they are getting a fresh PC, not somebody's old junk and possibly problems waiting for them.

Hope this helps!

Submitted by: Walter P.




For the most part, it sounds like you've already got a good handle on cleaning up your computer. You've already got a handle on cleaning up most of the stuff you're wanting to eliminate.

A lot of this will have to do with how organized you've been... If you've saved those confidential files in on sub folder, then it should be a matter of going there and eliminating them all at once or if you haven't been that organized with them, they will probably need to be gone thru, one at a time, to double check the contents to make sure they're files you truly have no need for - followed by a dump into the recycle bin.

The same goes for your notes - if they've all been kept in one location, then they can be easily disposed of.

Internet history can be easily eliminated - by accessing Internet Properties
- either by right-clicking on the IE icon on the desktop and selecting Internet Properties, or by opening IE and selecting Tools | Internet Properties or by going into the Control Panel and opening it there. There's an option to clear Internet History on the General tab.

Lastly, you might want to visit Disk Cleanup (Start | Programs | Accessories
| System Tools | Disk Cleanup or by right clicking on the hard drive,
selecting Properties and clicking the Disk Cleanup button there. ). Disk Cleanup allows you to delete most of the remaining items on your list. Make sure you select the items that aren't empty and let it do it's thing.

That should eliminate most everything you would want to clean up..

Submitted by: Pete Z.



I have found that the easiest way to scan for files containing "tracks" is to run multiple searches on all hard drives for several file types. Aside from TMP files, also run a scan for TEMP files, LOG, and BAK. Be careful though, and read each filename before you delete anything. The TEMP search will find all Template files also, and you probably don't want to delete these. The BAK files sometimes contains important backup information, so use caution here also.

The other item to look for is the entire directory structure under your personal user profile. When you are completely finished deleting everything you think you want to, go to Documents and Settings and delete everything in your user name folder. There is an entire directory tree in there, with personal settings and preferences, including all kinds of internet tracks and Outlook data. Once you do this, your personal settings will be gone, and you may not be able to use the computer again, depending on the administrative settings.

Of course, the best practice is to always remember that any work computer is not your personal desktop, and always consider everything you put into it to be shared information. Good luck on the next job.

Submitted by: Mitch C.



Deleting Internet files and folders is always a great idea. If the computer is cluttered, and you want it clean, also go into the Windows Explorer folder. Remove any extra folders that you may have created during your work at your current position. Cross check it by opening up the same folder in My Computer. Next, empty the recycle bin. There is nothing like a full recycle bin for a habitual pack rat like myself. If I delete something and it is left in the Recycle Bin, sooner or later it will be restored to its original location.

An additional step may be to run the add/remove programs wizard from the Control Panel. Remove anything that isn?t necessary, or that hasn?t been used. Another important step may be to clean out your email program (Outlook, Outlook Express) and a courtesy may be to set up the computer with a user name (no password) that reflects the new user?s identity. Do what you can to make the transition easy for the next one. At this point, the computer should be clean, without the need to go into formatting hard-drives.

Submitted by: Paul D.
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Other recommendations from our members
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / July 5, 2006 5:06 AM PDT


It is very nice of you to want to leave your "old" computer as clean as possible for the next person. More people should be so thoughtful. Concerning "how" to clean up your computer for the next person is a whole different matter altogether. Where I work, we have to agree to not even attempt to go to any areas that we are not permitted to be in, neither are we allowed to do any kind of maintenance on the equipment that is assigned to us. Having said that, I believe you need to contact your in-house tech support to see what you can do and what they need to do. If you do not have on-site tech support, then you need to talk to your immediate supervisor to see what you are permitted to do to your computer. There are certain legal issues that you need to abide by. It may just be that you will have to leave it a little messy.

However, if you are permitted to do some maintenance or clean-up type functions, then you will need to apprise yourself of what your company uses (Norton, McAfee, etc.). I am acquainted with Norton, which has certain utilities (Wipe Info, etc.) that will allow you to remove everything that needs removed. "Wipe Info" allows you to select files or folders and "wipe" them from your hard drive. While "Wipe Info" is not perfect, it is about as good as it gets to permanently deleting information. You might be able to go to "Start" in your taskbar and click on "Search," using different words that pertain to the info you are wishing to delete. This will bring back everything that has the "key" words in the folder or file label. Your in-house tech support will be able to guide you through this in a more detailed manner.

I personally would like to thank you for wanting to clean up after yourself. Not many would be so concerned about this, so a hardy "thank you" from all of us who have had to follow a "messy." Good luck on your new assignment.

Submitted by: Mike




The best thing to do in a case like yours, where it is not your computer and reformatting is not an option, would be to use one of many free utilities that clean up temporary files with personally identifiable information. My favorite is CCleaner. CCleaner is a freeware system optimization and privacy tool. It removes unused files from your system - allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. But the best part is that it's fast (normally taking less that a second to run) and contains NO Spyware or Adware! CCleaner also will not erase any internet bookmarks! When you are installing CCleaner, it may give you the option to install Yahoo Toolbar. I do not recommend this, as Yahoo Toolbar may slow down your computer. CCleaner is available for download at , one of CNET's websites. Once it is downloaded and installed, run the application and make sure everything is checked under cleaner settings. Then click run cleaner. If you do not do a lot of maintenance to the computer, it may take a while for it to run the first time. After it is complete, click on issues on the left. Click scan for issues. This may take a few minutes. After it is done scanning, click Fix Selected Issues. It may ask you if you want to back up the registry. It is not necessary, but you can if you want to. Then click fix all issues. Close the program and you are done Wasn't that easy! Now make sure that all of your personal files (if any) are off of the computer. The most common place for these would be My Documents and My Pictures. If you find a file that you want to delete, right click on it and select Delete from the menu. I hope this helped. Good luck with your new job.

Submitted by: Andrew J.



Here's an answer to Lorraine's question:

First of all, you're already ahead of the game by even thinking about cleaning up your system. Once you've deleted all your personal "fluff", there's a fantastic (and free) utility for handling the cruft that Windows has lying around. It's a product called CCleaner.


CCleaner will remove temporary internet files, browser history, cookies, autocomplete form data, saved passwords, and download history from your web browsers (Internet Explorer and Firefox), permanently delete anything in the recycle bin, clean up recent documents, wipe out temp files (including those by most 3rd party applications), clean up the registry, and more.

I've used CCleaner many times when I've prepared an older computer to be given away to someone else, and it works great.

I would also recommend running one (or more) spyware/adware removal programs, such as AdAware, SpyBot, or Microsoft Defender, as well as a good virus scan. If you don't already have anti-virus software installed (why not!?), you may want to try Avast Antivirus. It's free, and works great.

Submitted by: Tony C.



If you are allowed to install programs on this computer; then, I would recommend a Webroot
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Leave the computer CLEAN
by xylinx / July 6, 2006 9:19 PM PDT

IMHO all of the present suggestion are
a) rather time-taking
b) not providing the needed protection of privacy.

In case of given back the computer because of changing the job the normal way should be to kill everything on the HDD and to setup a new system.

Erasing the HDD should be done with the necessary level of security (several runs).
I fine freeware tool for doing so is DBAN:

Everything else will leave tons of traces behind and it's easy enough to even recreate things on a HDD which has only been formatted.

A bit radical.
But one has to be radical in so far.

It's personal privacy which has to safeguarded.


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Leaving the computer CLEAN
by yellowcabohio / July 7, 2006 5:04 AM PDT

I was the "senior computer guy" at my former place of employment, and didn't want to leave my collection of windows tricks and fixes that I had documented since Windows 3.0 up through Windows XP, including the server products and all when I retired. Everybody in the IT department used my collection, and I knew even if I reformed and fdisked, there would be somebody that would know how to salvage my collection, after all I worked at computer engineering college.
My solution, I just went to Staples Office Supply, bought the identical hard drive that was in my desktop for $40, swapped harddrives and took my old one home. I installed a clean (Dell Recovery) install of XP and applications that came on the machine.
I just wonder how many hours were spent by the others trying to recover my files?

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(NT) (NT) Retired? Bad Party? (NT)
by pmchefalo / July 7, 2006 10:59 AM PDT
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Response to cottom
by Batman / July 7, 2006 11:59 AM PDT

I'm not sure that would work for this person; but, that is a great idea! So simple, and, unbelievably so, it's a wonder more people dont do that.

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elegant solution
by xylinx / September 1, 2006 9:55 PM PDT

Changing the HDD for sure is a most elegant solution if one wants to keep ones personal stuff.

This will not be allowed in most companies because it could also mean that the former staff memeber would carry away business secrets.


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Not an option for Lorraine
by bonbon53 / July 7, 2006 7:26 AM PDT

Normally I would agree. However, Lorraine, the original poster, said that because the computer didn't belong to her, reformatting the drive was not an option. She also pointed out that many of the files on the system would be needed by her successor.

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Selective Wiping
by xylinx / September 1, 2006 10:20 PM PDT

Lorraine will hopefully have solved her problem meanwhile following the suggestions in here.
For future readers:

My mistake. I did overlook that the OP had said that formatting was not an option so that my suggesting of wiping the disk (overwriting with security techniques) was no option either.

In cases like this - apart from many compulsory techniques to remove traces in the Registry and elsewhere all of the personal files (docs and email and downloads etc. etc.) need to be removed in a way not allowing for undeleting files and/or reconstruction of data.

This can be done by *WIPING* files and folders (directories).
There are lots of tools on the market and out in the net which use overwriting freed space using security patterns.

A commercial application f.e. would be "WipeInfo", a part of Norton/Symantec "SystemWorks".

A fine freeware tool f.e. would be "SuperShredder" from AnalogX
It does not wipe freed space but kill the traces when deleting files.

To repeat it: IMO *wiping* of all personal stuff is crucial.


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Complete cleanup
by evilive27 / July 6, 2006 10:28 PM PDT

I've been a long time user of complete cleanup. It has been great, and will normally find and remove many things. It will also show you what is found. There are probably other progs also...

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CCleaner & Yahoo Toolbar
by / July 7, 2006 12:06 AM PDT

The only thing I HATE about these downloads is they always put some promotional program on my computer. I got a Yahoo toolbar with this one. If I wanted a Yahoo toolbar I'd download it myself.

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uncheck box when installing
by militantmike / July 7, 2006 8:21 AM PDT

there's a box to uncheck during install of crap cleaner. the yahoo toolbar is a new edition to crap cleaner, so everytime you go to update remember to uncheck that box.

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by zander818 / July 7, 2006 1:50 PM PDT

In the beganing, they ask you do you want to install it with the tool bar and all you have to do is click the box

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slim version
by patrick_i / July 8, 2006 7:05 AM PDT

You can do directly to the ccleaner website <A HREF=''>CCleaner builds page </a>
and download the slim version which doesn't contain the yahoo toolbar option and it has only the english version of the app.

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There is no 100% way of doing that! Unless you know how to edit the registry you will only get some of your info! and some files cannot be deleted in XP . believe me I've been there MANY times. There are NO registry cleaners that work 100%. I've used many different ones and still found traces of programs in my registry!

Good Luck! A complete format c:/u is the answer if you know how to setup the system again!

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Outlook Deletions

I found out when importing and exporting between Microsoft Outlook and the free version Outlook Express, that emails that were permanently deleted from Deleted Items the will now appear in the other programs. My boss was surprised when his porn showed up again. Remember, when something is deleted, it is only converted to the same name with a tilde before the first letter, it stays in the computer until by chance something is written over it.

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Surprised ...
by pmchefalo / July 6, 2006 11:19 PM PDT
In reply to: Outlook Deletions

terrilinda, the ~ deletion comment is not quite right. In the DOS (FAT/FAT32) file systems, files remained on disk with the first letter changed until overwritten. NTFS is different, and recovery is much harder.

However in the circumstances you cited, email programs, the individual messages are data within files; the files themselves are not deleted when you delete an email message. Only the message data WITHIN the larger message file is changed.

(Check for yourself: the files are *.dbx for Outlook Express, where the * is a folder name, or *.pst for client-only Outlook, where * is the name of a mail store. The locations are a little obscure, on purpose; you have to dig through ypur profiles on XP to find them.)

What happened to your boss is a good example of why it is difficult to hold folks responsible for the contents of their hard drive ...

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Outlook Deletions DOS vs NTFS
by Fredf7 / July 7, 2006 12:19 AM PDT
In reply to: Surprised ...

It happened to be on Windows 98SE. I will look into the information that you told me. Thank you.

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Strategies for wiping out file footprints without reformatti

What about deleting the contents of the Prefetch folder in Windows?

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a possible problem with the advice here

While these are great answers to the problem, I see an even bigger problem with most of the advice posted here. "Lorraine W. is changing jobs" means she uses a company computer. Odds are there are restrictions placed on her ability to download and install software. I have to offer the advice to talk to one of the tech support people, if possible, and see how thorough they clean it, vice how thorough can she clean it.

The company I work for has strict policies against users installing software. There are those very few who have power user rights, but the rest have a more secure login preventing them from being able to perform too many maintenance actions.

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Clean up

As a matter of good practice let alone common decency and courtesy, the IT dept must come in and completely clean and reformat your hard drive for the next user. Handing over an un-scrubbed computer to someone else is bad manners, bad practice and shows little understanding of computer systems as a whole. All hard drives should be regularly cleaned and reformatted?at least every 18 months as a general rule especially those that run Windows based programs.

The only way to ensure your privacy as an individual is to reformat?..any other method will NOT clean your system despite what may be said. Any half decent forensic examiner can, more or less, get past any attempts that have been made to scrub using proprietary cleaners fairly quickly.

I would suggest asking IT to do this for you BEFORE you leave and watch what they are doing! You have a right to ask for this to be done. Do not be fobbed off. INSIST>>>Personal details are just that?personal! It is just the same as cleaning up your blotter, removing pages from notebooks and tidying up your drawers.

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Bah, Humbug.
by pmchefalo / July 6, 2006 11:28 PM PDT
In reply to: Clean up

Windows PCs do not NEED to be re-formatted EVER for good operations.

The policy presented by ElectricMayhem is just that: mayhem. Very expensive mayhem at that for a small business.

And, a simple reformat will not erase data to defeat a forensics program; one needs a special utility (freely available but not NORMAL) to get to the level of secure disk.

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Clean up that PC!
by wpavlik2 / July 6, 2006 11:50 PM PDT
In reply to: Clean up

I totally agree!
The problem is that many companies want to save a few bucks by not reformatting a PC for the next new user, which is sad.

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Totally agree
by Poirot650 / July 7, 2006 9:35 AM PDT
In reply to: Clean up

I agree 100% with ElectricMayhem, I work for the IT dept at my company and we have a strict policy to wipe any persons pc when they leave or are promoted. We use images for just that purpose. When the situation arises that a computer needs to be wiped we simply reimage the hard drive. Each image contains all applications and shortcuts that are needed for that particular person to perform their job. This not only protects the company but also the former user.

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Not An Option Here
by pmchefalo / July 7, 2006 11:04 AM PDT
In reply to: Totally agree

Y'all at big compamies didn't read the original request. This is not a corporation where "images" are hanging around on servers, and all the data is on a server. This is a small business PC, with no IT staff.

Mayhem's and Wham's (what's with the violent tags here?) answers are typical "fitness for use" quality problems resulting from coporate ... thinking.

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Not true...
by ifalldownstairs / July 24, 2006 9:58 AM PDT
In reply to: Clean up

Any business (personal or otherwise) conducted on a company computer is company property. Many large corporations have policies which state this upon login. As a former IT Director for a fortune 50 company, I can attest that many computers are forensically scrutinized in order to gather information to justify termination of personnel who use their computers for anything suspect. Most companies, however, forgive minor transgressions (occasional surfing of non offensive sites, picking up personal e-mail, etc.)

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No wonder

I entered a answer and I have to say. No wonder Lee didn't choose mine with things this detailed. I'm going to have to keep this, maybe even print it out.

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Internet Options Applet in Article

For IE users, it is always available from the Tools menu, last entry ''Internet Options ...'' No need to go into Control Panel to find it.

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Wouldn't the best way to get rid of the email be to go to Control Panal, Mail, then delete the profiles? Before deleting I would backup anything you might still need of course. After that I would check the local setting (a hinded folder under c:\Documents and Settings\Owner\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook) if you use Outlook of course and empty that folder.

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Thanks for all the answers

Thanks very much to everyone for all the information! This will be extremely helpful - and not only for now.

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