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This page was last updated: 1/30/2008 3:57:59 PM

What should I do with my old home computer?
Q4: What should I do with my old home computer?

If you're ready to replace, sell, or retire your old computer, it's very important to eradicate personal data stored on its hard drive before unplugging it for the last time.

You should always remember that even though you manually delete computer files, an identity thief might still be able to recover them, possibly putting you or your family at risk.

Files you should remove before you donate or sell your computer:

  • E-mail contacts
  • E-mail messages
  • All documents
  • All files in the operating system recycle bin or trash folder
  • Internet files
  • All non-transferable software (most software is transferable if you have the original disks and product key)

    Options for removing files from your computer:
    1. Remove the files yourself at home using disk-cleaning software. It's not difficult to do, and many cleaning utilities are free. Some currently available are listed below.
    2. Call the computer manufacturer's technical services department and ask how to delete personal files (your computer might need to be under warranty for this service).
    3. Take your hard drive to a local reputable computer supplier to have them safely overwrite your files.

    Shared Windows disk-cleaning utilities (free of charge):

  • Active Kill Disk: Hard Drive Eraser
  • Disk Cleaner
  • Sure Delete
  • Others available on

    In addition, several commercial disk-cleaning utilities compatible with Windows are listed on the File Deletion page in Windows Marketplace.

    Once you've cleaned the personal data from your old computer (and you don't plan to or are unable to sell it), what should you do with it? Consider donating or recycling.


    If your unwanted computer still works, donating it is probably the best way to go, and doing so will help keep toxins such as lead, mercury, and other electronic byproducts out of the environment.

    Each computer dumped in a landfill is a missed opportunity to provide a computer for others to use through one of the more than 400 nonprofit or school-based refurbishers around the country.

    In addition, depending on the current market value of your donated computer, you might be able to deduct its value from your taxes (refer to current federal and local tax laws for more information).


    If your computer is an older model (five years is typically the maximum for donating), doesn't work, or donating isn't otherwise an option, you can dispose of it responsibly with the help of a qualified recycler near you, such as those found on the Electronics Equipment Recyclers Contact List or the Electronics Recycling Initiative Web site.

    Additional link for recycling options here.

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