How to Erase a Hard Drive Using DBAN

Run DBAN to erase all the files and folders on a hard drive

Darik's Boot And Nuke (DBAN) is a completely free data destruction program that you can use to completely erase all the files on a hard drive. This includes everything - every installed program, all your personal files, and even the operating system.

Whether you're selling a computer or just wanting to reinstall an OS from scratch, DBAN is the best tool of this type there is. The fact that it's free makes it all the better.

Because DBAN erases every single file on the drive, it has to be run while the operating system isn't in use. To do this, you must "burn" the program to a disc (like an empty CD or DVD) or to a USB device, and then run it from there, outside of the operating system, to completely erase the hard drive you want to erase.

This is a complete walkthrough on using DBAN, which will cover downloading the program to your computer, burning it to a bootable device, and erasing all the files.

Note: See our complete review of DBAN for a non-tutorial look at the program, including my thoughts on the program, the various wipe methods it supports, and lots more.

01
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Download the DBAN Program

Screenshot of the DBAN download page
Download the DBAN ISO File.

 

To start off, you have to download DBAN to your computer. This can be done on the computer you're going to erase or on an entirely different one. However you do it, the goal is to get the ISO file downloaded and then burned to a bootable device like a CD or flash drive.

Visit the DBAN download page (shown above) and then click the green download button.

02
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Save the DBAN ISO File to Your Computer

Screenshot of the DBAN download process in Google Chrome
Save DBAN to a Familiar Folder.

When you're prompted to download DBAN to your computer, be sure to save it somewhere easy for you to access. Anywhere is fine, just make sure you make a mental note as to where.

As you can see in this screenshot, I'm saving it to my "Downloads" folder in a subfolder called "dban," but you can choose any folder you'd like, like the "Desktop."

The download size is less than 20 MB, which is pretty small, so it shouldn't take very long at all to finish downloading.

Once the DBAN file is on your computer, you need to burn it to a disc or USB device, which is covered in the next step.

03
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Burn DBAN to a disc or USB Device

Image of a DBAN burned disc
Burn DBAN to a Disc (or Flash Drive).

To use DBAN, you'll need to properly put the ISO file on a device that you can then boot from.

Because the DBAN ISO is so small, it can easily fit on a CD, or even a small flash drive. If all you have is something larger, like a DVD or BD, that's fine too.

See How to Burn an ISO Image File to a DVD or How to Burn an ISO File to a USB Drive if you're not sure how to do this.

DBAN can't just be copied over to a disc or USB device and be expected to work correctly, so be sure to follow the instructions in one of the links above if you're not already familiar with burning ISO images.

In the next step, you'll boot from the disc or USB device you've just prepped in this step.

04
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Restart and Boot Into the DBAN Disc or USB Device

Image of a standard PC POST/Boot Screen
Boot From the Disc or Flash Drive.

Insert the disc or plug in the USB device that you burned DBAN to in the previous step, and then restart your computer.

You might see something like the screen above, or maybe your computer logo. Regardless, just let it do its thing. You'll know pretty quickly if something isn't right.

Important: The next step shows what you should see next but while we're here, I should mention: if Windows or whatever operating system you have installed tries to start like it normally does, then booting from this DBAN disc or USB drive has not worked. Depending on whether you burned DBAN to a disc or to a flash drive, see either How to Boot From a CD, DVD, or BD Disc or How to Boot From a USB Device for help.

05
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Choose an Option from the DBAN Main Menu

Screenshot of the DBAN menu
Main Menu Options in DBAN.

WARNING: DBAN is potentially just moments away from irreversibly erasing all the files on all your hard drives, so be sure to pay close attention to the instructions in this step and the following ones.

Note: The screen shown here is the main screen in DBAN and the one you should see first. If not, go back to the previous step and make sure you're booting from the disc or flash drive properly.

Before we get started, please know that DBAN is designed to be used with your keyboard only... your mouse is useless in this program.

In addition to using the regular letter keys and the Enter key, you'll need to know how to operate the function (F#) keys. These are located at the top of your keyboard and are as easy to click as any other key, but some keyboards are a little different. If the function keys aren't working for you, be sure to hold down the "Fn" key first, and then select the function key you want to use.

DBAN can work in one of two ways. You can either enter a command at the bottom of the screen to immediately start erasing all the hard drives you have plugged in to your computer, using a predefined set of instructions. Or, you can choose the hard drives you want to erase, as well as select exactly how you want them to be deleted.

As you can see, the F2 and F4 options are informational only, so you don't have to be concerned about reading through them unless you have a RAID system set up (which probably isn't the case for most of you... you would probably know if so).

For the quick method of erasing every hard drive plugged in, you'll want to press the F3 key. The options you see there (as well as the autonuke one here) are described in full detail in the next step.

To have the flexibility to choose the hard drives you want to erase, how many times you want the files to be overwritten, and more specific options, press the ENTER key at this screen to open interactive mode. You can read more about that screen in step 7.

If you know how you want to proceed, and you're confident that there's nothing on any connected drive that you want to keep, then go for it.

Continue with this tutorial for some more options or if you're not sure which way to go.

06
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Immediately Start Using DBAN With a Quick Command

Screenshot of the quick commands in DBAN
Quick Command Options in DBAN.

Choosing F3 from DBAN's main menu will open this "Quick Commands" screen.

Important: If you use any command you see on this screen, DBAN will not ask you which hard drives you want to erase, nor will you be required to confirm any prompts. Instead, it will automatically assume you want to remove all the files from all the connected drives, and will start immediately after you enter the command. To choose which hard drives to erase, just press the F1 key, and then go to the next step, ignoring everything else on this screen.

DBAN can use one of several different methods to erase files. The pattern used to erase the files, as well as how many times to repeat that pattern, are the differences you'll find in each of these methods.

In bold are the commands DBAN supports, followed by the data sanitization method they use:

You can also use the autonuke command, which is the exact same thing as dodshort.

Click the links next to the commands to read more about how they work. As an example, gutmann will overwrite the files with a random character, and do so up to 35 times, whereas quick will write a zero and only do it once.

DBAN recommends using the dodshort command. You can use any of them that you think is necessary, but ones like gutmann are surely an overkill that will only take more time to complete than is necessary.

Simply type one of these commands into DBAN to start wiping all your hard drives with that specific data wipe method. If you want to choose which hard drives to erase, as well as customize the wipe method, see the next step, which covers interactive mode.

07
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Choose Which Hard Drives to Wipe With Interactive Mode

Screenshot of interactive mode in DBAN
Interactive Mode in DBAN.

Interactive mode lets you customize exactly how DBAN will erase files, as well as which hard drives it will erase. You can get to this screen with the ENTER key from DBAN's main menu.

If you don't want to do this, and would rather have DBAN erase all your files the easy way, restart this walkthrough at step 4, and be sure to choose the F3 key.

Along the bottom of the screen are the different menu options. Pressing the J and K keys will move you up and down a list, and the Enter key will select an option from a menu. As you change each option, the top left of the screen will reflect those changes. The middle of the screen is how you choose which hard drives you want to erase.

Pressing the P key will open the PRNG (Pseudo Random Number Generator) settings. There are two options you can choose from - Mersenne Twister and ISAAC, but keeping the default one chosen should be perfectly fine.

Selecting the letter lets you choose which wipe method you want to run. See the previous step for more information on these options. DBAN recommends choosing DoD Short if you're not sure.

V opens a set of three options you can choose from to define how often DBAN should verify that the drive is actually empty after running the chosen wipe method. You're able to disable verification entirely, turn it on for the last pass only, or set it to verify the drive is empty after each and every pass has finished. I recommend choosing Verify Last Pass because it will keep verification on, but won't require it to run after each and every pass, which would otherwise slow the whole process down.

Choose how many times the chosen wipe method should run by opening the "Rounds" screen with the key, entering a number, and pressing ENTER to save it. Keeping it at 1 will simply run the method once, but should still be enough to securely erase everything.

Finally, you must choose the drive(s) you want to erase. Move up and down the list with the J and keys, and press the Space key to select/deselect the drive(s). The word "wipe" will appear to the left of the drive(s) you choose.

Once you're sure all the correct settings have been chosen, press the F10 key to immediately begin wiping the hard drive(s) with the options you've chosen.

08
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Wait for DBAN to Erase the Hard Drive(s)

Screenshot of DBAN erasing a hard drive
DBAN Erasing a Hard Drive.

This is the screen that'll show once DBAN has started.

As you can see, you can neither stop nor pause the process at this point.

You can view the statistics, like time remaining and any number of errors, from the top right side of the screen.

09
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Verify DBAN Has Successfully Erased the Hard Drive(s)

Screenshot of the DBAN Succeeded screen
Verify DBAN Is Finished.

Once DBAN has completely finished the data wipe of the selected hard drive(s), you'll see this "DBAN succeeded" message.

At this point, you can safely remove the disc or USB device that you've installed DBAN to, and then shut down or restart your computer.

If you're selling or disposing of your computer or hard drive, then you're done.

If you're reinstalling Windows, see How to Clean Install Windows for instructions on starting over again from scratch.

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