The terms wipe, shred, delete and erase are often used as if they're interchangeable - but they shouldn't be, because they're not. For example, you don't have to erase a file just because you deleted it. And you can erase a drive without wiping it, or wipe files that have already been deleted.
We know it sounds a bit confusing. That's why we've put together this helpful guide that breaks it all down and helps you understand which action you should actually take, and when you should take it. Use this, and you'll know the best way to remove data from your computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet.
The first thing you need to know is what each term means, so here's a quick cheat sheet:
The term "delete" is probably the most easily recognized term on the list. However, you might have some misconceptions about it. When you delete a file, you're essentially moving that file into your Recycle Bin - but that doesn't mean the file has been completely removed from your computer. Think of it more like "hiding" that file, because the file is still available should you need to access it again.
Although this term isn't used as frequently, it's the next step when it comes to actually removing a file from your computer. When you "erase" a file, this means that the data will be removed from your system and you'll never see that file again.
This is why in most cases you'll receive a prompt that says, "Are you sure?" Because once you erase a file, it's gone forever.
Shredding is fairly similar to erasing a file. The only difference is that shredding replaces the file with random patterns of ones and zeros. It's typically only used for individual files and folders. Like erasing, when you shred a file, the action is permanent. You won't be able to get the file back.
That's why many people use file shredding programs like WipeFile and BitKiller to shred files more securely. To shred files using these programs, you have to add them or drag them into the icon on your desktop.
The term "wipe" is practically the same as "erase," except on a much wider scale. When you wipe your computer, you're essentially erasing everything. A complete "wipe" is usually done to remove all of the data from your computer's hard drive. This clears out all of the data that is lingering from files you deleted in the past.
Each of the previously mentioned terms are actions you typically take to clean up your PC, but "resetting" your computer takes it one step further. When you reset your computer, your files, settings and apps are deleted, and then Windows is reinstalled. This action is like taking your computer back in time, taking your system back to where it was when you first opened up the box.