Wiping Old Floppies with a Rare-Earth Magnet

posted: 2016-10-14

A stack of floppies in need of wiping.

A stack of floppies in need of wiping.

There is only one thing more unsettling than the monster I am convinced is hiding under my bed, and that is the teetering tower of dusty, old floppy disks lurking in my closet.

Of course, I am going to recycle them, but what about all the data they contain? How can I be sure that no one will ever read that film noir screenplay I so artfully crafted in WordPerfect 5.1?

Assuming you still have a floppy disk drive, disk wiping software will overwrite your data with meaningless characters. Make sure to wipe the entire disk—both files and free space. If your disks are many, check out a copy of War and Peace from the library. Disk wiping is a slow process.

Rare-earth magnet from an old hard disk drive used to wipe floppies.

A rare-earth magnet from an old hard disk drive used to wipe floppies.

Need a faster way to expunge data? I extracted a rare-earth magnet from a defunct hard disk drive, then rubbed the magnet across each side of the floppy disk in multiple directions. One possible caveat: the magnet’s effect on the portion of the disk covered by the metal shutter is greatly reduced. I don’t know if this could leave bits and bytes intact, but if you are concerned, rotate the disk inside the disk’s plastic cover a quarter turn, and wipe the section previously covered by the shutter. This is not a problem if the shutter is plastic.

Will my data be vanquished for all time? Short of subjecting the disks to sophisticated data recovery software, I can’t be one hundred percent sure. However, I’ve checked several erased disks by popping them into a disk drive. Windows reported:  The disk media is not recognized. It may not be formatted.

I also removed and shredded the disk labels before dropping off the disks at the recycling center. A heat gun on low makes rather quick work of tenacious labels.

A word of caution: keep magnets away from credit cards, watches, medical devices, and all things electronic. There is probably a laundry list of other things that can be damaged as well. Oh, and be careful not to get your fingers, or any other part of your good self, caught between a powerful magnet and ferromagnetic material (a fridge, possibly?).

A floppy trip down memory lane…

Floppy diskette potpourri.

A floppy diskette potpourri. Ahhh, brings back memories.

Mickey Mouse floppy disk.

I didn’t know Mickey Mouse was into vintage computing.

See-through floppy disk.

A see-through floppy disk featuring more transparency in data collection.

Jungle Strike game disk from PC Gamer Magazine.

Jungle Strike game disk from PC Gamer Magazine. It got a lot of play.

single-sided floppy disk from about 1985

A single-sided floppy disk from about 1985. I managed to format it to a whopping 713 KB.

Formatting a single sided 3.5 inch floppy disk

Formatting the single sided disk just for fun.

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One lonely comment — it deserves company. . .

  1. Ann B. comments:

    Wow, that’s quite the job. We just took ours to the recycling depot before we moved. No erasing… I doubt I had anything secret on the ones I used.

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