Getting rid of your old computer or laptop is like losing a friend and the memories you shared.  Before you donate or recycle your computer, stop and think! There are important steps and safeguards that you’ll need to take.

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Step 1: Back-It-Up! Your Data is Important

Your computer may contain important files such as bank and tax records. These important files and sensitive information need to be kept safe and secure.

Doc Brown and Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Doc Brown looks at a transmitter that says,

To prevent accidental loss and exploitation by cybercriminals, back-up your files and personal data to protect them.

Decide what to do with items stored on your old computer:

  • Things you need to save (photos, videos, and other important information)

  • The amount of storage space you’ll need (free or paid service)

  • Security access and encryption required for important files

Select an option for backing up your information:

Data File Transfer

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Transfer your data files and information from your old computer to a new computer.

External Hard Drive

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Save your files to an external hard drive or USB flash drive.

Cloud-based Storage

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Save your data and files to the cloud using online programs like Google Drive, DropBox, and iCloud.

Step 2: Remove Software Programs, Apps, and Devices

Remove all program accessories that function as working tools and external devices:

  • Transfer your software programs, copy all serial numbers and product key information to re-install them on another computer.

Tablet screen with computer app software programs Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash

  • Sign out of online accounts and uninstall all app programs that you previously downloaded.

Jim Carey sitting at desk in front of computer frantically typing on keyboard.

  • Disconnect and unsync your Bluetooth devices (keyboard, mouse, iPad, tablet, headphones, printer, scanner, etc.) from your computer.

    Person with headphones on says

Step 3: Wipe Your Computer Clean to Erase all Data

It's important that you backup your data and sensitive files before you erase data from your computer. Deleting will not erase all your files and can be easily recovered after being deleted. 

Andrew Yang saying,

However, permanently erasing data from your computer will wipe the hard drive disc clean and sanitize your computer.

Methods for erasing personal information and data files include:

  • Performing a factory reset accessed from the program settings or utility section within your computer. The process will be different for Apple Mac, Microsoft Windows, and Google Chrome computers.

PC monitor with computer product logos of Apple Mac, Microsoft Windows and Google Chrome

  • Installing or downloading a data removal software program to overwrite and wipe all data to erase it completely from your computer’s hard drive disc.

Software DVD and box packaging

  • Physically destroying the hard drive disk. Remove it by unscrewing it from your desktop or laptop and have it securely wiped or shredded by a certified recycling professional. This is one of the best methods to safeguard your personal data.

Internal computer hard drive disc


Tom tells that Heather deleting all files doesn’t permanently remove data from her computer. What should Heather do to protect her personal data? Check all that apply.

Step 4: Donate or Recycle

When your personal data is permanently and securely erased, you can safely donate or recycle your desktop or laptop computer. This helps to reduce electronic waste.

David Duchovny looking at an old mobile phone with message that reads

Check out companies and organizations in your community, and search for:

  • Computer manufacturers, electronic stores, or non-profit organizations that provide mail-in and pick-up services.

  • Specific charities and non-profit organizations that have special programs for reusing computers for special causes.

  • Certified recycling companies that offer comprehensive recycling programs.

Take Action

Are you ready to donate or recycle your computer?

Homer Simpson at a computer, looking confused.


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