An actual effective method for Zip Disk destruction

2012 July 20
by Daniel Lakeland

My wife had about 40 Iomega Zip disks lying around in a bag from her grad school days, with labels like “Transfer disk” and “Backup of project XXX” and “Mac Formatted, blank” etc. Back in the mid 90’s Zip disks were all the rage, 100 whole Megabytes in a disk you could easily fit in your backpack, and the drive could come along as well, smaller than a typical textbook! Kids these days with their 32Gig flash pen drives don’t know what a pain it was before the Zip disk.

In any case, almost 20 years later we don’t have the drive, and even if we did we don’t have the SCSI connector to connect the drive to! But somebody might have one! So we can’t just throw all this private data into the trash! At least that’s why we still have these disks.

So here’s how to destroy Zip disks securely, it took a while to figure this out, and there are a lot of stupid suggestions on the internet, so let’s get this right:

  1. Put on some safety glasses, you probably won’t need them, but they won’t hurt you.
  2. Get yourself a needle-nose pliers.
  3. Grab a Zip disk, hold it by the end with the sliding metal door, and grab the rear corner with the needle nose pliers. Twist the corner towards the center of the disk, and you will be able to rip the corner off. The plastic is very ductile and doesn’t shatter, but make sure you have those safety glasses anyway.
  4. Do the same with the other corner.
  5. Insert the needlenose pliers between the two halves of the case, and open it like a book with the metal door as the spine. Some disks have screws holding them together, you’ll have to break the tabs enough to release the screws.
  6. Grab the magnetic coated mylar disk with the pliers and pull it out, put into a pile.
  7. Repeat until you have all the mylar disks.
  8. Cut the metal spindle off the mylar disks with regular scissors.
  9. Run the mylar disk sans metal through a normal office shredder.
  10. Throw away all the bits.

This method actually works, and is guaranteed to make your data too hard to retrieve for anyone but the NSA. Even they won’t bother unless you happen to have the encryption keys to the entire Chinese military computer system stored on an old zip disk. If you do, follow the shredding procedure with a bulk magnetic eraser followed by disposal in an industrial incinerator.

Things that don’t work but have been suggested stupidly on the internet:

  1. “Hit it with a hammer” (the cave-man approach).
  2. “Throw it in a lake” (that’s called pollution, and isn’t even going to come close to working).
  3. Drill a hole in it (well, this might work ok, but it’s a pain and requires a drill press and clamps, and isn’t going to be as effective anyway).
  4. Pretty much anything else…  why bother when there’s a simple safe way to do it (see above!).


12 Responses
  1. Daniel Lakeland
    July 20, 2012

    Top ten reasons you might have to destroy Zip disks:

    10) Wouldn’t want anyone to “insert” one into your “SCSI” Zip drive.

    9) Someone might get ahold of your secret 256 bit RSA PGP key, and crack it in 17 seconds on a modern computer.

    8) That’s 100 whole MEGA-bytes of secret data!

    7) What would you do if your dialup BBS archive got into the wrong hands?

    6) Secret clues to your favorite MUD.

    5) archive

    4) Paleo-Lol-Cats

    3) You’re not really sure “what’s on those damn things” but you’d really like those kids digging through your trash to “get off my lawn”.

    2) You’re afraid someone might find out your high score in “Harry the Handsome Executive”.

    1) You’re a popular television meteorologists running for governor of your state, and you don’t want anyone to see your home-made “Twister” themed tornado chaser action-pornography.

  2. Josh permalink
    July 29, 2012

    Blendtec also works

    • Daniel Lakeland
      July 30, 2012

      Haha, I imagine it might very well at that, but certainly more expensive. The cases on these things are surprisingly durable, I was fairly shocked at the sorts of things that didn’t work very well.

  3. Alex Clise permalink
    November 14, 2012

    Well done, Mr. Lakeland, my archives will never come back to haunt me now!

    Some ZipDiscs have phillips precision screws holding the two halves of the plastic case together. Very easy to disassemble, but less fun than using them for skeet practice.

  4. Jay permalink
    January 7, 2013

    Thanks for the tip. Being at my office and without needle nose pliers, I modified your approach by using a large letter opener (which is not very sharp after my re-purposing) to pop the sliding metal piece off, then inserted the letter opener into the now accessible cover and pried open the case per your pliers, and pulled out the mylar disc with my fingers. I only have have 1 small cut on my knuckle from this approach. I suspect a sturdy screwdriver would function the same way.

  5. Kerrala permalink
    January 23, 2013

    Thanks, Daniel. I’ve had five Zips hanging around for years with very old but still confidential data. I used your method today and have successfully destroyed the files. Brilliant. Many thanks.

  6. Bud permalink
    February 21, 2013

    Thanks. I found that pulling off the metal, then just prising with a flat head screw driver did the trick. The shredder did the rest.

  7. Kelli Glenn permalink
    July 24, 2013

    Thanks! I also was looking for a way to destroy old Zip disks containing personal data and graduate school info.

  8. Lindsey permalink
    August 28, 2013

    You have my thanks! Found four old zip discs around the office which may or may not have had confidential info on them, and we didn’t have a functional drive to read or erase them. This did the trick, and took no time at all. Kudos!

  9. mau permalink
    October 4, 2013

    THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU. I had a lot of my old tax stuff on these. Other sensitive stuff from divorce, copyright disputes, old graphic work etc., but couldn’t remember which ones the stuff was on. I have over 150 of ’em. So I actually spent money to get a new power supply on my old Mac G4, so I could copy the data over to something modern, or at least wipe the disk and get rid of them and the internal and external drives on eBay or something. Unfortunately, the G4 developed some other issue and died on me before its last task could be done. I have been angrily staring at a large cardboard box of them for quite a while. It will be wonderful to get them out of the way!

  10. David permalink
    January 31, 2014

    Thanks mate. Had a few of these old discs with personal data on them stuffed in a drawer You’ve saved me a few hours wondering how best to destroy them. Surprisingly well put together. Very expensive to make I guess compared with CD\DVD discs.

  11. March 23, 2014

    KUDOS. Works great!

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