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How Long Can a Hard Drive Last in Storage Without Losing Data?

September 5, 2023

Hard drives are magnetic storage devices, and they’re capable of holding data for extensive periods of time without losing data. 

The data retention rate of a hard drive varies by manufacturer and the precise architecture used by the device. However, under ideal conditions, a hard drive can remain in storage for as long as 20 years and retain all of its data. 

Here’s the bad news: Most hard drives aren’t stored under ideal conditions. Below, we’ll explore some of the factors that can affect hard drive data retention.

Why do hard drives lose data in storage?

Disk heads on head ramp, landing zone

The read/write heads of a hard drive in a resting position.

Permanent magnets (or magnetized discs) lose their field strength over time. Magnetic field strength measures the intensity of a magnetic field over a specific area. 

Most magnets lose field strength at a rate of about 1% per year. As the field strength weakens, data becomes corrupt (unreadable).

Additionally, the hard drive relies on magnetic signals to determine where sectors begin or end. As your hard drive sits in storage, those signals also dissipate — and eventually, the hard drive will be unable to read data at all.

What factors affect hard drive data retention?

Field strength deterioration is an important consideration. However, long-term storage conditions can play a bigger role in hard drive data retention:

  • Temperature. Hard drives should be stored between 55 Fahrenheit (F) and 90 F. Hotter temperatures can cause the platters and other components to warp. Lower temperatures may affect the operation of the spindle and motor.
  • Humidity. Hard drives are not airtight (with exceptions for certain sealed models, which are more common in enterprise applications). Excessive humidity can corrode components. 
  • Exposure to Other Magnetic Fields. If a hard drive is exposed to high-powered magnetics, data loss can occur — but most household magnets are not nearly strong enough to cause issues.

If you’ve been waiting to restore data from an older archive, we strongly recommend consulting with a professional data recovery engineer. 

When hard drives sit in storage, bad things happen. If a head failure has occurred, turning on an older hard drive — even for a few seconds — could cause permanent platter damage.

Free Media Evaluations for Hard Drive Archives

At, we provide free media evaluations for all hard drives, including legacy architectures (such as IBM’s IDE interface). All of our services are supported with a no data, no charge guarantee: If data recovery is unsuccessful, you don’t pay for the attempt. 

To learn more — or to discuss the specifics of your hard drive archives with an expert — call 1-800-237-4200 or schedule a risk-free evaluation online.