How to Recover Deleted PDF Files

A PDF is a common file type that is used for a variety of reasons today. You probably have many important PDF documents stored on your PC or Mac. It can be quite upsetting if you accidentally lose or delete one, or the files got lost due to other errors.

In this article, I’ll walk you through how to recover a PDF file if this happens to you. It is important to note that you may not always be able to recover a PDF file but by attempting the methods below, you stand a good chance of getting your PDF back.

Also, you should stop using your computer as soon as you realize that the PDF is missing. You need to attempt the recovery process as soon as possible to make sure that file does not get overwritten on your computer. The longer you wait, the harder it can be to make a successful recovery.

Solution 1: Check Trash or Recycle Bin

The first step is to check the Trash (Mac) or Recycle Bin (Windows). Regardless of which system you are using, all you need to do is either open up the Trash or Recycle Bin. These are typically found as icons somewhere on your desktop and you also can run a quick search to locate them as well.

Open the application and then you should see any recently deleted or removed files here. If you see the lost PDF file, simply click or double click on the item to recover or restore it.

Solution 2: Restore from a Backup

If you have a backup of your system, you can also use this as another way to locate and recover a PDF file. It is a good idea to get into the habit of creating regular backups of your computer.

This makes it really easy to restore any lost or deleted files such as a PDF. Backups can be made on either an external hard drive or through cloud-based storage.

To recover your PDF from a backup, the first thing you need to do is locate the backup on either your hard drive or cloud storage. Plugin your hard drive to your computer or log in to your cloud storage.

Locate the most recent backup that you believe has the PDF file that you are searching for and open it. Locate the PDF file and then you can restore your system to this earlier version that contains the PDF.

Solution 3: Use PDF File Recovery Software

Another solution to recover your PDF file is data recovery software. This is an option that can help if the above methods did not and can serve a variety of other recovery needs in addition to PDF recovery.

Software such as Stellar Data Recovery and Recoverit makes it really easy to find and recover any lost file that you run into. The software is available both as a free limited trial version and a paid full version, and both support Windows and macOS.

A screenshot of Stellar Data Recovery Professional running on Windows 10

To begin with, if your deleted PDF files are on an external drive or flash drive, you’ll need to connect the device to your PC or Mac first.

  • Download and install one of the recommended recovery software on your computer.
  • Open up the program to begin and then follow the on-screen prompts and instructions to begin the process of recovering your lost or deleted file.
  • Wait until the scan is complete.
  • Navigate through the list of files found, check by file type and see if your deleted PDF files are there. If yes, recover them.

Each program comes with a slightly different format but they are all user-friendly and easy to navigate. You can also read our data recovery roundup for Windows and Mac for more options.


PDF recovery is certainly possible but remember to act quickly as soon as you realize that the file is missing. If you don’t, you risk overwriting the file information which can lead to permanent file loss that cannot be recovered.

Start by simply checking your trash can or recycle bin on your computer and if you cannot locate the file there, continue on with the other steps listed here. While you may not want to download and install an entire software program for one lost file, it may be your only option if other methods do not work.

If you end up needing data recovery software, remember that it can be useful in a variety of other situations and can easily make up for the cost of the program with all that it can help you with.

Have you ever lost a PDF file? Were you able to recover it? How? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • William Smith

    How do I retrieve deleted PDFs on my Android phone?