Last updated: Jan. 12, 2017
Oh no! So you just emptied Windows Recycle Bin (or deleted several items out of it), only to realize later some important files got removed as well?
Those file could be work documents you'd spent days crafting, or precious photos you shot after a wonderful trip.
The question is - is it possible to recover items deleted from Recycle Bin on a Windows PC?
Quick answer -- YES, it is possible. BUT chances of recovery depends on several factors, for example, whether you've backup, what type of hard drive you are using, whether you'd continued to write any new data to the source drive, etc.
First things first - stop using your computer
This is important because we don't know if you have any data backups. If you do, great. If not, then any new data writing activities could endanger chances of recovering your deleted files.
Technically, if your PC hard drive is a traditional magnetic hard drive (also called HDD), even if you've emptied Windows Recycle Bin or removed files out of it, those deleted files are actually not wiped out right away — at least for quite some time depending on the disk usage though. We'll explain the reason why later.
Is your PC equipped with an HDD or SSD?
Does it matter? Yes, this is because the way an HDD (hard disk drive) works is quite different from an SSD (solid state drive), or some extent. In a nutshell, if your PC is loaded with an SSD, then once you delete a file from Recycle Bin — it's safe to say the file is gone for good. That means there is no way you can get it back unless you have a backup.
However, it's a whole different story if your PC is with an HDD. Again, we'll explain later. Good news is over 90% of Windows PCs on the market are equipped with HDDs.
To check whether your PC has an HDD or SSD, check out this Superuser thread.
Next, follow these 3 steps (ways) to restore your deleted items.
1. Fresh your mind and re-think if you've got another copy
Chances are the moment you delete some suppose-to-keep items from Windows Recycle Bin, panic and fear often set in. Often, you forget to check the easiest recovery method -- whether you've saved or transferred the files elsewhere.
For example, if these items are Microsoft Office documents, first re-think if you have saved them in another folder. Then check your emails, Dropbox, Google Drive or any other media that you may have shared the documents with your co-workers. If they are family photos, check your camera memory card, external hard drive, iCloud, OneDrive or other online backup services.
Anyway, you get the point. Just refresh your mind and keep checking whether you've got a copy of the files somewhere.
Didn't work out? Go to step 2.
2. Recover your files with Windows System Restore
It doesn't matter whether you use a laptop or desktop PC, it should have a built-in backup and restore feature called - System Restore, a fantastic feature that's originally designed to fix buggy software and restore individual files. All you have to do is roll your Windows system back to a previous backup point, and you should be able to see your deleted items live again.
But, the System Restore feature can only help when your files are still in a previous version. Previous versions are also referred to as shadow copies in Windows. To learn how to do it, see this Microsoft knowledge article for more.
Didn't work? Go to step 3 now.
3. Use a third-party data recovery software to recover your files
Note: by using this method, it's not 100% guaranteed that you'll get back your lost data, but it's definitely worth a try.
We've reviewed the best Windows data recovery software. In this case, we take Data Recovery Pro as an example.
- Step 1: get Data Recovery Pro and install it on your PC.
- Step 2: launch the software, select a drive or file type you'd like it to scan.
- Step 3: wait for the scanning process to complete. Then preview the found files and check if your deleted files are there. If yes, recover and save them. Done.
Why is it possible to restore deleted files and why SSDs matter?
For a traditional hard disk drive (HDD), when you empty the Recycle Bin or delete some items out of it, you don't really delete the items. Speaking from a technical viewpoint, when you store or generate files on your computer, they are actually saved on specific clusters (contain sectors) of a hard drive that is attached to your PC. Once they get deleted either via emptying Recycle Bin, Shift + Delete, DOS command delete or other methods, the file system (usually NTFS) only marks the spaces where those files occupy as "deleted", telling the system that those spaces are now free to be overwritten. Once your hard drive volume is almost full, new files will directly take the spaces without any choice. Until then your files are totally deleted. In short, emptying Windows Recycle Bin is just another way to make files or folders "hidden", and they are still recoverable if not overwritten.
However, the way SSDs work is entirely different. When files are deleted from a solid-state drive, they are immediately erased, and the action is taken by the TRIM command to quickly free up space and make sure the SSD can be quickly reused in the future. Therefore, it's safe to say that once files got deleted from a PC with an SSD, they are gone permanently.
Hope you find this article helpful and good luck with your Windows Recycle Bin recovery efforts. Any questions or comments, share with us below.
Chris is a computer geek for a decade. He loved talking to computers via codes, and now he finds it more interesting communicating with the real people. He now writes everything related to computer issues and loves helping people solve problems.