How to Recover Deleted Files (Easy, 5 to 25 Minutes)

Recover deleted files with Recycle Bin or file recovery software

What to Know

  • Download and install a file recovery program, such as Recuva, to a drive other than the one with the deleted files.
  • Scan for files that can be recovered, typically by selecting a Scan button.
  • Select a deleted file from the list of recoverable files and choose Restore.

This article explains how to recover deleted files using a file recovery program. It includes tips related to recovering deleted files.

How to Recover Deleted Files

Recovering deleted files from your hard drive is not a crazy thing to try to do, but it helps to attempt the recovery as soon as you realize the file has been deleted. Files that are deleted aren't usually truly deleted until they are overwritten by something else.

Follow the steps to maximize your chances of recovering deleted files from your device:

  1. Download a free file recovery program and use it to search for and recover your deleted files. If the files you're looking for have already been emptied from the Recycle Bin, a file recovery tool can help.

    Recuva is a top pick, but if you don't like it for some reason, or if you try it and it doesn't find the file you need to recover, by all means, try another.

    Recuva program window

    We recommend downloading the portable version of Recuva or another file recovery program you choose directly to a flash drive or some drive other than the one with the missing file(s) on it.

  2. Extract the portable version of the file recovery tool you chose. Portable programs usually come in ZIP format that Windows natively supports.

    If you downloaded it to a flash drive, extracting it right there onto the flash drive is ideal. If you had no choice but to use your hard drive, extract it there. If you had to use your hard drive and choose an installable version of a file recovery tool, install it as directed.

  3. Use the file recovery tool to scan for files that can be recovered, a process that could take a few seconds to several minutes or longer depending on how large the drive is.

    The exact procedure differs from program to program, but it typically involves choosing the drive you want to scan for deleted files and then tapping or clicking a Scan button.

  4. After the scan completes, locate the file from the list of recoverable files, select it, and then choose to Restore it.

    Again, the details on recovering files you want to recover are specific to the tool you chose to use.

    A data recovery program can't undelete everything ever deleted and sometimes may only recover part of a file. You can read a lot more about why this is and what you can do about it in our Data Recovery FAQ.

  5. You should now have access to your recoverable files.

More Help Recovering Deleted Files

These tips may also help recover deleted files.

  1. The Recycle Bin should be the first place you look to recover deleted files.

  2. Recovering files from devices like smartphones, music players, flash drives, and network drives is possible but can require extra steps. See the Data Recovery FAQ, linked above, for some helpful tips.

  3. You do not need to have a data recovery software program installed before you delete the file to use one, which is great news. It definitely helps to be prepared though.

  4. A dead hard drive, or a nonworking computer, presents an extra layer of trouble when you need to recover a file. While this is possible in most cases, follow our troubleshooting guide for a computer that won't turn on.

  5. Are you sure the file has actually been deleted? It may have been moved to a different folder that you've since forgotten about, or maybe you copied it to a flash drive or other device no longer attached to your computer. Use a file search tool like Everything to comb through your whole computer for the file.

Two Thoughts

The smartest thing you can do is to stop writing data to the drive that contained the deleted files. The only way the file you want to recover disappears completely is if the same physical space it occupied on the drive is overwritten. So, don't do anything that might cause that to happen.

Most write-heavy tasks are things like installing software, downloading or streaming music or videos, etc. Doing those things won't necessarily overwrite your file, but the chances go up the more you do them.

Before you do anything else, attempt to restore the deleted files from the Recycle Bin. You've probably already looked in the Recycle Bin, but if not, do so now. If you're lucky enough to have not emptied it since you deleted the file, it might be here and in perfect working order.

Files you delete from media cards, USB-based drives, external hard drives of any kind, and network shares are not stored in the Recycle Bin. The same goes, more obviously, for things like your smartphone. Very large files from any source are also often deleted outright, skipping the Recycle Bin.

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