How to Restore Deleted Files From the Recycle Bin

Easily retrieve files you've already deleted

Empty and full recycle bin icons
Edward Grajeda / Getty Images

There's a very important reason that Microsoft called this tool the Recycle Bin and not the Shredder — as long as you haven't emptied it, it's easy to restore files from the Recycle Bin in Windows.

We've all deleted files accidentally or simply changed our minds about the necessity of a particular file or folder, so don't be too hard on yourself if you're now second-guessing that last delete action.

These steps should apply to all Windows operating systems that use the Recycle Bin including Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and more.

How to Restore Deleted Files From the Recycle Bin

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Time Required: Restoring deleted files from the Recycle Bin in Windows should only take a few minutes but it depends mostly on how quickly you can find the files you want to restore as well as how large they are.

Follow these easy steps to restore deleted files from the Recycle Bin back to their original locations on your computer:

  1. Open the Recycle Bin by double-clicking or double-tapping on its icon on the Desktop.

    Screenshot of Windows desktop highlighting Recycle Bin

    Can't find Recycle Bin? See the How to Show or "Unhide" the Recycle Bin Program/Icon directions at the bottom of the page for help.

  2. Locate and then select whatever file(s) and/or folder(s) you need to restore.

    To select more than one file or folder, hold the Ctrl key while selecting. To select a range of items, use the Shift key instead.

    Screenshot of Windows 10 desktop with Recycle Bin window open in Details view

    Recycle Bin doesn't show the files contained within any deleted folders you might see. Keep this in mind if you can't find a file you know you deleted — it may be in a folder you deleted instead. Restoring the folder will, of course, restore all the files it contained. To see which files are in a deleted folder before you restore it, see the command line steps below.

    There is not a Windows-provided way for restoring files that were deleted by emptying the Recycle Bin. If you've truly deleted a file in Windows, a file recovery program may be able to help you undelete it. See How to Recover Deleted Files for a start-to-finish tutorial on how to tackle this problem.

  3. Note the Original Location of the files you're restoring so you know where they'll end up.

    WIndows 10 Recycle bin screenshot highlighting Original Location in Details view

    You'll only see this location if you're viewing Recycle Bin in "details" view (you can toggle that view from the View menu).

  4. Right-click or tap-and-hold on the selection and then choose Restore.

    Recycle Bin window in Windows 10 showing the Restore option from right-click contextual menu

    Another way to restore the selection is to drag it out of the Recycle Bin window and into a folder of your choice. This will force the file to be restored wherever you choose.

    If you use the Restore option (and don't drag them out), all files will be restored to their own respective locations. In other words, you can restore all of the files at once but that doesn't mean that they'll go to the same folder unless, of course, they were deleted from the same folder.

  5. Wait while Recycle Bin restores the deleted files.

    The time this takes depends mostly on how many files you're restoring and how large they are all together, but your computer speed is a factor here, too.

  6. Check that the files and folders you restored are in the location(s) that were shown to you back in Step 3, or that they're located wherever you dragged them to in Step 4.

  7. You can now exit Recycle Bin if you're finished restoring.

How to Restore a Specific File From a Deleted Folder

Most people are probably just fine restoring a folder without knowing which files are in it, but if you're curious what you're about to undelete or you want to restore only a select file or two from the deleted folder, you can do that with Command Prompt.

  1. Type the following and press Enter:

    cd\

    The text to the left of the typing area should now read C:\>.

  2. Now type the following string and then press Enter:

    cd $Recycle.Bin
    Command prompt screenshot highlighting cd/ and cd $Recycle.Bin commands

    If you get an error, return to Step 2 and try a different command like:

    cd Recycled

    or

    cd Recycler

    Unfortunately, the exact command is different in different versions of Windows.

  3. Type the following next, followed by Enter:

    dir /s

    All the deleted files are listed in the Command Prompt window. If there are any folders in Recycle Bin, those files (and original file names) are shown as well.

  4. Locate the folder name.

    In Command Prompt, the name for the folder is not the same as what it shows up as in Recycle Bin. Folders have "<DIR>" listed to the left of the folder name.

    To locate the correct folder, scroll through Command Prompt until you see a list of files you suspect are in the folder you want to restore. You'll see the folder name at the top of that section, next to its "Directory of" line.

  5. Type cd, make a space, and then hit the Tab key over and over to cycle through all the folders in Recycle Bin.

    The point here is to find the one that lists the directory you identified in Step 5. In our example (see the screenshot below), the directory ends in "1002" (the very top section) so we'll keep hitting Tab until we find it.

    

    Command Prompt screenshot highlighting the Windows 10 name of the folder to be Restored

    What you're doing here is opening the specific folder in Recycle Bin that is holding the actual folder you want to access. In other words, the deleted folder you'll eventually see a few steps from now, is actually a subfolder in Recycle Bin, you just don't notice it in the Recycle Bin folder.

  6. Press Enter.

  7. Type cd, make a space, and then use the Tab key again until you find the folder that has the deleted files you want to identify.

    In the example image, our folder is called $R0035T3.

  8. Press Enter.

    Now you're inside the folder that has the deleted files you want to look at.

  9. Type dir and press Enter.

    This reveals the deleted files inside the deleted folder.

    Screenshot of Windows 10 Command Prompt showing the file name of folder to be restored
  10. Use the copy command to copy the deleted file out of the deleted folder and into the folder of your choice.

    In our example, we'd type copy "New Bitmap Image - Copy (2).bmp C:\Users\roblef\Desktop since we want to copy that BMP file to the Desktop folder.

  11. Press Enter.

    The command completed successfully if you see a "<#> file(s) copied" message.

    Screenshot of Windows Command Prompt showing copy command and file result
  12. To restore other files from the same folder, repeat Step 11 and Step 12.

How to Show or "Unhide" the Recycle Bin Program/Icon

Recycle Bin doesn't have to sit on your Windows Desktop all the time. While it's certainly an integrated part of the Windows operating system and so can't be uninstalled, it can be hidden.

You, or maybe your computer maker, may have done this as a way to keep the Desktop a bit cleaner. It's perfectly fine that it's out of the way but, of course, that makes it hard to use.

Here's how to show the Recycle Bin again if it's been hidden:

Windows 10

Open Desktop Icon Settings via Settings > Personalization > Themes > Desktop icon settings. Check Recycle Bin and then tap or click OK.

Screenshot of Desktop Icon Settings window in Windows 10, showing Recycle Bin checkbox and OK button

Find Settings in Windows 10 by right-clicking or tapping-and-holding the Start button.

Windows 8

Search for desktop icon settings and then choose Show or hide common icons on the desktop from the results. Check Recycle Bin and then tap or click OK.

Windows 7 & Vista

Right-click anywhere on the Desktop and choose Personalize. Click Change desktop icons on the left. Check Recycle Bin and then click OK.

Windows XP

There is no built-in ability to hide the Recycle Bin in Windows XP but it is possible via a program called Tweak UI. If you're using Windows XP but don't see Recycle Bin, it's probably because this program was used to hide it, which you can also use to "unhide" it.

If you'd prefer that the Recycle Bin stays off the Desktop, another way to access it is via searching for recycle bin via Cortana (Windows 10) or the search bar (most other versions of Windows) and then opening the program when it appears in the list of results.

You could also start Recycle Bin by executing start shell:RecycleBinFolder from Command Prompt, or shell:RecycleBinFolder from the Run dialog box, but those methods are probably only helpful in the rarest of circumstances.

How to Stop Windows From Instantly Deleting Files

If you find yourself recovering deleted files from the Recycle Bin more often than you probably should, there's a chance that your computer is set up to not prompt you for a confirmation when you delete files.

For example, if you delete a file in Windows 10 and it immediately goes into the Recycle Bin without asking you if you're sure you want to delete it, then you might like to change that so that you'll be given a chance to say No if you accidentally delete a file or folder.

Screenshot showing the option to display delete confirmation messages for the Windows 10 Recycle Bin
Option to Display Delete Confirmation Dialog (Windows 10).

To do this, right-click or tap-and-hold on the Recycle Bin icon and select Properties. If there's an option there called Display delete confirmation dialog, make sure it has a check in the box so that you will be asked if you're sure that you want to remove any files and folders that you delete.