Restore Deleted Texts From An Android

You may be able to save your texts, but don't count on it

If you deleted important text messages, or damaged your Android phone and lost crucial data, it may be nearly impossible to get those messages back. Here's what you can do to salvage deleted text messages, and more importantly, what you can do to keep it from happening again.

Illustration of a hand holding phone with red x on it
Mironov Konstantin / Getty Images

Why It's Hard to Recover Texts on Android

It's difficult, and in some cases, impossible, to retrieve deleted messages due to how Android manages texting data. There's no place like the recycle bin on Windows or the trash can on the Mac, where deleted files are kept for a certain amount of days before really deleting them. Nor is there any undo function for a deletion once you've done it.

Instead, when you delete something, Android marks it to be overwritten with new data. Think of it as erasing something from your to-do list with a pencil and being able to write something new in the same space.

What you can try to do is restore the data from the location Android has placed it for deletion, which you can't reach through normal means. And if you are reading this article on the same phone you just deleted the text from, you might be out of luck. To be clear, this is not guaranteed and the data may already be erased.

What to Try First

First, try to preserve the data. If you just deleted the messages, put your phone into airplane mode immediately by holding down the Power button and selecting Airplane mode in the menu that appears.

Airplane Mode on Android

On some Android versions, you'll need to go to Settings > Network & Internet and turn on the Airplane mode toggle switch. This shuts off the Wi-Fi and the cellular radio, so the phone won’t download any new information. You also shouldn’t use the camera, record audio, or create any new data that might overwrite the messages.

Android settings with Airplane Mode highlighted

Once that’s done, check to see if the relevant data you need has been kept elsewhere. For example, photos are sometimes automatically backed up to the Gallery app, and appointments are sometimes automatically added to your calendar. If there’s a relevant app for the information you need, check that first.

If you’re in regular contact with the person whose messages you lost, they may have the conversation backed up on their phone and can forward it to you. Just explain the situation and ask them to forward the relevant messages to you.

Backup settings on an Android phone

If all else fails, and you backed up your phone completely before you deleted the messages using a full-phone backup, wipe and restore your phone.

If these steps don’t work, there’s no easy, guaranteed way to restore the messages with software, and the cure may be worse than the disease.

Recover Messages on Android With Software

If wiping and restoring the phone is out of the question, use PC-based software. There are plenty of Android data recovery applications, from companies that aren’t affiliated with Google. While the quality of these applications varies depending on the company, there are a few consistent factors with these apps.

Testdisk open source data recovery

First, they don’t promise results. They may be able to recover your text messages, among other deleted data, if the data hasn't been overwritten. All these apps will do is find the data marked for deletion and you decide to remove it or not.

Second, they require you to root the phone. Think of root as the person who has all the keys to a building and the permission to go anywhere and do anything in it. Rooting your phone will likely void the warranty on your phone and may cause other problems.

Third, you will have to pay for the software. So you have to weigh the value of retrieving your text messages against what you pay for the software, the risk of voiding your warranty, and the uncertain results.

DiskDigger for Android

If you do decide to go the software route, DiskDigger is a popular app that doesn’t require you to root your phone, although that may limit the software’s effect. But whether you go with software, or simply ask for a new text, this is one case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Back up Your Messages

If you have a relatively new Android phone, backing up your text messages is simple. First, check to see if your phone has Google Drive installed. If not, find it in the Google Play Store by searching for “Google Drive.” It’s a free download. You can choose to buy more storage if you want, but it won’t be necessary for these purposes.

Once Google Drive is downloaded, open it, sign in with the name and password you use for your Gmail if necessary, and click the three lines in the upper-left corner. Then, choose Settings and select Google Backup.

Backup SMS messages on an Android phone

This opens a menu where you select SMS messages. If Google Drive came pre-installed on your phone, it already backs up your messages, but otherwise, simply enable it and that will preserve texts. However, you won't have long; Google Drive updates its backup every 12 to 24 hours, so if a message is deleted, restore it immediately.

This is an archive. It isn't searchable for one message and you can't restore just one. This updates your text history, all at once, to the previous setting. If there are any important messages you received in the meantime, use the techniques below to preserve them.

For multi-media messages, or MMS, such as photos, repeat this process with Google Photos, although that usually comes with your Android. However, for any photos you take, if you have Google Photos, backups have been enabled for years, so you might be surprised what’s already stored on there. For photos that are sent to you, you may need to download a third-party app, which will do it automatically.

If you really want to cover your bases, screenshot important messages, which will be saved automatically by Google Photos. On any Android phone operating system 4.0 or above (which is almost any phone released since 2011), hold the Power button and the Volume Down button at the same time to snap a photo of your screen. It’s a quick way to back up important messages when you’re rushed for time, or only need to back up a handful of messages.

If you want a full-featured tool that doesn't involve messing with your phone, try Helium, which uses your desktop computer and preserves specific messages, as well as data from your Android.

This ounce of prevention will go a long way towards preserving your text history and keeping the messages you want properly recorded. And it’ll also ensure you hang onto everything you snap.