How To Recover Deleted Files from Your Computer

Nothing sucks more than realizing too late that you’ve deleted a file that you later end up needing. The good news is that there are many different ways to recover deleted files on Windows computers that you may have thoughtlessly gotten rid of and regretted it later. I’ll go over the most common ones and help you find your lost data.

Recycling Is Good

It’s actually pretty hard to permanently delete files on a modern Windows PC. Since when you do “delete” a file it goes into the recycle bin by default.  Hold down shift and press the delete key to immediately delete a file permanently.

Files are permanently deleted if it is too big for the recycle bin. Take notice of the final warning when you do this.

For other files, you can usually recover them from the recycle bin. I assume everyone knows this, but just in case they don’t let’s look at how to get your files back from the recycle bin.

Digging In the Trash

Look for the recycle bin in explorer or the desktop. With Windows 10 it may be a bit trickier to find. To get the Recycle Bin to show in Windows 10 do the following:

  • Right-click the desktop and choose personalize
  • In the left-hand column click themes
  • Click desktop icon settings
  • Tick the box marked recycle bin
  • Click OK

If the icon still doesn’t show up make sure you don’t have desktop icons hidden. Which you could tell by a total lack of icons on-screen. You also have to make sure you aren’t in tablet mode, which disables the icon for some reason.

To recover files, just open the Recycle Bin like a normal folder and move the files back where you want them from there.

They’re Gone, Jim

Uh-oh. You went to the Recycle bin and realized that your files aren’t there. Is it all lost? Well, it turns out you can still recover deleted files under some conditions.

In the Windows file system files are not actually erased. Windows just mark them as eligible to be written over. So the actual files aren’t gone unless another software program overwrote them.

Windows itself doesn’t have the ability to do this natively, but there are a couple of programs that do it easily. I’m going to walk you through my favorite one.

Using Recuva to Recover Deleted Files

My personal go-to when I want to recover deleted files is Recuva. Download the free version and install it to get started. Be sure to uncheck the offer to install CCleaner, unless you really want it.

To recover files you start off by running the program. You’ll be greeted by the Recuva Wizard, which you can disable. I do recommend you go with it for general use, though.

recover deleted files Recuva

You can narrow down the type of file you want to recover in the next screen. Once you’ve picked the type of file, you can also specify where you think it is. The more specific you can be, the faster the whole process will be.

Scanning for Life

Once you’ve given the wizard this basic info it’s ready to scan your drive. You have the option of enabling deep scan. This takes longer but may catch files that would otherwise be missed.

Complete the scan and read the list of files Recuva finds. Take note of how much of the file can be recovered. Sometimes when you try to recover deleted files they may only be partially available.

Now just tick the files that you want back and click recover. All done!

In the Shadows

If you try Recuva and you still can’t find the file that you’re looking for, it may be time to turn to the shadow arts. By which I mean turning to the shadow volume of your Windows PC.

The volume shadow copy is a method for making snapshots of files automatically for backup purposes. The file you deleted may still be in the shadow copy.

While Windows actually has ways of accessing the shadow volume, it’s way easier to use a free program called Shadow Explorer.

Running Shadow Explorer

Shadow Explorer is basically the same as windows explorer when it comes to actually using it. The files you see, however, are all shadow copies.

recover deleted files Running Shadow Explorer


Explore the file tree as usual. Right-click on something you want to recover and choose export.  The file will then be saved to your actual normal volume.

Just be aware that the file may be an older version of the file that you’re looking for. If it’s a document or something that’s had multiple versions this method may only save you a portion of the trouble.

The DropBox Method

It seems not everyone knows this, but if you have a DropBox account and you delete your file from that DropBox folder, you can roll it back.

For free accounts, you have a 30-day safety net and you can pay to have that period extended.

All you need to do is log into DropBox through your browser and click deleted files which is in the left sidebar. Look for the file, click the ellipsis and choose restore.

The Nuclear Option

If you somehow messed up multiple DropBox files because a virus damaged them or an old machine synced to the cloud, you can write an email to DropBox support and have them roll back your entire DropBox folder to before the disaster.

Back Up, Don’t Restore Deleted Files

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure they say. The best way to protect your data is to be careful. In this age of cloud storage there really is no excuse to keep your most mission-critical data safe, but external hard disks are also cheaper than ever.

If you liked this “how to” article, be sure to check out our guide on easy cloud-based project management and online management of your gaming backlog.



Lead Image is Public Domain via Pixabay

All screenshots taken by Kees Friesland.




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