[HOWTO] Recover a Deleted File on Windows 10

Category: Windows-10

'Oh no... I didn't mean to delete that file!' It happens to everyone... it could be a stray mouse click, a senior moment, or fumbling fingers. And the document, spreadsheet, or photo you just spent hours creating or editing is gone. Or maybe not. Fortunately, 'deleted' doesn't necessarily mean 'gone forever' on Windows 10. Here are some things to try when you want to recover a deleted file…

How To Recover Deleted Files

Once in a while, humans armed with mouse and keyboard may delete a file they wish they had not. Accidents happen. Recovering deleted files on Windows 10 systems is often possible, but it requires just a bit of know-how, a gentle touch and a bit of luck. It has to do with the subtle difference between “delete” and “erase.” Read on, and I’ll explain.

First, look in the Recycle Bin. When you "delete" a file using Windows, it’s not actually deleted. It is moved to the Recycle Bin and not erased permanently. Double-click on the Recycle Bin icon to open a window that displays the Recycle Bin's contents. Click on the item you want to recover to highlight it and then click "Restore this item" on the menu bar. The file will be restored to its previous location. When no items are selected you will see the menu option to "restore all files." This trick will work in most cases, unless you have recently emptied the Recycle Bin.

If you made a backup copy of all your data before deleting a file, the file may be recovered from the backup. Use the Restore function of your backup program to locate and restore a specific file.

Recover Deleted Files on Windows 10

More File Recovery Tools

The File History and System Restore functions of Windows 10 provide other ways to recover a file that was deleted or accidentally modified. The nice part is that you may be able to recover versions of a file that you did not back up, even if they are days or weeks older. If you have activated File History, it will automatically make multiple backup copies of your important files. Windows also automatically creates System Restore Points during certain major operations, such as installing new software. The Restore Points are essentially backup copies of files, folders, and settings.

See my article What is File History? for help setting up and configuring File History. (The article references Windows 8, but it applies equally on a Windows 10 computer.) You may also want to read Try System Restore for Windows 10 for help turning on System Restore.

Here is how to restore a deleted file that Windows has saved with File History or System Restore:

  • Click the Start button, type This PC and press Enter to display the drives on your computer.
  • Click on a drive and navigate its folder tree to the folder that contained the deleted file.
  • Right-click on the folder and select "restore previous version" from the drop-down menu.
  • Select the desired file and click Restore

If these methods fail, you may still be able to recover a deleted file using a free third-party data recovery program such as Recuva, or one of the others mentioned in 10 Free Tools to Recover Deleted Files. Such programs can recover files that have been emptied from the Recycle Bin (or deleted in such a way that the Recycle Bin was not involved), but only as long as the disk space occupied by the file has not been overwritten.

Pardon just a bit of geekery here. Your Windows operating system maintains a database called the master file table, or MFT. The MFT keeps track of the location of each file that’s stored on your hard drive. When your operating system is given the command to delete a file, it doesn’t go to all the trouble of actually erasing the data contained in that file. Instead, it just removes the “pointer” to that file in the MFT.

That's where a bit of luck and the gentle touch come into play. The longer you wait before attempting to recover a deleted file, the less your chances of getting it back in one piece. That's because the space occupied by deleted files is marked as available, and can be overwritten when you create or save a new file, download from the Internet, or by various operating system functions. Recuva and other third-party file recovery tools have the smarts to scan your hard drive for those “deleted but not erased” files, and restore them.

And just for completeness, I should mention that you can use these tools on flash drives and memory cards as well. I remember one time when a friend gave me an SD memory card from his camera, bemoaning the loss of hundreds of photos taken on a family trip. Because the card was undisturbed after whatever “accident” caused the photos to be deleted, I was able to restore them all. I told my friend it was magic.

Do you have experience with recovering deleted files? Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Recover a Deleted File on Windows 10"

Posted by:

25 May 2021

I have had good luck restoring files by pressing "Control-Z" (simultaneously).

Posted by:

top squirrel
25 May 2021

I know the tricks Bob mentions and also control-Z or "undo" on the edit menu. My problem is drafting an email on Yahoo and then brushing up against some keys and then finding I have inadvertantly erased what I may have put a lot of time and effort into constructing.
I know one feature of the latest version of Yahoomail is it automatically saves an email in progress in the draft folder, but that version has drawbacks and I much prefer classic Yahoomail, despite the fact it does not have the auto-save feature. I have to remember to "save" an email in progress but sometimes I don't.
The program does not permit me to go to a "previous screen" in yahoomail.
Anybody have a solution to this?

Posted by:

Bottom Otter
26 May 2021

Top Squirrel
Solution? Pray
and hope it was saved as a draft before you hit the wrong key. I was doing it much to often with gmail.
My solution now, if it is going to be a long message, is first to type it up in a document and when I have what I want, then copy and paste into the text box of the email.

Posted by:

James Steinis
26 May 2021

Install Recuva or other recovery tool before you beed it.

Posted by:

26 May 2021

My personal geekery is the use of Ctrl+A followed by Ctrl+C; and often. It does not matter if I am working on a document/drawing or communicating/corresponding or even texting or chatting with others. My other geekery applies to working with 'Files' because I rely heavily on 'SaveAs' if I will be doing changes to the file. Upon opening a file to be changed/revised, I immediately use 'SaveAs' (not Ctrl+S) to retitle it xxxx01 and use that as the 'working copy' of the file. Depending on the complexity of changes (revisions/modifications/additions), I have learned to periodically (well under 30 minutes), use 'SaveAs'; while incrementally titling the file xxxxxx02, then xxxxxx03, so on.
Windows10’ other built-in features like the 'Snipping Tool' and the 'ClipBoard History', also come in handy for undoing some mistakes.
In environments with multiple drives, partitions, and/or external drives, each location will have its own $Recycle.Bin (and RecycleBin settings). However, removable drives (e.g. USB drives, memory cards) usually do not have RecycleBins.
Depending on the scale/size of potential for loss of data; Windows10 allows a few ways to 'Change Maximum Storage Size' of the RecycleBin. It is also worth looking at the 'Properties' of the RecycleBin, especially since this is where you can enable to 'Display delete confirmation dialog'.
Then, there is the privacy-minded Shift+Delete sequence which bypasses the RecycleBin into 'semi-permanent' deletion (MFT level), similar to message "file too big for Recycle Bin".

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