Microsoft’s latest operating system isn’t immune to data loss, but it does come with many features that let you recover deleted files Windows 11 can no longer see and open. The OS is also compatible with multiple third-party data recovery software tools, so there’s no shortage of recovery options to choose from when addressing all kinds of data loss situations.
Situations That Commonly Lead to Windows 11 Data Loss
Data loss costs organizations and individual home users a staggering amount of money every year. Why? Because its causes are numerous and sometimes difficult to prepare for ahead of time. Let’s take at those you’re most likely to encounter:
- 😲 Human error: Windows 11 is designed to be intuitive and accessible, but it’s also new, which means that users haven’t had much time to familiarize themselves with its nuances. As such, they’re more likely to make a mistake that results in the loss of important files.
- ❗ Software issues: Microsoft understands that backward compatibility is important for its users, and Windows 11 can run most software designed for Windows 10 and older without any issues—most but not all. A software bug can cause an application or even the entire operating system to suddenly stop working, leaving you no time to save your work and prevent data loss.
- ❌ Data corruption: A file can become corrupted and impossible to open because of software and hardware issues alike. When that happens, you might be able to repair the damage using dedicated tools, or you can always recover a functioning version of the file from a backup.
- 📛 Hardware malfunction: Modern storage devices can store huge quantities of data and do so without costing too much money, but their reliability still leaves something to be desired, and stories of sudden malfunction are not rare.
- ⚡ Unpredictable disasters: A particularly close lightning strike or a single spilled cup of coffee can render an entire storage device—or even an entire computer—unusable, causing an instant loss of valuable data.
- 👾 Malware: One of the most common malware threats today, ransomware, causes data loss by encrypting files and demanding a ransom payment for their decryption. Unfortunately, ransomware attacks are on the rise, and Windows 11 are prime targets.
- ⚙️ Upgrading gone wrong: Most Windows power users agree that it’s better to perform a clean install when installing a new version of Windows because upgrading from an older version doesn’t always go according to plan, and data loss may occur.
As you can see, there are quite a few situations that commonly lead to Windows 11 data loss, but it’s possible to divide them into just three major categories. We can then associate each of the three categories with specific solutions:
|Loss scenarios||Recommended solution|
|Recent data loss (accidental deletion and other human errors)|
|Permanent data loss (formatting, malware, software issues, upgrading gone wrong, data corruption)|
|Hardware-related data loss (hardware malfunctions and other unpredictable disasters)|
We describe each solution in the next section of this article, so all you need to do is pick the right solution to your data loss situation and follow our step-by-step instructions. In no time, you will be able to restore deleted files on Windows 11 and avoid dealing with the often-costly consequences of data loss.
How to Recover Deleted Files on Windows 11
In this section, we’re taking a detailed look at the most useful solutions for recovering deleted files on Windows 11. Since each solution is useful in a different data loss situation, we recommend you first consult the table in the previous section to determine which one you should start with.
Method 1: Recover Deleted Files from a Recycle Bin in Windows 11
Windows 11 comes with a slightly redesigned Recycle Bin that functions just like the Recycle Bin in Windows 10, allowing you to undelete recently deleted files without software:
- Double-click the Recycle Bin icon on your Desktop.
- Select the files you want to recover.
- Right-click any of the selected files and choose the Restore option.
- Alternatively, drag and drop the selected files to a location of your choice.
Just know that the Recycle Bin can be used to recover only those files that actually end up in there. For example, files deleted using the Shift + Delete keyboard shortcut, or files that were stored on a formatted hard drive, are immediately removed.
Method 2: Recover Files using Undo Delete
Whenever you perform an action on your Windows computer, you can use the Undo feature take the action back. This feature can come in handy when you make a mistake when using your Windows 11 computer and accidentally delete a file you actually wanted to keep.
Let’s imagine that you’ve deleted an important image from organizing your photo collection. To get it back:
- Make sure the folder where your photos are located is in focus.
- Press CTRL + Z on your keyboard.
- Alternatively, you can right-click anywhere in the folder and choose the Undo Delete option.
The biggest limitation of the Undo feature is that the history of past actions is wiped when you restart your computer. What’s more, you can always go back only one action at a time, so it’s impossible to undelete Windows 11 files that were deleted a while ago without also undeleting all files that were deleted after them.
Method 3: Restore Files Using the File History Feature
The popular File History feature remains present in Windows 11, and you can use it to recover saved copies of your files from your File History backup drive. What’s great about this feature is that it can be used to retrieve even files that have been permanently deleted and are no longer present in the Recycle Bin.
- Open the Start menu and type in Сontrol panel.
- Launch the Control Panel app.
- Navigate to System and Security > File History.
- Click the Restore personal files option located in the left sidebar.
- Go back in time until you find a backup copy that contains the files you want to recover.
- Select your files.
- Click the green recover button.
Tip: You can also access your File History backups (and restore points) by right-clicking the folder where your files were located and selecting Show more options > Restore previous versions.
Keep in mind that, by default, File History only backs up copies of files that are in the Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop folders. If you want to recover files that were present in some other location, your best bet is to use a different recovery method.
Method 4: Recover without Third-Party Software using Command Prompt
Included with Windows 11 are familiar command-line tools, some of which can be used to repair corrupted files that can’t be opened or located.
The most important command-line tool for repairing corrupted files is CHKDSK, and you can access it either directly from Command Prompt (cmd.exe) or from storage device Properties.
- Press Win + X and select the Windows Terminal option.
- Type in: chkdsk volume: /r (make sure to replace “volume” with the letter assigned to your storage device).
- Press Enter on your keyboard and wait for CHKDSK to scan and repair your storage device.
- Launch File Explorer.
- Select This PC from the list of locations in the left sidebar.
- Right-click the storage device you want to repair and choose Properties.
- Select the Tools tab.
- Click the Check button.
In addition to CHKDSK, Windows 11 also comes with a tool called ATTRIB. You can use this tool to change various characteristics, or “attributes” of a computer file or directory. For example, you can unhide files that have become hidden by malware. Here’s what you need to do:
- Press Win + X and select the Windows Terminal option.
- Type in: attrib -h -r -s /s /d volume:\*.* (make sure to replace “volume” with the letter assigned to your storage device).
- Press Enter on your keyboard.
Note: Keep in mind that ATTRIB doesn’t actually recover permanently deleted files on Windows 11. It merely reveals files that have become hidden from view.
Method 5: Recover Permanently Deleted Files from an Older Backup
One of the oldest data recovery features present in Windows 11 is the Backup and Restore (Windows 7) feature. As its name suggests, this feature comes from Windows 7 (and Windows Vista), and it lets you create a complete image of your computer and recover lost data from it.
Assuming you have a backup image to recover from, this is what you need to do:
- Launch the Settings app.
- Navigate to System > Recovery.
- Click the Restart now button.
- Go to Troubleshoot > Advanced options > See more recovery options > System Image Recovery.
- Choose your system image backup.
The biggest advantage of the Backup and Restore (Windows 7) feature is the fact that the system image created with it contains a full copy of all drives requires for Windows to run, so you can use it to address even the most desperate cases of data loss.
Method 6: Use Third-Party Data Recovery Software
What if you need to recover permanently deleted files but don’t have a backup from which you could recover them? In a situation like that, your best option is to use a third-party data recovery software application like Disk Drill.
Disk Drill is fully compatible with Windows 11, and it can recover up to 500 MB of deleted files on Windows 11 for free. The application supports hundreds of file formats, as well as all commonly used Windows, macOS, and Linux file systems.
Here’s how to find deleted files on Windows 11 using Disk Drill:
- Download and install Disk Drill for Windows.
- Launch the software and complete the initial setup.
- Select your storage device and click Search for lost data.
- Preview & select your files.
- Click the Recover button and tell Disk Drill where it should recover the selected files.
You can use Disk Drill to recover permanently deleted files from most types of storage devices supported by Windows 11, but it works best with traditional spinning drives and flash-based storage devices that don’t take advantage of the TRIM command to improve performance by reclaiming data blocks that are no longer in use.
In other words, Disk Drill and other similar data recovery software solution struggle to deliver good data recovery results when recovering data from a TRIM-enabled SSD. You can check if TRIM is enabled on your SSD in Windows 11 by entering the following command in Windows Terminal:
fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify
If you see DisableDeleteNotify = 0, TRIM is enabled. If you see DisableDeleteNotify = 1, TRIM is disabled.
Method 7: Use Microsoft’s Windows File Recovery Tool
Microsoft developed its own data recovery software application, called Windows File Recovery, and you can download it from the Microsoft Store. Windows File Recovery runs on Windows 10 2004 and newer (including Windows 11), and it can be used to recover many commonly used file formats from local storage devices.
Unlike Disk Drill and other feature-packed data recovery solutions, Windows File Recovery doesn’t have a graphical user interface. Instead, the tool is controlled from Command Prompt. This is what its syntax looks like:
winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/mode] [/switches]
You can find a detailed explanation of the syntax and available modes and switches on Microsoft’s website. For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing only on how to recover a deleted folder in Windows 11 using Windows File Recovery:
Press Win + X and select the Windows Terminal option.
Type in the following command to recover the Documents folder on drive C to drive E:
winfr C: E: /regular /n \Users\<username>\Documents\
Of course, you can replace the path to the Documents folder with any path your want, and you can also pick a different source and destination drive.
Method 8: Retrieve Lost Data from a Cloud Backup Using OneDrive
Integrated into Windows 11 is Microsoft’s cloud backup service, OneDrive. Using OneDrive, you can back up your files to the cloud and retrieve them from any device with a connection to the internet:
- Go to: https://onedrive.live.com/
- Log in with your Microsoft email address and password.
- Select the files you want to retrieve and click the Download button.
If you haven’t done so already, we recommend you take advantage of the OneDrive application that’s included with Windows 11 so that you can access your cloud files directly from File History and enjoy automatic data backups:
- Click the OneDrive icon in the system tray.
- Click Sign in.
- Log in with your Microsoft email address and password.
- Select the location of the OneDrive folder.
- Complete the initial setup process.
Remember that OneDrive can back up your files only if you have a working connection to the internet. If you’re often on a laptop with no internet access, you might be better of relying primarily on a local backup solution.
How to Protect Your Files on Windows 11
As a Windows 11 user, you should take certain steps to protect your files against data loss:
- 🤔 Think before you click: Human error is a leading cause of data loss, so the easiest and most effective you can take to avoid losing important files is being more careful, especially when deleting files, downloading stuff from the internet, and reading email messages containing suspicious attachments and links.
- 💽 Store local backups on a dedicated backup drive: Keeping backup copies of important files on the same storage device where the original files are located is a big no-no. Instead, you should have a dedicated backup drive, such as an external hard drive. You can then configure a backup tool like File History to automatically back up files to this drive at a regular interval.
- ☁️ Enable OneDrive cloud backups: As described in the previous section of this article, Windows 11 makes it easy to backup files to the cloud using OneDrive, Microsoft’s file hosting service and synchronization service. Free users get 5 GB of free personal cloud storage, and you can choose from multiple subscription plans to get a lot more.
- 🛡️ Keep antivirus software enabled and updated: Windows 11 comes with capable antivirus software, Microsoft Defender, whose purpose is to protect users against viruses and other malware. Microsoft Defender is enabled by default, and it consumes minimal system resources, so you should resist the temptation to turn it off.
- 🧰 Equip yourself with reliable data recovery software: To successfully recover permanently deleted files, it’s paramount that you act quickly and don’t waste precious time. That’s why it’s a good idea to have reliable data recovery software like Disk Drill installed on your computer so that you can use without any delay.
These five simple best practices can go a long way in keeping the looming danger of data loss at bay, making it well worth to take the time necessary to implement them.
Windows 11, with its sharp focus on security and revamped user interface, marks an important step forward for Microsoft and its customers. But despite all the improvements, data loss will continue to be a major issue for all Windows 11 because many of its causes, such as human error and hardware failure, are impossible for Microsoft to address. Fortunately, there are.