When a file has gone through every process of deletion, there’s always the chance that we want to get it back. Think that file is gone forever? Not with a Windows backup feature or third-party recovery tools!  

Files – Rise From Your Recycle Bin!

When files take that final plunge to the digital afterlife, that realm from which a computerized Shakespeare would call that “undiscovered file folder from whose bourn no bits returns”, it can seem like they’re gone for all time. They have gone to a digital graveyard, and all we can do is mourn their passing.

When we deleted them and selected “Empty Recycle Bin”, or in File Explorer hit “Shift-Delete”, we were certain we were going to never need that file again. Until an hour, or a few days later when we go – oops. Turns out we needed those files after all.

Unlike Shakespeare’s undiscovered country, there are ways on how to restore permanently deleted files from the Recycle Bin. Unlike that unlucky prince Hamlet, we can have our happy ending. We’ll just need some help from something powerful enough to find our files when Windows tells us they’re gone.

Method 1. Previous Versions in Windows Vista and 7

Windows Vista and 7 have something like files backup inbuilt. This is called Previous Versions and you can always try it for restoring your files.

how to recover deleted files on Windows 7

Microsoft used to limit backup software in older versions of Windows – Windows XP Home has no backup program at all. This is where a file recovery tool like Disk Drill comes into action. Disk Drill is a free download with an easy to use interface that anyone can use to get back files when Windows thinks they’re removed.

Method 2. Recover Permanently Deleted Files on Windows 7, XP, Vista 

When we need to know how to recover permanently deleted files in Windows 7 – or any other version of Windows from Windows XP to Windows 10, our first option should be to start with a reliable data recovery software. You can try a free version of Disk Drill, scan your drive, and verify that your files can be recovered.

  1. Download Disk Drill for Windows 7. Use this link to download Disk Drill for Windows XP or Vista.
  2. Install Disk Drill. The default installation directory is "C:\Program Files (x86)\CleverFiles\Disk Drill\" , but we can have it install anywhere we desire. It’s better to download and install Disk Drill on the external drive to prevent data from being overwritten by Windows. recover deleted files windows 10
  3. Run Disk Drill on your Windows 7, XP, or Vista. If it prompts to be allowed to make changes to your device (which in this case is the computer that you’re using), select “Yes”.undelete files windows 10
  4. Wait until Disk Drill Launches. Once it’s up, it will display a list of available drives. For this example, we deleted a file on a USB drive, so we’ll restore it from there.windows 10 recover deleted files

    Disk Drill works with several different kinds of media – hard drives, SD cards, USB storage, and others.

  5. Click “Recover” on the drive that we want to recover files from. This will launch the data recovery process, which scans the drives for lost partitions and files. Depending on the size of the drive or media we’re analyzing, this can take either a few minutes or longer. In this case, the 4GB USB drive took about 5 minutes.recover permanently deleted files windows 10
  6. Click “Pause” if during the scanning process the file or files we want to restore are found. Disk Drill allows us to save our scanning sessions, so we can stop, save, go do other things, then come back to it later. It’s best to do it all at once to maximize the odds of finding our deleted files, but if we need to stop and start again, Disk Drill allows us to do it.how to recover deleted files windows 10
  7. Click the checkbox next to the files or files to restore.recover deleted files windows 10
  8. In the text box marked “Recover To”, select the directory where to restore the files.recover permanently deleted files windows 10

    This is very important! Make sure the restore directory is on a separate drive from the files we’re restoring. In this case, we’re restoring from drive "M:" – we would not want to restore to drive "M:", because there’s a chance we’ll be messing with the files we want to restore. If we try to restore to the same drive, there’s a chance we’ll be writing over the very information we’re trying to retrieve.

    Therefore, when possible restore to another drive. In this case, we’re restoring to "C:\Users\Alex\Documents".

  9. Click “Recover”. This starts the restoration process. Disk Drill will match the data it discovers to different file patterns, and work to reconstruct the files.

    windows 10 recover deleted files

  10. Wait for the recovery process to finish. Disk Drill will put up an alert window when it’s done.

    recover permanently deleted files windows 10

Exploring the Potential of Deleted Files

On a typical Windows system, file deletion really is three separate steps, depending on how we delete files:

recover permanently deleted files windows 10Step #1 Move files to the Recycle Bin.
During this phase, the file isn’t deleted at all. What Windows really does it moves it to a special folder and logs where the file was before it was sent off to the Recycle Bin. This way, if we want to recover the data back to the hard drive, we just open the Recycle Bin and select “Restore” to bring it back where it was before.

how to recover deleted files windows 10Step #2 Empty the Recycle Bin.
At the moment, the file hasn’t been deleted, just moved. When we right-click on the Recycle Bin and select “Empty Recycle Bin”, even then the file isn’t really deleted. If we look at the hard drive, all of the bits that made of the file are all there.

What Windows does is just sets a flag in the hard drive that tells it “This area where the file used to be is now available for use.” It’s kind of like when someone moves out of a house, but leaves their things behind. If the new owners come in they’ll throw the old stuff out to make room for their own things, but until then, the old things are still there.

Step #3 Overwrite the file’s former location.
This is when the file can be considered “deleted”. In the course of normal Windows operations, when Windows writes new files it overwrites those sections that have been freed up by files marked as deleted. Even then, there’s a chance the file can be restored.

Files aren’t sitting in one spot on the hard drive like pages a book. They’re more like a set of encyclopedias, with volumes that are scattered across a bookshelf. If just one of the books are replaced, the rest of the encyclopedia set might still be there, and a clever file person might be able to reconstruct the missing volumes from what’s left behind.

For each of these steps, the files aren’t truly “permanently” deleted, making restoration on Windows 10/8/7/XP possible. That’s what Disk Drill relies on. It has a database of hundreds of different file types and how they’re constructed, so even if some of the data has been written over, it can attempt to recover lost files for us.

Recovering What We Need

Disk Drill handles more than just lost files on hard drives – it also works on recovering partitions, USB drives, SD cards and other media. It’s a powerful tool that provides support for all sorts of different files, bringing them back to life when it seems like they’ve been permanently deleted. A free download is all that it will take to recover files that have been permanently deleted. Turns out – permanent might not be forever. Not with Disk Drill.


Robert Agar

Robert is a freelance writer who graduated from Pace University in New York with a Computer Science degree in 1992. Former computer specialist at IBM. Over the course of a long IT career, he has worked for a number of lar...

Read full bio
Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.