How to Recover Deleted Files in Windows

Introduction

Windows has a number of safeguards and features built-in to save you from potentially having to re-create documents and lose precious pictures. This guide will help you check the Recycle Bin, backups, and OneDrive to retrieve your data.
File Recovery.

1 Search

Windows provides two ways to search for your files.

Cortana Search

Cortana Search allows you to search your computer's files, applications, as well as on the Internet from one place.

  1. At the bottom of your screen, there is a search box. Click in that search box.
    Windows Taskbar with Search field highlighted.
  2. Type in a few letters or a word from your document, or from the file name. Cortana Search will search as you type, and display results above.
    Search entered with document and Open highlighted.
  3. Click on a result, then select Open to open the file right away.

File Search

File Search allows you to limit your search to the files on your computer only, and even to a single group of folders. Limiting the search can help find your files.

  1. Open Windows Explorer, and select This PC on the left.
    Windows Explorer
    Windows Explorder with This PC highlighted
  2. Type the file name you are looking for in the search box on the top right. After a few moments, Windows will start searching.
    Windows Explorer searching for a file with search field highlighted
    It may take a while for search to complete.
  3. Double-click on a result to open the file right away.

? Were you able to locate the file you are missing?

  1. Yes
  2. No

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Windows has a number of safeguards and features built-in to save you from potentially having to re-create documents and lose precious pictures. This guide will help you check the Recycle Bin, backups, and OneDrive to retrieve your data.
File Recovery.

Windows provides two ways to search for your files.

Cortana Search

Cortana Search allows you to search your computer's files, applications, as well as on the Internet from one place.

  1. At the bottom of your screen, there is a search box. Click in that search box.
    Windows Taskbar with Search field highlighted.
  2. Type in a few letters or a word from your document, or from the file name. Cortana Search will search as you type, and display results above.
    Search entered with document and Open highlighted.
  3. Click on a result, then select Open to open the file right away.

File Search

File Search allows you to limit your search to the files on your computer only, and even to a single group of folders. Limiting the search can help find your files.

  1. Open Windows Explorer, and select This PC on the left.
    Windows Explorer
    Windows Explorder with This PC highlighted
  2. Type the file name you are looking for in the search box on the top right. After a few moments, Windows will start searching.
    Windows Explorer searching for a file with search field highlighted
    It may take a while for search to complete.
  3. Double-click on a result to open the file right away.

When a file is deleted from your computer, it first goes to the Recycle Bin. If left long enough, it will eventually be removed permanently from your computer, but this provides an excellent buffer for simple mistakes.

  1. Select the Recycle Bin icon on your Desktop, Windows Explorer will show you the items inside.
    Full Recycle Bin
    Windows Explorer showing Recycle Bin contents.
  2. If you see the file you want in the Recycle Bin, it's best to put it back where it belongs.
    1. Using your right mouse button, right click the file for the menu to open. Select Restore.
      Mouse with Right Mouse Button highlighted.
      Recycle Bin Contents with context menu open for file with Restore highlighted.
    2. The file will be put back where it came from. You can open it from that location by double-clicking on the file.
      Windows Explorer showing file restored.

If you have Windows Backup setup to automatically back up your computer regularly, you can retrieve a file from there.

Check if Windows Backup is Running

  1. Select Start menu > Settings.
    Windows 10 Start Menu
    Windows 10 Settings
  2. Select Update & Security.
    Updates and Security Settings
  3. Select Backup on the left, and check on the right if Automatically backup my files is set to On.
    Update and Security settings with Backup and Automatically backup my files highlighted.
  1. Select Start menu > Settings.
    Windows 10 Start Menu
    Windows 10 Settings
  2. Select Update & Security.
    Updates and Security Settings
  3. Select Backup on the left, then More options on the right.
    Update and Security settings with Backup and More options highlighted.
  4. Scroll all the way to the bottom. Select Restore files from a current backup.
    Backup Options with Restore files from a current backup highlighted
  5. A File History window will open. In this window, browse to where your file was located.
    File History with file browser highlighted.
  6. Once inside, use the back and forward buttons at the bottom till you see the latest 'snapshot' with the file still present.
    File History with back and forward buttons highlighted.
  7. Once you've located your file, highlight it, then select Restore at the bottom.
    File History with file and restore highlighted.
  8. A Windows Explorer window will open, showing you your file restored.
    Windows Explorer with restored file highlighted.

If you have OneDrive setup to automatically back up your files regularly, you can retrieve a file from there.

Check if OneDrive is Setup

  • Look in the bottom-right corner of your screen for a small cloud icon.
    System Tray with OneDrive icon highlighted
  • You may need to click the Show Hidden Icons arrow to reveal it there.
    System Tray with hidden icons revealed and OneDrive icon highlighted.
Solid Icon
OneDrive icon solidOneDrive is setup and backing up your files to the OneDrive cloud storage platform.
Dim Icon
OneDrive Icon DimmedOneDrive is installed, but it is not setup, and is not backing up your files to cloud storage.

If the file you are looking for was stored in a OneDrive-backed folder, you can restore them through the OneDrive web interface.

  1. Open your preferred browser, type in onedrive.com in the address, and press Enter.
    Edge browser with address typed in and highlighted.
  2. Select Sign In in the top right corner.
    OneDrive page with Sign In highlighted.
  3. Sign in with your OneDrive username and password.
    Sign in with email address and next highlighted.
    Sign in with password and sign in highlighted.
  4. Select Recycle bin on the left. Look through the list of files. If you see your missing file, highlight it by clicking on the file once. Then select the 3-dots menu, then select Restore.
    OneDrive with Recycle Bin, Menu, and Restore highlighted.

It can take a few moments for your computer to download and restore the file. Please be patient.

Some people use an online file storage or backup solution, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Carbonite, or their own custom services.

If your computer is part of a work network, it is possible that the Systems Administrator at work has setup a custom backup solution for computers on their network.

If you do not currently use or remember setting up such a service, choose No.

Using your backup software, check if your file is available and restore it.

If you are unsure how to use your custom backup software, please contact the creator of the software for assistance in using it.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the missing files in question are able to be recovered using traditional means. At this time, the only option for recovering your lost files involves contacting a data recovery firm.

Professional data recovery firms can salvage and repair data that has been otherwise lost forever. Of course, in some situations, data recovery won’t always be possible. Sometimes a system can be too corrupted or damaged to retrieve missing data. The methods used to recover lost data depend on how the data was lost in the first place. One of the major factors involved in data recovery is cost. Costs involved for data recovery services can carry a tremendous range (hundreds to thousands of dollars) and will vary based on a large number of factors involved with your data loss case.

Contacting a data recovery firm is completely optional. Some find that data recovery services are not the best fit based upon what information was lost. That being said, only you can know what your data is worth to you. Reaching out to a data recovery firm in your area to determine whether or not your data can be saved and what it may cost to do so will help determine if this option is a good fit for you.

If you intend to pursue professional data recovery services, it is extremely important you stop using your device. Shut it down and do not turn it back on until you have spoken with the professional data recovery service you have chosen.

Continuing to use your device in any way can destroy the data permanently, without any chance or hope of recovery.

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