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How to manage deleted files on Windows and Android
How to manage deleted files on Windows and Android

I have a bad habit of accidentally deleting files that I suddenly need a day later. Fortunately, “deleting” files doesn’t completely wipe them from a system – and if they’re backed up to connected cloud storage services, those services have their own methods of dealing with deleted files, so it’s a good idea to know where to look.

This is also something to keep in mind if you sell or give away a system. In this case, you should make sure that your files are completely deleted.

Whether you want to recover previously deleted files or delete them permanently, here’s what you need to know about them on Windows (and OneDrive) and Android (and Google Drive).

Deleted files on Windows

Delete a file in the usual way in File Explorer on Windows – with the Delete key – and the text will be moved to the Recycle Bin, which has helped Windows users recover accidentally deleted files since Windows 95.

You can empty the Windows Recycle Bin with just a few clicks.
Screenshot: Microsoft

Go to the Recycle Bin folder on your PC and you can restore deleted files from their original location or delete them permanently. There are several ways to find it.

  • To make things easier, look for the Recycle Bin shortcut on your desktop. If you don’t see it, right-click on an empty part of the desktop and select Personalize > Themes > Desktop icon settings to show it.
  • You should also see a shortcut to the Recycle Bin in the left navigation pane of File Explorer. If not, right-click the bottom of the pane and select Show all folders.
  • You can also reach the Recycle Bin by searching for it using the search bar on the taskbar or the address bar at the top of any File Explorer window.

Once you are in the Recycle Bin (which appears in File Explorer):

  • Click Empty trash in the top toolbar to delete everything currently stored in it.
  • Click Restore all items to restore everything in the recycle bin.
  • Select one or more files and another option will appear: Restore selected items to restore the file(s). You will find the same options when you right-click on a file.

By default, deleted files remain in the Recycle Bin for 30 days before Windows permanently deletes them. Here’s how to change this:

  • Open Settings and select System > Storage > Storage Optimization.
  • Make sure Automatic cleanup of user content is on.
  • Search Delete files in the recycle bin if they are longer than…where the drop-down menu offers the following options: 1 day, 14 days, 30 days, 60 daysor Never. (Files remain in the Recycle Bin until you manually delete them.)

If you want to delete private and sensitive data immediately and permanently (without using the Recycle Bin), select it in File Explorer and press Shift + Delete. You will receive a warning, but once you click Yesthe file is lost forever and cannot be recovered.

It is up to you how long deleted files remain in the Recycle Bin.
Screenshot: Microsoft

OneDrive Recycle Bin

Then there is the cloud storage service that is tied to Windows: OneDrive. Depending on how your computer is set up, OneDrive may be backing up your Windows files: you can check this by going to Settings > Accounts > Windows Backup > OneDrive Folder Sync.

OneDrive has its own Recycle Bin, which you can find by opening OneDrive on the web or by looking for the cloud icon in the bottom left of your taskbar.

  • Click waste paper bin to find files deleted in the last 30 days.
  • Select individual files to Delete or Restore Options above.
  • Without selecting any files, click Empty trash to delete everything permanently or Restore all items to get them all back on your PC.

If you delete a file that’s synced to both OneDrive and your local PC, it will go to the Recycle Bin in both places, and you can restore it from either. However, the Recycle Bin in the cloud and the Recycle Bin in Windows aren’t synced, so you may find that something you permanently deleted from one place is still available in the other.

Deleted files on Android

On Android, apps often manage the deletion and restoration of files themselves. For example, if you use Google Photos to manage your photos and videos, you can library and then Garbage in the app to view recently deleted files. From there, they can be permanently deleted or restored.

Any files that were synced to the cloud when deleted will remain for 60 days. If they were stored locally, they will remain in the trash for 30 days. The same trash you see in the app can also be found in Google Photos on the web in the navigation pane on the left.

The Trash folder in Google Photos for Android.
Screenshot: Google

The “Files by Google” app lists deleted files.
Screenshot: Google

You can also use the Files by Google app (the default file manager on Android) to find deleted items on your Android phone. In the app, tap the three horizontal lines (top left) and then Garbage. Files are retained for 30 days. When you select a file, the Restore And Delete Options become active below.

If you have a Samsung phone, you may be using Samsung’s own apps instead. Samsung Galleryyou can tap on the three horizontal lines (bottom right) and then waste paper bin to view, delete and recover deleted photos and videos.

Then there is the My files App from Samsung that manages files more generally via Android. There is a waste paper bin Link on the app’s home screen: Tap it to view recently deleted files and find options to permanently delete them or restore them to their original locations. Both Samsung apps keep files for 30 days before automatically and permanently deleting them.

Google Drive has its own trash folder.
Screenshot: Google

Delete Google Drive files

Finally, for apps that sync with Google Drive and for the Google Drive app itself, you have an additional safety net in the cloud. In Google Drive on the web, you can access the Garbage Click the link in the navigation pane on the left to view deleted files, which are retained for 30 days. Files can be sorted by type or by last modified date. When you select files, you’ll see options to restore or permanently delete them above the file list.