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How to manage deleted files on Windows and Android

How to manage deleted files on Windows and Android

Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge

I have a bad habit of accidentally deleting files that I suddenly need a day later. Luckily, when files are “deleted,” they are actually not fully wiped from a system — and if they’re backed up to connected cloud storage services, well, those services have their own ways of handling deleted files. So it’s a good idea to know where to look.

This is also something to keep in mind if you’re selling or giving away a system — because in that case, you’ll want to make sure your files are completely, totally wiped.

Whether you’re looking to restore previously deleted files or permanently erase them, 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 normal way in File Explorer on Windows — using the Delete key — and it goes to the Recycle Bin, which has been helping Windows users get back files they’ve accidentally wiped since Windows 95.

Screenshot: Microsoft
You can empty the Windows Recycle Bin with a couple of clicks.

Head 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 a blank part of the desktop, then choose Personalize > Themes > Desktop icon settings.
You should also see a Recycle Bin shortcut in the left-hand navigation pane of File Explorer; if not, right-click at the bottom of the pane and choose Show all folders.
You can also get to the Recycle Bin by searching for it via the search bar on the taskbar or via the address bar at the top of any File Explorer window.

Once you’re in the Recycle Bin (which is shown in File Explorer):

Click Empty Recycle Bin on 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 you’ll see another option: Restore the selected items to bring the file(s) back. You’ll find the same options by right-clicking on a file.

By default, deleted files stay in the Recycle Bin for 30 days before Windows erases them permanently. To change this:

Open Settings, then pick System > Storage > Storage Sense.
Make sure Automatic User content cleanup is toggled on.
Look for Delete files in my recycle bin if they have been there for over…, with the drop-down menu providing the following options: 1 day, 14 days, 30 days, 60 days, or Never. (Files stick around in the Recycle Bin until you wipe them manually.)

Incidentally, if there’s something private and sensitive you want to permanently delete right away (skipping the Recycle Bin), select it in File Explorer and press Shift + Delete. You do get a warning, but once you click Yes, the file is gone forever and can’t be recovered.

Screenshot: Microsoft
It’s up to you how long deleted files stay in the Recycle Bin.

OneDrive’s Recycle Bin

Then there’s the cloud storage service attached to Windows, OneDrive. Depending on how your computer was set up, OneDrive may be backing up your Windows files: you can check by going to Settings > Accounts > Windows back up > OneDrive folder syncing.

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

Click Recycle bin to find files deleted in the last 30 days.
Select individual files to bring up the Delete or Restore options at the top.
Without any files selected, click Empty recycle bin to erase everything permanently or Restore all items to bring them all back to your PC.

When you delete a file synced to both OneDrive and your local PC, it’ll be sent to the Recycle Bin in both places, and you can restore it from either of them. However, the Recycle Bin in the cloud and the Recycle Bin in Windows aren’t synced, so you might find something you’ve permanently erased from one place is still available in the other.

Deleted files on Android

When it comes to Android, apps will often manage file deleting and file restoring themselves. If you’re using Google Photos to manage your photos and videos, for example, you can tap Library and then Trash in the app to see recently deleted files. From there, they can be wiped permanently or brought back.

Any files that were synced to the cloud when they were deleted will be kept around for 60 days; if they were stored locally, they stay in the Trash folder for 30 days. The same trash folder that you see in the app can be found in Google Photos on the web in the navigation pane on the left.

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

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

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), then Trash. Files are kept for 30 days, and if you select a file, you’ll see the Restore and Delete options become active at the bottom.

If you have a Samsung phone, you might be using Samsung’s own apps instead. Inside Samsung Gallery, you can tap the three horizontal lines (bottom right) and then Recycle bin to view, erase, and restore photos and videos you’ve deleted.

Then there’s the My Files app by Samsung, which handles files more generally across Android. There’s a Recycle bin link on the front screen of the app: tap on this to see recently deleted files and to find options to wipe them permanently or restore them to their original locations. In both of these Samsung apps, files are kept for 30 days before automatic, permanent deletion.

Screenshot: Google
Google Drive comes with its own Trash folder.

Deleting Google Drive files

Finally, for apps that sync with Google Drive and for the Google Drive app itself, you have an extra safety net in the cloud. From Google Drive on the web, you can click the Trash link in the navigation pane on the left to see deleted files, which are kept for 30 days. Files can be sorted by type or by the date they were last modified, and as you select files, you’ll see options to restore or permanently delete them above the file list.

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