Can I see what files I deleted?

Quick Answer

Sometimes it is possible to view and recover deleted files, but it depends on the operating system and type of storage device. On Windows PCs, deleted files go to the Recycle Bin where they can be easily viewed and restored. On Macs, deleted files go to the Trash and can also be recovered. For external storage like USB drives, recovering deleted files is trickier and requires special data recovery software.

What Happens When You Delete a File?

When you delete a file on your computer, it is not immediately erased from the storage device. Instead, the operating system marks the space occupied by that file as being available for new data. The actual contents of the deleted file remain on the storage device until that space is overwritten by something else.

This means deleted files can often be recovered, as long as the original data has not yet been overwritten. The likelihood of recovering a deleted file depends on how quickly and how much new data is written to the storage device after the file was deleted.

Recovering Deleted Files on Windows

On Windows PCs, when you delete a file it is sent to the Recycle Bin, which acts like a temporary holding place for recently deleted files. As long as the Recycle Bin has not been emptied, you can easily view and restore deleted files:

  • Open the Recycle Bin by double-clicking its desktop icon or selecting it in the start menu.
  • Brows through the contents of the Recycle Bin to view your deleted files.
  • To restore a file, right click on it within the Recycle Bin and select “Restore”. This will move the file back to its original location.

If you emptied the Recycle Bin, the deleted files are no longer easily accessible through this interface. However, that does not necessarily mean they are gone for good. There are still ways to try recovering emptied Recycle Bin files:

  • Use the Recuva free data recovery tool from Piriform to scan your drives and recover deleted files from the Recycle Bin.
  • Employ a professional data recovery service that can attempt to recover deleted files from your hard drive even if you emptied the Recycle Bin.

The likelihood of recovering a deleted file depends how much new data has overwritten it since it was deleted. The sooner you act, the better your chances.

Recovering Deleted Files on Mac

The process works similarly on Macs. When you delete files on a Mac, they are sent to the Trash folder. As long as the Trash has not been emptied, you can view and restore deleted files:

  • Open the Trash by clicking the Trash icon in the Dock or selecting it in the Finder window sidebar.
  • Browse the contents of the Trash to view your deleted files.
  • To restore a file from the Trash, simply drag it back to its original location in Finder.

If you already emptied the Trash, you may still be able to recover deleted files on a Mac:

  • Use data recovery software like Disk Drill to scan your Mac’s hard drive and recover deleted files.
  • Try a professional Mac data recovery service to attempt to recover emptied Trash data.

Again, the sooner you take action, the better your chances of getting that lost file back.

Recovering Deleted Files from External Drives

When you delete files saved on an external storage device like a USB flash drive, portable hard drive, or memory card, there is no Recycle Bin or Trash holding your deleted files. This makes recovery a bit trickier.

If you accidentally deleted a file from your external drive, stop using the drive right away to prevent overwritten any deleted data. Then try one of these options:

  • Use recovery software designed for external drives like Disk Drill to scan the drive and restore deleted files.
  • Send the external drive to a data recovery service – if the files contained important data, the cost may be worth it.

The same principles apply as recovering deleted files from a system hard drive. Act quickly and use the right tools and there is a decent chance of getting that file back.

Can You Recover Permanently Deleted Files?

What if a file was not just deleted but permanently erased using a secure delete option? Is it still possible to recover such a file?

It becomes much more difficult if a file has been permanently deleted, but it may still be possible in some cases.

Most secure deletion methods like Eraser for Windows or Permanent Eraser for Mac overwrite the file’s data with gibberish multiple times to prevent recovery. However, traces of the old data can sometimes still remain and be recovered by specialized data recovery tools. But there are no guarantees.

The best chance for recovering a permanently deleted file is if you act immediately before much new data is written to the drive and use advanced recovery methods like:

  • A data recovery or computer forensics service that can manually scan at the deepest disk level.
  • File recovery tools designed to recover overwritten data.

But again, success is not guaranteed once a file has been permanently deleted. So it’s very important to have a robust backup system in place if you ever find yourself needing to recover permanently erased data.

Preventing Deleted File Problems

While it is often possible to recover deleted files if they have not been overwritten, that process is never guaranteed. The best solution is prevention:

  • Be cautious when deleting files – Double check you are deleting only the intended items.
  • Backup important files – Maintain multiple copies so deleting the original is not the end of the world.
  • Use file versioning systems – Apps like Dropbox preserve past versions of files, allowing you to roll back deletes.
  • Pause before emptying Trash/Recycle Bin – Give yourself a chance to recover mistakes before deleted files are fully erased.

Following best practices like these can reduce the stress of needing to recover deleted files. But when data loss does strike, at least you know it is often possible to get your files back if you act quickly and use the right recovery tools.

Can You See What Files Were Deleted from Your Computer?

When a file is deleted from your computer, it is not immediately erased. This means there are ways to determine what files have recently been deleted:

  • Browsing the contents of the Recycle Bin or Trash will show you deleted files before they are fully erased.
  • Data recovery software can scan your storage device and display files that were deleted but not yet overwritten.
  • Your operating system may keep timestamps showing when files were deleted.
  • Looking at previous file versions can reveal when a file was deleted.

Being able to see what files were recently deleted can be useful for determining when data loss occurred and what exactly is missing. This information helps improve the chances of successfully recovering deleted files.

However, once the deleted data is overwritten by new data, it becomes much more difficult to determine what exactly was lost. At that point, the best bet is to recover whatever files you can based on a typical backup.

Recover Deleted Files with Professional Help

While data recovery software provides an option for DIY deleted file recovery, for the best results it is often worth turning to professional help, especially if the lost data is valuable or irreplaceable.

Professional data recovery services have access to advanced tools and techniques that go beyond what consumer software can do. Some of the ways they can help recover deleted files include:

  • Using specialized scanning software to find traces of deleted data.
  • Accessing the deepest low-level sectors of your storage device.
  • Manually manipulating drive heads to realign platters and read data.
  • Performing a forensic-level examination of your storage device hardware.
  • Transplanting sensitive components from damaged drives into new chassis.

These sophisticated methods allow professional data recovery services to salvage deleted files when DIY software is not enough. The right service can recover data even from formatted, corrupted, or physically damaged drives.

Of course, there is a cost involved – prices vary based on service level and how challenging the recovery case is. But for many, the peace of mind of getting those precious deleted files back is worth the investment.

Can You Recover Deleted Files After Emptying the Recycle Bin?

When you permanently delete files by emptying the Recycle Bin in Windows or Trash on a Mac, those files are no longer easily accessible through the operating system. However, that does not necessarily mean they are gone forever.

It is often still possible to recover deleted files even after emptying the Recycle Bin, as long as the data has not been overwritten on the drive. Here are some ways you can attempt to restore deleted files after emptying the Recycle Bin:

  • Use free data recovery software like Recuva or Disk Drill to scan your hard drive and restore deleted files emptied from the Recycle Bin.
  • Turn to a professional data recovery service – they have access to more advanced file recovery techniques.
  • On Windows, try enabling Previous Versions to potentially restore older snapshots of deleted files.
  • On Macs, use Time Machine backups to browse and restore deleted files from earlier backup states.

The key is acting quickly before the deleted data gets overwritten by new data being saved onto the drive. Once the original data is gone, there is little chance of recovery.

So if you accidentally emptied the Recycle Bin or Trash and need those files back, move quickly. Stop using the drive and employ data recovery solutions right away to get those important deleted files back.


While accidentally deleting important files can be stressful, in many cases it is possible to get them back. Operating systems like Windows and Mac provide easy built-in tools like the Recycle Bin and Trash to quickly restore recently deleted files. And even after permanently erasing files, they can often still be recovered using the right data recovery software as long as the original data remains intact. The key is acting quickly before that deleted data gets overwritten.

Following some best practices can also greatly reduce the chances of a deleted file disaster happening in the first place:

  • Be very cautious when deleting files to avoid mistakes.
  • Maintain robust backups of important data.
  • Enable file versioning through cloud services.
  • Pause before emptying the Recycle Bin or Trash.

While the fear of deleting an important file is understandable, just remember that options exist to recover those mistakes. With the right tools, knowledge, and prompt action, you can likely get those files back and avoid catastrophe.

Summary Table

Operating System Deleted Files Location Recovery Method
Windows Recycle Bin Restore from Recycle Bin or use data recovery software like Recuva
MacOS Trash Restore from Trash or use data recovery software like Disk Drill
External Drives No Recycle Bin Use data recovery software focused on external drives