How can I recover data from USB without software?

Recovering lost or deleted files from a USB drive without using data recovery software can be challenging, but is possible in some cases. There are a few different methods you can try to get your files back.

Check the Recycle Bin

When you delete files from a USB drive, they may get sent to the Recycle Bin on your computer. This is one of the easiest ways to retrieve deleted files.

  1. Plug your USB drive into your computer.
  2. Open the Recycle Bin and look for any files that may have been deleted from the USB drive. They will be sorted by the drive letter, so look under the letter assigned to your USB drive.
  3. Select any files you want to recover and restore them by right-clicking and selecting “Restore”. This will move the files back to their original location on your USB drive.

The Recycle Bin only stores deleted files for a limited time before they are permanently deleted, so this method only works if you act quickly after accidental deletion.

Use File Recovery Software Built Into Your Operating System

Most operating systems like Windows and MacOS come with built-in file recovery tools that can help retrieve deleted files from USB drives and other external storage devices.

On Windows

Windows has a feature called Previous Versions that can help you restore older versions of files that may have been deleted or changed on your USB drive.

  1. With your USB drive plugged in, open File Explorer and navigate to the specific folder/file you want to restore.
  2. Right-click on the file or folder and select “Restore previous versions” from the menu.
  3. In the Previous Versions tab, you’ll see a list of older copies of that file or folder. Click on a previous version to preview it.
  4. When you find the version you want, click “Restore” to retrieve the file or folder. It will be copied back to its original location.

This allows you to rollback changes or deletions on your USB drive without third-party software. But Previous Versions has limits on how far back you can go for backups.

On Mac

MacOS has a built-in feature called Time Machine that continuously creates backups of your files, including those on external drives like USBs. You can use it to recover deleted files.

  1. With your USB drive connected, open Finder and click on Time Machine in the menu bar.
  2. In the Time Machine window, navigate to your USB drive and browse through older versions of files and folders.
  3. When you find a version you want to restore, click the “Restore” button.

This will retrieve the file/folder from the backup and put it back on your USB drive. Time Machine needs to have been previously set up and enabled to use this method.

Try Drive Recovery Software

If the above options don’t work, you may need dedicated drive recovery software to scan your USB drive and find recoverable files. These tools can retrieve data even after it has been permanently deleted.

Some popular free recovery software options include:

  • Recuva – Works on Windows to recover files from hard drives, USB drives, memory cards, etc. Has deep scan features.
  • PhotoRec – Cross-platform tool focused on recovering lost media files like photos, videos, documents, etc.
  • TestDisk – Open source program that works on Windows, Mac & Linux to recover lost partitions and repair boot sectors.

And some paid options with more features:

  • Stellar Data Recovery – Has premium data recovery capabilities for deleting files, corrupted drives, crashes, etc.
  • Disk Drill – User friendly recovery for all major file types across devices, with extra protection features.
  • R-Studio – Powerful recovery software with advanced RAID and disk imaging utilities.

To use these, first scan your USB drive to find recoverable files. Then you can select which files to restore and save them to another safe location.

Send Drive to a Data Recovery Service

For difficult cases where you’ve exhausted all other options, you may need to use a professional data recovery service. They have specialized tools and methods to repair drives and recover data in complex situations.

Here’s an overview of the data recovery process:

  1. Evaluation – The service will perform an initial evaluation to determine the extent of the data loss and what can be recovered.
  2. Recovery – Using specialized tools and techniques in a cleanroom environment, they disassemble drives and work to access recoverable data.
  3. Return of Data – The recovered files are copied to a new external drive or storage media and sent back to you.

Some well known data recovery companies include:

  • DriveSavers
  • Ontrack
  • Gillware
  • Secure Data Recovery

The process is complex, time-intensive and costs hundreds to thousands of dollars, but can retrieve data when all else fails.

Avoid USB Data Loss in the First Place

Prevention is the best way to avoid needing data recovery from USB drives.

Here are some tips to help prevent file loss:

  • Always eject the USB drive safely before unplugging it.
  • Maintain backups of your important files on another storage device or cloud service.
  • Avoid storing the only copy of important data on a USB drive.
  • Check files have been copied from the USB before deleting originals.
  • Don’t save files directly to the root of the USB drive.
  • Scan for malware periodically to avoid infections corrupting files.

You can also look into USB drives with built-in data protection features, like:

  • Password protection
  • Encryption
  • Read-only access
  • Shock-resistant hardware
  • Backup/restore software

Being cautious in how you use and store data on USB drives reduces the chances of needing recovery.


While challenging, it is possible in many cases to recover deleted or lost files from a USB drive without dedicated data recovery software, using methods like:

  • Checking the Recycle Bin
  • Using Previous Versions or Time Machine
  • Trying free recovery software like Recuva, PhotoRec or TestDisk
  • Sending to a professional data recovery service

With prevention best practices, you can avoid needing to use data recovery tools as often. But if you do suffer USB data loss, don’t give up hope. In many cases, your files can be retrieved with some persistence and the right techniques.