Where are deleted files USB?

When you delete a file from a USB flash drive, it may seem like that file is gone forever. However, that is often not the case. Deleted files on USB drives can frequently be recovered, even after being emptied from the Recycle Bin.

This is because when you delete a file from a USB drive, the operating system does not actually remove the file data right away. Instead, it removes the file’s entry from the file table and marks the space occupied by the file as available for new data. The actual file data still remains on the USB drive until it gets overwritten by new files.

So if you act quickly, you can use data recovery software to scan the USB drive and restore deleted files before they get overwritten. But where exactly do deleted files on a USB drive go in the first place? And what determines whether or not you can recover them?

Where Are Deleted Files Stored on a USB Drive?

When you first save a file to your USB flash drive, it occupies a specific set of storage clusters on the drive. For example, the file may take up clusters #200-260.

The file system keeps track of what clusters belong to what files in a table. When you delete the file, the clusters it occupied are marked as available for new data. But the actual 1’s and 0’s that make up the file data remain in those clusters, at least temporarily.

So until new data overwrites those clusters, the deleted file is still physically stored in the same place on the USB drive. The file system just drops the file from its list of allocated clusters.

When you delete a file, some operating systems like Windows may also move the file to a Recycle Bin folder on the USB drive. This allows you to easily undelete the file if you change your mind.

But even if you empty the Recycle Bin, the file clusters still retain the 1’s and 0’s from that deleted file for some time. This gives data recovery tools a chance to rescue your deleted files before they get overwritten.

When Can Deleted Files be Recovered?

As mentioned above, you have the best chance of recovering deleted files from a USB drive if they have not yet been overwritten by new data.

Immediately after deletion and even after emptying the Recycle Bin, the chances are very high for recovery. This is especially true if you have been storing mostly the same files on the USB drive and have not added a significant amount of new data since the deletion occurred.

However, the likelihood of successful data recovery drops steadily the longer you wait. This is because in the normal course of USB drive use, your operating system may save new files to those clusters that previously contained your deleted files.

Once those clusters get overwritten even partially, you may lose your chance of getting that deleted file back intact. The more new data you add, the greater the risk that parts of your deleted files will be overwritten.

Mitigating Data Overwrite

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of data overwrite if you accidentally deleted an important file from your USB drive:

– Stop adding new data to the USB drive. The more you write to it, the greater the chance of overwriting deleted files.

– Use data recovery software as soon as possible. Recover deleted files before you forget and add more new data.

– Consider write-protecting the USB drive. Some drives have a physical switch that can lock them and prevent new data from being added.

– Make a disk image if possible. This preserves the USB drive in its current state for later recovery attempts.

The key is acting quickly before anything gets overwritten. If you take steps to preserve the USB drive in its post-deletion state, specialized data recovery tools can often get back most if not all deleted files.

Data Recovery Software

So how exactly can you recover deleted files from a USB drive? The most effective method is to use data recovery software designed for this purpose. Here are some of the leading USB file recovery programs:


Recuva is a popular freeware data recovery tool from Piriform. It supports recovering deleted files from USB flash drives and external hard drives. Recuva can undelete files emptied from the Recycle Bin, or deleted directly without sending to the Recycle Bin first.

Recuva performs deep scans on the drive to locate files marked as deleted in the file system. It can recover documents, photos, videos, music, and emails in many formats. An advanced mode also allows recovery from damaged drives and forensic file wiping.


TestDisk is an open source command line utility that can recover lost partitions and repair unbootable drives. It locates deleted files and restores them to a safe location. TestDisk works with most file systems like NTFS, FAT32, exFAT, and ext2/ext3/ext4. It runs on Windows, Linux and macOS.

In addition to deleted file recovery, TestDisk can also rebuild boot sectors, repair partition tables, and restore deleted partitions. This makes it a useful tool for recovering from major file system damage when other software fails.


PhotoRec is a companion to TestDisk focused just on recovering multimedia files like photos, videos, documents, and archives. It uses a read-only approach that preserves the USB drive state while recovering files. PhotoRec recognizes and restores hundreds of file formats based on their signature.

It can recover files from hard drives, USB drives, SD cards, etc. PhotoRec is cross-platform and works on Windows, macOS and Linux. It’s useful for undeleting files when directory structures or filenames are corrupted or erased.

Stellar Data Recovery

Stellar Data Recovery is a proprietary tool for recovering lost and deleted files from storage media like USB drives, hard disks, RAIDs, and optical discs. It supports both quick and deep scanning to locate as many recoverable files as possible.

Stellar Data Recovery has specialized options beyond file recovery, like Drive Monitor to prevent future data loss. Stellar Photo Recovery focuses on recovering lost pictures and media. The toolkit can create disk images, repair corrupted drives, and clone drives when necessary.

Can Formatting Recover Deleted Files?

Some people wonder if formatting or re-formatting a USB drive can restore deleted files. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

When you format a USB drive, the file system structures are recreated from scratch. All of the existing file system metadata is erased, including info on what clusters belong to what files. Any deleted files still occupying space on the disk are permanently lost.

Formatting clears all deleted files and overwrites some areas with new blank file system data. It eliminates any chance of recovering deleted files using data recovery tools. The only option would be attempting to read the raw physical drive sectors underneath the file system using advanced forensics.

So formatting is not a way to recover deleted files. If you care about the deleted data, avoid formatting the USB drive until you have recovered the files successfully with data recovery software. The only time to format is once you have exhausted all recovery attempts and wish to reuse the drive.

Takeaways on Recovering USB Deleted Files

Here are some key takeaways on recovering deleted files from USB drives:

– Deleted files remain stored on the USB drive until new data overwrites them.

– You can maximize recoverability by avoiding adding new files after deletion occurs.

– Use data recovery software like Recuva or TestDisk to recover deleted files before they get overwritten.

– Formatting the USB drive eliminates all deleted files and prevents recovery. Only format after recovering files.

– Act quickly because the chance of successful data recovery drops steadily over time.

– Write-protecting or imaging the USB drive can help prevent file overwrite.

So don’t lose hope if you accidentally deleted important files from a USB drive. With the right approach, you can often get back your lost data. Just act fast and leverage data recovery tools before those deleted files get overwritten.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I recover files after emptying the Recycle Bin on a USB drive?

Yes, it is often possible to recover deleted files from a USB drive even after emptying the Recycle Bin. As long as the clusters occupied by the deleted files have not been overwritten with new data, recovery software can scan the drive and restore the erased files.

What causes deleted files on a USB drive to become unrecoverable?

Deleted files become unrecoverable when new data gets written to the same clusters on the USB drive, overwriting the old deleted file data. This can happen gradually over time as you add new files to the drive after deletion. Once overwritten fully or partially, recovery becomes difficult or impossible.

How can I maximize the chances of recovering a deleted file?

Avoid writing anything new to the USB drive to minimize the chance of data overwrite. Also recover the deleted files as soon as possible using data recovery software before too much time elapses. You can even write-protect the USB drive to prevent any changes until file recovery is complete.

Is it possible to recover files from a formatted USB drive?

Unfortunately no, formatting erases all old file system metadata needed to locate and recover deleted files on a USB drive. The only way would be reading the raw sectors underneath the file system, which requires advanced forensics. So avoid formatting until all deleted files have been recovered.

Can data recovery software permanently restore deleted files?

Yes, when data recovery software restores deleted files from a USB drive, it writes them to another safe location like your main hard drive. Once restored, they become normal files again that you can access permanently like any other file. Just be sure to avoid writing them back to the same USB drive right away.


Retrieving deleted files from a USB drive is often possible if you use the right techniques. When a file gets deleted, its data remains on the drive in the same physical location until overwritten. Data recovery software can scan for these deleted files and restore them before they get wiped by new data being saved.

Acting quickly after deletion gives you the best chance of success. Just avoid adding anything new to the USB drive to prevent overwrite, and leverage a quality file recovery tool. With some effort, you can typically resurrect those lost files, like reversing a digital deletion. Just be sure to learn from any mistakes so you can avoid accidental file loss in the future.