Where do permanently deleted files go on iPhone?

Understanding where deleted files go on an iPhone is important for several reasons. First, it helps users understand the file deletion process and recover accidentally deleted files if needed. Additionally, knowing what happens to deleted data allows users to make informed decisions about permanently deleting sensitive information. There is also a security aspect, as data that is not fully deleted can potentially be recovered by others.

This article will provide an in-depth look at how file deletion works on iPhones. We’ll cover where deleted files are stored, how long they remain recoverable, when they are permanently removed, and methods for recovering recently deleted data. We’ll also discuss alternatives to deletion that better protect sensitive information. By the end, readers will have a comprehensive understanding of the iPhone’s file deletion process.

How Deleting Files Works on iPhone

When you delete a file on an iPhone, it doesn’t immediately disappear from the device. Instead, deleted files are moved to a special storage area called the “Recycle Bin”. The Recycle Bin serves as a temporary holding place for recently deleted files.

Deleting a file just removes the link to that file in the iPhone’s file directory. The actual file data remains on the device until it is overwritten by new data. So deleting files on an iPhone is not permanent, and they can be recovered as long as they have not been overwritten.

Permanently deleting a file on an iPhone involves completely erasing the file data. When a file is permanently deleted, there is no way for the iPhone to recover that data. The space the file occupied is marked as available to be overwritten by new data.

The key difference is that regular deletion sends a file to the Recycle Bin, from which it can potentially be recovered. Permanent deletion completely removes file data with no option for recovery.

The Recycle Bin provides a safety net, allowing recently deleted files to be retrieved. But keeping too many deleted files in the Recycle Bin can take up valuable storage space. That’s why it’s necessary to periodically empty the Recycle Bin or permanently erase files.

Where Deleted Files Are Stored

When you delete a file on your iPhone, it is not immediately erased from the device storage. Instead, deleted files are moved to a hidden temporary folder called “Recently Deleted.” This folder acts as a recycle bin, keeping your deleted files available for recovery for a limited time before they are permanently erased.

The Recently Deleted folder is located in the Files app, under Browse > Locations > Recently Deleted. It contains photos, documents, messages, and other content that has been recently deleted from your iPhone (reference: https://support.apple.com/en-us/104953).

So in summary, your deleted files remain stored on your iPhone’s internal storage in the Recently Deleted folder. They are not immediately erased when you hit delete. This gives you a window of time to recover accidentally deleted content if needed.

When Deleted Files Are Permanently Removed

Deleted files on an iPhone are not immediately and permanently erased. Instead, they go into a temporary holding area called “Recently Deleted” where they will remain for 30 days before being permanently removed from the storage (source: https://support.apple.com/en-us/104953).

The Recently Deleted folder acts as a buffer period, giving you a chance to recover files you may have deleted by accident. Any photos, documents, apps, messages, notes, etc. that you delete on your iPhone will go into this folder.

After 30 days have passed, the deleted files are permanently erased from the iPhone storage during an overnight cleanup process. Once this happens, the files are no longer recoverable through any normal means (source: https://support.apple.com/guide/icloud/permanently-remove-deleted-files-mm9cf51c51f4/icloud).

So in summary, deleted files reside in the Recently Deleted folder for 30 days before being permanently removed from the iPhone storage during an automatic overnight cleanup.

Recovering Recently Deleted Files

If you accidentally delete a file on your iPhone, you may be able to recover it using data recovery software or from a backup as long as the storage space has not been overwritten with new data. Here are some ways to recover recently deleted files on an iPhone:

Use data recovery software. Software like AnyRecover can scan your iPhone and recover deleted files as long as they haven’t been overwritten. Connect your iPhone to your computer, launch the software, select the file types to scan for, and click ‘Start’. The software will find any recoverable deleted files.

Restore from an iCloud backup. If you have iCloud backups enabled, you may be able to restore deleted files from your most recent backup. Go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups and select the backup you want to restore from. Tap Restore and your iPhone will be restored to the state it was in when that backup was created.

Restore from a computer backup. Connect your iPhone to your computer and open iTunes or Finder. Select your device, then choose to restore from a previous backup. This will restore your iPhone to the state when that backup was created, including any deleted files.

Use the Recently Deleted folder. iOS has a Recently Deleted folder where deleted files are kept for up to 30 days before being permanently erased. Go to the Files app and browse to Recently Deleted to see if you can recover the file.

Permanent File Deletion

When you delete a file normally on an iPhone, it gets moved to the ‘Recently Deleted’ folder. The file stays in this folder for up to 40 days before being permanently erased from the device (1). To immediately and irreversibly delete files so they can’t be recovered, you need to take additional steps.

One way to permanently delete files is to use a secure delete app or utility. These tools overwrite the storage sectors where the files were stored multiple times to prevent forensic recovery. Examples of secure deletion apps include iShredder Pro and PrivaZer (2).

Another technique is to encrypt the iPhone storage, then delete the encryption key. Without the key, the encrypted data cannot be accessed even if recovered. Tools like iErase and iPhone Data Eraser work this way (3).

Finally, you can reset the iPhone to factory settings. This erases all content and settings, including any deleted files not yet overwritten. Just keep in mind this method resets everything, not just specified files.

Permanently deleting files makes forensic recovery very difficult, if not impossible. This provides more complete privacy and security when disposing of sensitive iPhone data.

Why Permanently Deleting Files Matters

When it comes to sensitive personal data, permanently deleting files is crucial. Although deleted files may still exist in temporary storage on your iPhone, they can potentially be recovered by someone with physical access to the device or specialized software. For this reason, it’s important to take measures to permanently erase sensitive information.

Permanently deleting files helps prevent sensitive data leaks if your phone is lost, stolen, or accessed by an unauthorized party. Sensitive files that should be permanently deleted include:

  • Financial statements and records
  • Medical records and information
  • Private photos and videos
  • Confidential business documents

Allowing sensitive files to remain in temporary deleted storage creates unnecessary security and privacy risks. Permanently deleting eliminates these risks and gives you peace of mind knowing your personal or private data has been completely erased and can no longer be recovered.

There are a few ways to ensure thorough permanent deletion on an iPhone. One method is to use a secure delete app that overwrites storage space occupied by deleted files multiple times to prevent forensic recovery. You can also erase all content and settings through the iPhone reset process, which erases all data including files marked as deleted (https://support.apple.com/guide/iphone/erase-iphone-iph7a2a9399b/ios). However, manually erasing individual sensitive files before they are permanently removed from temporary storage provides the most control.

Taking the proper precautions allows you to maintain your privacy and minimize the risks associated with keeping unwanted files on your device. Permanently deleting sensitive data is an important best practice for anyone concerned about data security.

Alternatives to Deletion

While permanently deleting files can free up storage space on your iPhone, there are other options to consider before resorting to deletion. Here are some alternatives:

Enable encryption – You can encrypt sensitive files on your iPhone which will make them inaccessible without entering a passcode. This allows you to keep the files without worrying about them being viewed if your phone is lost or stolen. Learn how to enable encryption here.

Use remote wipe – If you lose your iPhone, you can remotely wipe it which will delete all data and restore it to factory settings. This achieves a similar result to manually deleting files. Find out how to remotely wipe an iPhone here.

Offload unused apps – You can offload infrequently used apps which frees up space while keeping app data. Reinstalling the app will retrieve your data if needed later. Learn how to offload apps here.

Store files in iCloud – Using iCloud allows you to store files remotely while freeing up local storage on your iPhone. You can access these files anytime by re-downloading them. Learn more about optimizing iCloud storage here.

Transfer files to a computer – You can transfer photos, videos, and other files from your iPhone to a computer for storage. This removes them from your iPhone while keeping them accessible on another device.

As you can see, there are many alternatives to permanently deleting files that may better suit your needs while still securing sensitive data or freeing up space on your iPhone.


When files are deleted on an iPhone, they are moved to a “Recently Deleted” folder and kept for up to 40 days before being permanently erased. The Photos app has its own “Recently Deleted” album that works similarly. Users can recover deleted files from these locations as long as they act quickly. After the retention period ends, deleted files are permanently removed from the iPhone and generally unrecoverable without specialized tools or forensic analysis. In summary, while deleting files does not immediately remove them from the device, iPhone is designed to eventually purge unused data entirely. Regular local backups are recommended to preserve important files.


Here are some sources with additional information on where deleted files go on iPhone:

For further reading on recovering deleted iPhone files and iOS data management: