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How to Restore Deleted Files in Windows 10
October 23, 2021
Reading time: 7 minutes
We’ve all done it. You’re cleaning up your hard drive and you accidentally delete a file. It’s an incredibly easy mistake to make, especially when you consider that we handle tons of local files as part of our daily computer use.
The good news is that it’s much easier to find and restore deleted items on modern operating systems like Windows 10. While older OS had limited options, restoring a deleted file is much easier to perform now, even if you’re not tech savvy.
In this article, we’ll outline how to recover deleted files in Windows 10 so you can get back to what’s important.
1. Restore deleted files from Recycle Bin
If you didn’t empty your Recycle Bin yet, you’re in luck because you can restore the file from there. Click the Recycle Bin icon or type “Recycle Bin” in your search bar to open it.
Now you can pick the file to restore. If your Recycle Bin is a mess and full of files, it may be tough to find the one you want. In this case, you can use the search field (it’s near the top right corner) to find it.
Once you locate the right file, right click on it and choose Restore. Or you can use the Recycle Bin controls at the top of the window to restore a particular file or all selected files.
2. Restore using the Windows File Recovery utility
The Windows File Recovery tool is one of the best DIY methods for recovering deleted files from the Recycle Bin. The File Recovery tool has two major perks. It’s free and easy to use once you understand the process.
The only drawback is that the tool requires some experience with the text-based Windows command line interface – or at least a willingness to learn. If you’re familiar with Windows command lines, you’re ahead of the game. If not, it will take time to get comfortable. If you need an easier method, skip ahead for other recommendations.
How to get deleted files back with File Recovery
Follow these steps to learn how to restore permanently deleted files using the File Recovery tool:
Visit the Microsoft Store to download Windows File Recovery. If it is on your device already, simply type “Windows File Recovery” in your Windows search bar to open the app (and skip ahead to step 5).
To add File Recovery to your device, click the “Get” button. When clicking through from your browser, you may see a dialogue box asking for permission to launch the Microsoft Store app. Click “Open Microsoft Store” to continue.
Click the “Get” button again in the new window to download File Recovery.
Click the “Install” button on the notification above the app profile if your computer doesn’t install automatically.
Click “Launch” to open the File Recovery window.
The app may request permission to make changes to your device. Click “Yes” to continue and open the Windows File Recovery command line interface.
You can now restore files using two different formats:
Regular mode: “Standard recovery option for non-corrupted NTFS drives.” Use regular mode if you accidentally deleted a file and want to get it back quickly. It’s a fast process, but it won’t always uncover the file you need.
Extensive mode: “Thorough recovery option suitable for all file systems.” You’ll use this in more difficult situations, like when you want to restore a file you deleted a long time ago.
Note: If you have an older version of the File Recovery tool, you’ll see three modes: default, segment, and signature. They’re similar to our example, but you will need to handle commands differently. Visit Microsoft Support for more info.
To recover files, you need to include specific text into your command:
The File Recovery prefix “winfr”
The source drive where the deleted file was stored
The destination drive where you want to restore the file. Keep in mind that you cannot restore files to the same drive with Windows File Recovery. You must use a separate drive, such as an external hard drive or USB drive.
The mode you want to use for the search (regular or extensive, with the latest version of File Recovery)
The directory where you stored the file; Documents, My Pictures, etc.
Any additional switches to refine your commands. Look for examples in the command interface under the “Switches” heading. This is not a crucial step and also for more experienced users.
Here are two examples to show you how your command line may look when you use the Windows File Recovery tool:
This example is slightly misleading, because you only need one /n switch and file extension to perform a search. If you’re copying and pasting, remove the last extension “/n *.jpeg” and replace it with the actual first filename and extension.
In Regular Mode, you can also remove the directory specification to search an entire drive. This is handy when you don’t remember where you stored a file when you deleted it. If Windows File Recovery retrieves the deleted files, you can find them in a dated recovery folder on the specified destination drive.
Note: The File Recovery tool can only recover list files with Windows 10 versions from 2004 and newer - that’s version 2004, not the year 2004. For even more information about using Windows File Recovery (including older versions of the tool and detailed command line syntax), check out Microsoft Support.
3. Recover using the File History backup feature
If you use the File History backup feature available on Windows 10, the recovery process is a breeze:
Click the Windows icon
Click the gear-shaped Settings icon
Click the Update & Security button
Select the Backup tab from the left sidebar
Click “More options”
Click “Restore files from a current backup”
This should load an empty window with a clear search bar. Enter the file you want to restore and File History will search your backups for a match.
4. Recover data with a third-party service
If any of the above processes sound daunting, you have other options. When you need to find a long-deleted file on a hard drive or a damaged SD card, you may have to use a third-party option.
For a variety of services and access to more technical solutions, you can outsource the task to a local computer shop or a big box retailer. This option may be more expensive, but it’s also a good way to get your files back quickly without really lifting a finger.
Can you recover files with System Restore?
System Restore is not a viable way to recover lost files. It can restore critical system infrastructure, including files and programs on your device, but it can’t help with miscellaneous items like photos or documents. Consider it when troubleshooting unresolvable technical issues with your OS or important software.
What if I have another version of Windows?
The instructions for our main course of action, the Windows Files Recovery tool won’t translate to an older OS. If you previously installed but haven’t updated Windows File Recovery, it may have a slightly different interface, including command options, than from what we described.
Not sure which version of Windows you have? Follow these steps to find out:
Click the Windows icon at the lower-left corner of your screen
Click the gear-shaped Settings icon
From the left sidebar in the new window, click the About tab at the bottom
Scroll down to your Windows specifications and check the Edition entry. Windows Support will load it for you, too.
How to restore deleted files on the cloud
As with Windows 10, restoring deleted files in Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive depends on the date you actually deleted them. If you haven’t emptied your trash within the last 30 days, chances are you can simply restore the file in question. Take a look at the platform’s trash or recycle bin to see if it’s still there.
If you can’t find it or it’s been more than 30 days, you may be able to recover the file with help from OneDrive or Google Drive support. Reach out to them to learn more.
The best way to restore deleted files
While there are several ways to back up files and restore previous versions of your system, there aren’t as many ways to recover a deleted file. If you don’t use the File Recovery utility, you won’t have an easy answer on how to recover deleted files in Windows 10. Luckily, it’s still possible with some patience and research.
You may also be curious about how to see recently deleted apps. This can be challenging, but there are some easy workarounds to consider. For example, if you frequently use Google Play, you can visit your app library to review your purchase history to see what you may have deleted by accident.
About the Author
Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.
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