Say you spaced out and accidentally deleted an important file. So how do you recover it? Thankfully there are several solutions, free and paid, to recover deleted files from the depths of data storage limbo.
First, Check the Recycle Bin
In a best case scenario, you merely moved the file or folder to the Recycle Bin and it hasn’t actually been deleted yet. Check by opening the Recycle Bin. Right-click on the file you want to keep and select Restore. You now have the file back in the location you deleted it from. Problem solved.
If the file can’t be found in the Recycle Bin or you know for certain you emptied it with the file inside, then continue onwards.
Microsoft provides a straight-forward and easy-to-use method for restoring deleted files using the Backup and Restore utility and all Windows operating systems from Windows Vista onwards should have it installed. If you have a restore point set, you should be able to the Restore my files button.
So why not always use this this tool? Unfortunately, Backup and Restore requires you to have actually created restore points. In addition, the file must have been part of the restore point. So if the file you need recovered is newer than the backup point or if the file was not a part of the backup, you need to resort to another method.
But now it gets tricky because the file is technically still on the storage drive, but it has been marked by Windows as data that can be overwritten. When you delete a file, it doesn’t actually get erased from the drive. Instead, Windows considers it to be free space that can be used for new data. Because of this, limit your use of the storage drive. In fact, it is best to not use the computer until you can restore the file. Even temporary internet files can overwrite your deleted file, making it unrecoverable.
Your next option is to use file recovery software, which is relatively low-risk. We’ve curated some highly rated options below.
Recuva is a file recovery tool that scans your hard drive for recoverable files and also securely deletes files. You can use a basic version of the program for free or you buy the Professional version, which includes support for virtual hard drives and automatic updates. Aside from recovering files you just deleted, you can also recover data from newly formatted drives.
The downside of this approach is that merely downloading and installing the program could overwrite the file or folder you want to recover. In addition, background programs and even your browser could overwrite the data you need.
What’s Good: Easy-to-use graphical user interface (GUI).
TestDisk & PhotoRec
TestDisk and PhotoRec are free open-source alternatives to Recuva that allow you to recover entire partitions let alone singular files. TestDisk does not have a graphical user interface (GUI) and instead provides a text console. Don’t let it deter you though, step-by-step guides are available on the website. PhotoRec is a safer alternative as it uses read-only access and does not write to the hard drive, so your data won’t be permanently lost. In addition, a version of PhotoRec with a GUI is available called QPhotoRec is available in the 7.0 release.
What’s Good: Powerful and read-only access lowers risk of overwriting data you’re trying to recover and works with Windows, Linux, and Mac computers. Also allows you to search by file type.
R-Studio Data Recovery
R-Studio Data Recovery is a comprehensive suite of programs, that can recover files lost due to accidental recycling bin emptying, virus, bad hard drive sectors, and deleted partitions. The full paid version of the software also allows you to remotely recover data deleted on another computer.
Pricing: Free with limited functionality or $80 for unlocked program.
What’s Good: Works with Windows, Linux, and Mac computers.
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Free
The EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Free program makes retrieving deleted files easy, but the free version is limited to files no bigger than 1 GB. The strength of this program is that you can scan for file types to restore, including pictures, documents, audio, video, e-mail, and more.
What’s Good: Easy-to-use and allows you to search by file type.
If you’ve tried the free methods above and still can’t get your deleted files back, your last resort is to let an expert do it for you. Some hard drive manufacturers such as Seagate offer recovery services, though it can be a hassle removing a hard drive and shipping it. You also get the benefit of having a recovery service for when you physically damage your storage drive.
If you’ve accidentally deleted a file and successfully restored it, let us know in the comments which service or method you used.