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Can I recover deleted files from my hard drive?

Question: I've heard of companies finding data that people thought they had deleted from their work computer. How do they do that? Might be good information in case I accidentally delete some important files from my home computer too!

Answer: Yes, there are several ways to retrieve data that has been deleted from a computer system, even if you've deleted them from the recycle bin or reformatted your hard drive.

I accidentally deleted a year's worth of family photos and financial documents on my wife's laptop, after using the factory restore CD that reinstalled Windows and removed her user folder where all the pictures were stored. Even after that mistake, I was still able to recover all of the files.

Why files can usually be recovered

When you delete a file, Windows only marks the file as deleted, but doesn't actually remove it from your system.

Those files are only truly deleted (well, replaced actually) when other data is saved to the same location on your hard drive.

If you accidentally delete files from your system, they can usually be undeleted - even if you deleted them from your recycle bin - as long as you attempt to recover the files shortly after you delete them, and before Windows saves other data in those same file locations on your hard drive.

How to recover files that have been deleted:

If you've accidentally deleted an important file or erased a folder containing files that you later realize you still need, chances are good that they're still on your system and can be recovered.

The key is to use a good undelete program like iRecover that can find files that have been deleted - even if you've emptied your Recycle Bin.

Here's a screenshot of iRecover that shows all of the files and folders it was able to recover on my system, and this was after I had completely cleared out my Recycle Bin:

I've tried a few different programs that claim to be able to do this, but have discovered that some of them are only able to show you what's still in your Recycle Bin (not much help if you've emptied your Recycle Bin).

iRecover will also help you recover data that was lost because of file system corruption, formatting, virus damage, partition deletion, or even just plain user error.

Here's a link to download iRecover. It will tell you what it can recover for free, so you'll know if it's worth paying for the licensed version.

Use this coupon code to get $10 off your order: RICK-RYBA-SAYS

An ounce of prevention

It's also a great idea to frequently backup your hard drive, so that you can still restore important files, even if they can't be recovered using a file recovery program.

I bought a Seagate FreeAgent 320 GB USB External Hard Drive.

This new drive plugs in via USB cable and doesn't require any installation or configuration. Windows automatically recognizes it when you plug in the USB cable, and it has plenty of space for backing up both of my home computers.

I also highly recommend that you backup your hard drive on at least a monthly basis, although weekly is even better.

If you're looking for a good backup program for your home computer, I recommend Genie Backup Manager which I use for my home systems. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to retrieve our family photos and financial documents... and my wife is finally willing to speak to me again.

However, I'm hoping to avoid this whole scenario in the future by making regular backups to this new backup drive (at least weekly).

while reinstalling the OS to my lap top i had the external HD USB plugged in and accidentally deleted the partition to the EHD as well as the partition for the lap top. i already replaced the system to the lap top. how can i get my saved items on the EHD? does it work the same? can i use my pc to do this too? please help...losing my mind!

Same issue here..if anyone knows the answer please let me know too!! im freaking out!

I did this the other day and a 1TB western digital hardrive and since then my Dj job is down the drain if i do not recover by next friday

same here... idk what to do?.. im actually freak out when accidentally delete the partition on my EHD while installing OS.. all my hardwork and stuff are all gone.. a try to use many applications but, it all fails.. help me please..

if i wanted to permanently delete something so that it can never be found again how can i do that if someone has this? do i have to delete the file then save something with the same name as it? Is that right? if not please tell me!

Some people still believe that when they delete a file, it is gone forever. In reality, even if you remove it from your Recycle Bin, the file may be easily recovered by some ill-inspired people who are secretly snooping on your computer activities.

The only way to be certain that your files have been deleted is to make sure that the entire file is overwritten by blank data.

There's a program called Aevita Wipe & Delete that does just that. It implements eight secure sanitizing methods including the US Department of Defense DoD 5220.22M, RLL, MFM, VSITR, Gutmann and GOST P50739-95.

By utilizing these methods, Aevita can erase any file or folder by overwriting it several times, thus rendering it completely unrecoverable even for the most sophisticated recovery software.

but wouldn't that person be able to see that you have Aevita Wipe & Delete? how could you hide the program so you cannot find it? burn it to a cd?

Why would it matter if they saw that the Aevita program was installed? The files that Aevita wiped would be deleted, which is the main goal, right? :-)

My niece reinstalled the OS on my Sony Destop PC about 8 months ago. I was devastated, lost so many pictures from my child's life. Recently someone told me that the data may still be there and be recoverable. Is that true? If so how can I recover the and still maintain what I ave on it now. I do have an external hard-drive. I am desperate to know if I can get my pictures back.

It's certainly possible, although after that many months there might only be a few pictures that can be recovered (since between now and then the chances of Windows saving other files over the files marked for deletion increases significantly).

The iRecover program mentioned above is really the best I've seen, and would be able to restore the files if they haven't been over-written.

Alternatively, if you take the computer to a data recovery specialist, ask if they'll only charge you if they actually find deleted photos - not sure if you'll find any who will do that, but it'd be worth asking.

Hi Ricky , I have just read about your recovery program for deleted files. Last night I had an accident and was deleting files from my ext hard drive (classic SE)whilst it was plugged into my work laptop. It was too big for the recycle bin and deleted permanently.

Will I have to recover the files through my laptop (as its due to go back today) or can I do the restore through my PC with the external hard drive? I guess what I'm asking is, are the files i deleted on my external hard drive still sitting on it hidden or will they have been transported to my laptop?

regards sarah

Good question. Since the files were deleted from your external hard drive, you'll need to run iRecover on the external drive. That's where the files will still reside.

They're only marked as deleted, but won't actually be deleted until other data is saved in the same location on that drive.

Heya Rick
i downloaded irecover
how do i run irecover on my external harddrive?
please help! >.

Hi Ricky,
So I wanted to delete some documents from my hard drive and I wanted it to be gone forever. From what I have read, I would assume that the way to delete something a hard drive would be the same as an external hard drive... but when I deleted a document out of my external hard drive it went to my computer's recycling bin, so it made me question if it is the same procedure? Does the external hard drive have the same option to retrieve deleted files as a regular computer hard drive? If so, how do I come about retrieving those deleted files?

I lost lot of files including photos & videos on my External drive -size of data lost around 140 GB. I do not know how all the files deleted and one folder names windows with few system files has appeared.

I am not using for further use as I intend to retrieve the data including Videos. Pls advise.

Good day!

My half terra with enclosure recently fell on the floor.
I tried using it again..my usb wont read it..I tried putting it directly on my cpu..it wont read the hard disk..tried using another enclosure, wont read either...is there anyway I could save my 300gig files, before I had it replaced?


Thanks a lot! Based on your article, with Irecover, I saved my photos deleted by mistake :).

Keep up the good work !
Alin Ciula

I lost all my files too on my external hard drive but those aren't accidentally deleted files. It might have fell on the floor. The good thing is that I can still access it. While checking the properties, I noticed that the used space is still 74.2 GB. My question is: could I still recover it even if I didn't accidentally delete all of it?

Hope to hear from you very soon. Thanks!

Nov 10, 2009

Hi Rick,

I’m so glad to see your website.
Some thing has happen to my computer couple days ago. I have the blue screen and unable to do anything with it. I try to reboot and reinstall the Operation System but the system indicated that unable to locate the hard drive.
I took my desktop to the local computer to get it repair, and they said everything in the hard drives is empty. They will able install the OS with a new hard drive.
I have taken out the old hard drives and hope to be able to recovery all the family photos. In my case, the hard drives are shows as empty. Will I be able to use the iRecover to recover all my photos?

Thank you,


I just recently tried to format my usb stick into a patchstick. I accidently chose to format my external hard drive instead of the usb stick. When I noticed, I quickly unplugged the usb hard drive from the computer but was too late. Now all my important files and pictures from years and years ago are al gone. My external hard drive now shows PATCHSTICK and RECOVERY. Will this program recover the files I lost. I am doing the scan right now and it looks like it does see the old files I formatted over. I really don't know what I'm doing as you can tell. Hope you can help.

A couple of days ago I transferred all my information from one of my external harddrives to another external harddrive. After I had completed that, I did a really stupid thing and deleted everything from the original harddrive. Today, I wanted to view something that I thought was supposed to be on the new external, but was not. It was in my pictures folder, where I have a good number of folders. The last 6 folders were completely empty. I don't care about the other folders that were empty, but that one folder; every vacation I have ever gone on, the pictures were in that folder. Please, PLEASE, how do I recover these files? I have Windows XP.

First, unplug the original hard drive so that nothing else gets saved to it. As long as no other files are saved to it, then your pictures are still sitting there - they're just marked as deleted but they are not actually deleted (see the explanation for this in the article above).

Then download and install a copy of the iRecover program described above. Plug in the external drive and point iRecover to it to see what files it will be able to recover.

You should see all of the files sitting there waiting to be recovered, which the program does a very good job of doing.

Hi ricky, any free trial software to retrieve my lost files?

I lost my photos folder after I try to cut and paste to another folder. Could it be found?
Please advise.

Feburary 21, 2010

I was trying to install a new video card in my pc and i saw some vids on how to do it. one vid i watched talked about changing something on my BIOS. I'm about to turn sixteen so i guess i'm not that well educated in how a computer works fully. I was going through the BIOS and accidentally clicked on something that said SATA:xxxxxxxxxxxxx with some kind of code of the harddrive. stupid me i ended up clicking it thinking it was the best thing to do. Then i saw this other vid that showed how to install a video card without getting near having to deal with my computer's BIOS. So once i rebooted my pc, it came to the state of my pc from 3-4 months ago. i know me hitting that SATA thing was not good. and now all of my lastest files are gone and im stuck regreting what i did. i have a vista 64-bit version and im wondering if theres anyway to get all of my files back. And sadly i didnt back up my files, i've never had. So now i feel like an idiot b/c fiddling with my SATA hard drive now has me at the bad end since i have lost all my files. i'm wondering if theres anyway to get it back, if not well i guess im just another half-witted teenager trying to do something i should've never did.

Hope you can help,

The files are most likely still there, and are just marked as deleted (but won't actually be deleted until other data is saved to the same location on the hard drive). This is true even if you format your hard drive.

The best thing to do is to stop using your computer until you can install and run iRecover, which will show you what files can be recovered. The more you continue to use your computer, the greater the chances of it saving files on top of the files that are marked as deleted (which makes them unrecoverable).

Hope that helps!

Ok ... Errm
What if i had a virus on my computer and the only way to get rid of it was to restore my computer and handrive and everything!

Can i still get my pictures, music and work back??

The Virus Was The BSOD Know As The Blue Screen Of Death (Yeahh ive Never Heard Of It Either)
Please Help
Thanks x

hi i lost all my college ducment on my usb when i have touch it for the last two weeks pls i need your help ASAP ASAP

Help - I moved some photos (all my babies pictures - the first 3 years of her life) over to Kodak Easy Share and made sure they were there and then deleted from my pictures file so they wouldn't be on there twice - now when I go into Koday Easy share they state there is an error and the pictures have been deleted - and when I deleted the file was too big to go into recycle bin. When I go into Kodak Easy Share I can see the images for a second but then when I try to open them I get the error. Can I recover these at all... I am computer challenged!!! And of course have never back-up my system!

hi i wanted to ask you a year ago i deleted some photos and now i realized it was a big mistake they are very immportant to me but i have no idea what to do and after i deleted them my computer got a virus and they deleted everything is it possible that i could get some pictures back ? please help

My cousin deleted all my movies from my external HD. Is there any way I can recover those files from the HD. I am a mac user and saw that irecover is not compatible with Mac. Do you know of any Mac software I could use to recover the deleted files? I currently have MAC OS X version 10.4.11.

I was deleting a file in a folder on my memory stick and it deleted the whole contents of the folder, even the folder is still its empty can I get the other files in that folder back?

last year my husband wiped my computer clean bcuz it had a virus.we never used it since i got a new computer. Now when I say clean I mean he wiped it so clean that he became the owner on the computer and wiped my whole administrative user off the computer which contained extremely important photos. Now is there a way to retrieve photo files from a computer that has been completely wiped out clean like a brand new computer? It dont have anything at all reconizable on it to make me believe something from the old computer is still on it.

will this help to recover deleted emails????

hi, my husband recently formated his computer and all his pictures are erased..Is there any possible way that he could recover his pictures? Thank you

My work computer got infected with a virus (mysearchcorp then security tool) I have to bring it to the IT dept to get fixed.

I was double jobbing for a while (not enough assigned work to keep me busy) and it was convenient to use the same computer. I deleted all the non work related files and removed them from the recycle bin. I also deleted my internet history which showed I had used facebook. (A work prohibited site)I thought happy days until i read your blog Ricky!

When the IT staff are fixing my computer will they find my other work files and photos of people i viewed on facebook? If so I’m fired. I know I deserve it but I just want to know the odds of them finding the files. 50% or 100%. Is it a standard check for IT departments?

They could find it if they looked, but most IT departments are way too understaffed to have time for that level of investigation.

They'll probably just reformat the hard drive and re-image the drive with a company standard set of programs and settings.

I wouldn't worry about it at all.

Hey ricky, thanks very much for all this advice... i understand it and it actually works. I am so grateful to you for not (as seems to be the main aim of many experts) trying to make me feel like an idiot. more power to you mate!

Captain Rick Page
SV Marutji
South Pacific

Thanks for the kind words! I really like helping people and it's good to hear that my articles are easy to understand :-)

Is it possible to retrieve a program with reports if its been years and I cannot find on the computer but when I type in the search area I see one of the names the report is for and I see that it is multiple files. I am concerned that it was deleted by a prior employee and I need to get the reports back. HELP!!!

Very unlikely if it's been that long, unless that computer has been unused during that time.

So I don't know what happened, but all of a sudden I have no video, and even when I plug in different monitors, they go immediately to sleep. So first, what's needed to repair the video issues? And, if I just buy another computer, is there anyway to pull my files off the "bad" computer when I can't see what's happening? I appreciate your input!

I deleted files from my recycle bin and a few months later they re-appeared. They were completely gone and suddenly one day just showed back up. It should have had time to rewrite as much as my computer is used by everyone saving...projects and things. Has anyone ever had this happen to them? I just don't understand how this happened.

I am able to recover all my data except the folders that were hidden.
Is their any way to recover the hidden folders in my hard drive ?

Hi Rick,
I recently got a new lap top and saved all my old pics etc on to a portable hard drive. This is the only place these docs were stored. However, today my nero back up thingy saved all my current documents from my new laptop onto it. Shortly after this another member of staff used my hard drive to save an item. Now.......the only things on the portable hard drive are the current backed up documents from my laptop and the document my colleague saved. I basically would love to know if my other documents are retrievable? There were literally thousands of photos that I had not printed plus all my Uni work since 1st year (6 years ago) Aggggggggggggggggh!!! I would ask the technician in my school where I work, only he doesn't speak English....nor Irish. Any advice is much appreciated! Thank you!

Hello Ricky,

I had cut and pasted a folder from my external hard disk drive to my laptop and the hard disk of the laptop eventually crashed. Is there a way to recover the folder from the external hard drive?


Dear sir,
I had formatted my hardrive 1 year ago, is it possible now to recover the pictures from that now.
I heard that it is possible to even recover data beyond 15 years is it true.
If there is any process by software or by any specialist, short or even large please tell me. I am very very desperate to get them. I am ready to pay any cost.
I should be highly obelized if mail me the reguarding info.

I can't do anything! Some how ALL my pictures in the RECYCLE BIN are ALL gone.. is there ANYTHING I can do to get them back?

I am not smart when it comes to computers in the least... but about two years when my girlfriend and i split she deleted all of the pics off of my computer and there was alot of family photos that i will never be able to replace. They are not in the recycling bin and i tried undelete plus but that only went back for a month. Is there any way to get pictures back after that long? any help well be greatley appreciated.

Please Help! My high school provided us with laptops which we were able to keep after we graduated. I just graduated and they asked us to hand in our laptops to be re-imaged. I just picked it up from school today but everything on my laptop was deleted such as important documents and A LOT of family pictures. Is there any way to retrieve that data even though my laptop was re-imaged?


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