How to recover deleted files for free

Accidentally deleting files is easy to do. It’s a sickening feeling when you realise what you’ve done. Fortunately, you might be able to get them back without spending any money.

Even though Windows may not be able to see a file you accidentally deleted – or perhaps became the victim to a disk failure – it’s usually possible that the data could still be there and able to be retrieved.

Many free programs attempt to recover deleted files, but you need to be careful before installing and using them (we’ll explain why below). Here we’re using Disk Digger, but most file recovery utilities work the same way, and we’ll recommend some alternatives if this doesn’t work for you.

• Download Disk Digger, extract the contents of the Zip folder and run the .exe file

• Select the disk containing your deleted files and click Next. Allow the tool to scan for missing files

• Check the list and preview images of returned files for your deleted document or media

• Select your file and click Recover selected files

• Choose a save location, which must be different to the original location

Look in the Recycle Bin for deleted files

The first thing you should do is check the Windows’ Recycle Bin if you’ve just deleted something you didn’t mean to. When you select a file and press the Delete key (or right-click and choose the Delete option from the menu), Windows makes no attempt to delete it at all.

Instead, it moves it to a special folder called the Recycle Bin, which has its own icon on the desktop. Restoring a file from the Recycle Bin is a simple matter of double-clicking on the desktop icon to display the contents and then right-clicking on the file and selecting Restore from the menu.

If the Recycle bin icon is not there, search in the Start menu for ‘Show or Hide’ and you should see a shortcut to the settings where you can tick the box next to the Recycle Bin and make it appear.

Don’t rely on the Recycle Bin as a safety net, though: it has a size limit and once you exceed that, older files will be deleted permanently and automatically. The default size is more than adequate for most people so there’s a very good chance that any files you want to restore will still be present in the Recycle Bin.  To check the capacity or alter it, right click on the Recycle Bin and choose Properties.

There are occasions when you’ve emptied the Recycle Bin too hastily, or perhaps you’re overly fond of the Shift-Delete shortcut which bypasses the Recycle Bin and actually deletes the data. (We’re still tying to wean ourselves off this unhelpful habit.)

if your files were on an SD card or USB flash drive there is no Recycle Bin function, so delete really is delete in this case.

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