Recovering Deleted Files on Windows (The Easiest Way)

A piece of paper being shredded

How Windows File Deletion Works — General Overview

When you Right-Click on a file and select “Delete,” that file will generally be moved to the Recycle Bin to sit for easy recovery in case you want that file back. When the time comes and you Right-Click on the Recycle Bin and select “Empty Recycle Bin” (or Shift-Delete files directly), you might think that the file is gone for good, but what actually happens is that Windows simply marks that file for overwrite and the pointers for that file are removed. The file is still there until Windows wants to use the space the file occupies, then the file is overwritten.

What We Are Using For the Test

1. USB Drive

Wiping the USB Drive

If you have a brand new USB Drive, you can skip this section (also because it might be interesting to see what, if anything, gets recovered from a brand new USB Drive).

The letter of the drive is E:
1. Drive Letter E:
Eraser’s Erase Schedule screen
3. Eraser Main Screen
Eraser’s Task Properties window
4. Task Properties Window
  • Erasure Method: Anything (I’m using the DoD Standard mentioned above)
  • Settings: Choose your Drive letter. VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you have the right drive selected. If you select the wrong one you will erase all of the wrong data
Eraser — select data to erase screen
5. Task Properties Window
Eraser’s Eraser Task window
7. Erase Schedule with Task
Eraser begins erasing
7. Eraser Erasing

1. Test 1: Standard Deletion

We will add files to the USB Drive and then delete them using the standard Right-Click -> Delete method as most people do on a daily basis.

1–1. Add Files to the USB Drive

I’ll be adding different types of files to the USB Drive. I’ll add some .jpeg, .mp4, .pdf, .gif, .ogv, .webm, .txt, and a directory containing another .txt file inside of it (a total of 10 files). The .txt and .pdf files also have some text inside of them. Add whatever you want. Here are my files on the USB Drive:

Contents of the flash drive including different formats
See the Sources section at the end for where I retrieved some of these files.

1–2. Erase the Contents of the USB Drive

We’ll just erase the contents of the USB Drive as you likely would under normal conditions:

Windows asking to confirm deletion of the flash drive files
B. Select “Yes” to Permanently Delete

1–3. Recover the Deleted Files

Now we will attempt to recover the files we just deleted.

Recuva menu showing different file types
B. Choose File Type
Recuva menu showing where to search for deleted files
C. Choose File Location
Recuva finished menu
D. No Deep Scan — Click Start
Recuva found the deleted items in this list
F. Recuva Finds From Test 1
Recuva prompting for where to save the deleted files
H. Recuva Recover Location
Recuva results summary (10 files)
I. Recuva Results Summary
Deleted files now recovered and saved
J. Not Deleted Anymore — Magic
Contents of the word documents — all still there
Recovered File Contents

2. Test 2: Quick Formatting

We will add files to the USB Drive, delete them by Quick Formatting, and then see if recovery differs from Test 1.

2–1. Add Files to the USB Drive

I wiped the USB Drive with Eraser again so now I will add the same files I had in Test 1 to the USB Drive. Note that I am using copies of the original files, not the recovered files from Test 1.

Contents of the flash drive including different formats
Same Files As Test 1

2–2. Quick Format the USB Drive to Erase All Contents

We are going to reformat the USB Drive, which will erase the contents of the drive. Some people believe that reformatting the drive will securely erase the data on it so it cannot be recovered. We shall see…

Selecting the flash drive (Drive E:)
A-1. Right-Click on one of the selected red icons and then click “Format…”
Selecting “Format…” from the menu
A-2. Select “Format…”
Format options for formatting the flash drive
B. Make Sure “Quick Format” is Selected

2–3. Recover the Deleted Files

As with Test 1, we will now attempt to recover the files we just deleted.

Recuva said no files were found after quick formatting
F. Test 2 — No Files Found
Recuva Deep Scan is running to find deleted files on the flash drive
G. Test 2 — Deep Scan
Recuva Deep Scan was able to find eight files
H. Test 2 — Deep Scan Results
Recuva was able to recover eight files
J. Test 2 Results Summary
The eight recovered files
K. Test 2 — Recovered Files in the Flesh
The two text documents recovered contain all data
Test 2 — Recovered Text Document Contents

2.5. Quick Extra — Quick Format Again (and Again)

Before I move on to Test 3, I want to see what happens if I Quick Format the USB Drive again.

Recuva Deep Scanning after formatting again
C. Test 2.5 — Deep Scan
The recovered files after deep scanning (same as Test 2)
D. Test 2.5 — Recovered Files
Recovered files — same results as Test 2 and Test 2.5
D. Test 2.5.1.1.1… — Recovered Files

3. Test 3: Standard Formatting

We will add back our files from Tests 1 and 2 to our USB Drive and erase them with standard formatting (not Quick Format).

3–1. Add Files to the USB Drive

Same as before, I wiped the USB Drive with Eraser and added the original files back to it.

3–2. Format the USB Drive to Erase All Contents

Just as in Test 2, we are going to format the drive to erase its contents. This time we will not use “Quick Format.”

Formatting the flash drive — Quick Format is not selected
A. Make Sure “Quick Format” is NOT Selected

3–3. Recover the Deleted Files

Just as we did with Tests 1 and 2, we will use Recuva to attempt to recover the deleted files.

Recuva was unable to detect any files after formatting
E. Test 3 — Deep Scan Results — Nothing

Conclusion

This test showed the following results:

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