How to use the Windows Recycle Bin

  • May 2, 2012
  • Read 107,212 times
  1. Introduction
  2. Where is the Recycle Bin?
  3. Limitations of the Recycle Bin
  4. Restoring Deleted Files
  5. Permanently Deleting Files
  6. Recycle Bin Options
  7. Conclusion


When you delete a file in Windows it is usually not permanently deleted.  Instead, Windows moves the file to a special location called the Recycle Bin.  First implemented in Windows 95, the Recycle Bin is a special directory where deleted files are stored in the event that you need to recover them. Sometimes the Recycle Bin is referred to as the trash, trashcan, or garbage.  As a computer user, use of the Recycle Bin system is an extremely common task that is important to know about in order to effectively manage files.  The purpose of this guide is to explain how to use the Recycle Bin to review, restore, and permanently erase your files.  Additionally, this tutorial will cover some special settings that the Recycle Bin has.

Where is the Recycle Bin?

The Recycle Bin can be accessed in a couple of different ways.  The most straightforward way of accessing the Recycle bin is to click on the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop, which looks like the following image.

The Windows 7 Recycle Bin icon
The Windows 7 Recycle Bin icon


You can also access the Recycle Bin using Windows Explorer by navigating directly to the folder associated with the Recycle Bin.  The folder name of the Recycle Bin, though, is different depending on the version of Windows that you are running. For example, on Windows XP the Recycle Bin is found at :\RECYCLER, while on Windows Vista and Windows 7 it is located at :\$RECYCLE.BIN\Recycle Bin.  For each partition on your computer that is used by Windows, a Recycle Bin folder will be created that is used solely to store files that were deleted from that partition. Thankfully, when you use the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop, all of the deleted files from each drive will be shown as one list so you do not need to keep track of which drive they were deleted from.


Limitations of the Recycle Bin

It is important to note that there are some times when files are not placed in the Recycle Bin when you delete them.  This occurs in three different situations.  First, only files deleted from fixed disks are sent to the Recycle Bin. Files deleted from removable media, such as memory cards, USB/jump/flash drives, external hard drives connected via USB, and floppy disks, are not sent to the Recyle Bin, but are instead permanently deleted. Also, files deleted from within the Windows command prompt are not sent to the Recycle Bin and are instead deleted immediately.

Additionally, the Recycle Bin has a maximum amount of data that it will hold.  Once that space is filled, the oldest files will automatically be deleted to make room for new files as they are moved to the Recycle Bin.  This maximum size can be customized in the Recycle Bin's properties, which is covered later in this tutorial.


Restoring Deleted Files

If you wish to retrieve a file from the Recycle Bin you may do so in two different ways.  The first method, is to use the restore function built into the Recycle Bin.  Select the files you wish to restore and then either click the Restore the selected items button on the top bar of the Recycle Bin window, or right click and select Restore. Alternatively, if you wish to restore every item currently in the Recycle Bin you can click on the Restore all items button at the top of the Recycle Bin window.  Note that on Windows XP, these options are located on the left menu bar rather than on the top. It is important to note that when you use the Restore options in the Recycle Bin, the files will be restored to their original locations. For example, if you delete a file from the Desktop and then restore it, it will return to the Desktop.


Restoring Files from the Recycle Bin
Using the Recycle Bin's restore function


The second method is to simply open the Recycle Bin, select the files you wish to retrieve, and drag them into another folder on your computer. Please note that if you use this method, you can restore the file to any location you want rather than just the previous location.


Permanently Deleting Files

It is important to remember that even though these files are deleted, they are still accessible and taking up space on your computer's hard drive. It is possible to permanently delete these files using two methods depending on whether you wish to delete specific files or every file currently in the Recycle Bin.  Please note, that on Windows XP, the following options are located on the left menu bar rather than at the top of the window.

Deleting Individual Files

To delete specific files, select the files you wish to delete and then right-click and choose the Delete option.

Emptying the Recycle Bin

To delete every file currently in the Recycle Bin, simply click the Empty the Recycle Bin button at the top of the Recycle Bin window. You can also empty the Recycle Bin by right-clicking on the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop and selecting Empty Recycle Bin.


Recycle Bin Options

It is possible to configure the Recycle Bin according to your personal tastes and needs. These options can be accessed by clicking the Organize tab at the top of the Recycle Bin window, and then selecting Properties.  When the Properties window opens, please select the tab marked General.


Recycle Bin Options
Recycle Bin Options


In this screen you will see a list of hard drive letters on your computer and how much total space each of them contains. You will then see a setting where you can specify the maximum size that the Recycle Bin will use for each of these drive letters. This setting is different for each drive, so you can select each drive and modify their individual settings as needed. This Maximum size setting is set to 5%-10% of the total size of the hard drive by default.  It is noteworthy that on versions of Windows prior to Windows Vista the total size of the Recycle Bin may not exceed 3990 MB.  Alternatively, you may turn off the Recycle Bin by selecting the radio button titled Don't move files to the Recycle Bin. Remove files immediately when deleted.  It is not recommended to select this option as it will make recovering deleted files impossible without the use of special tools.

Normally, when you move a file to the Recycle Bin via deletion, a confirmation dialog will appear to make sure that you wish to do so.

Delete Confirmation Dialog
Delete Confirmation Dialog


Unchecking the Display delete confirmation dialog option will cause this dialog to no longer appear.  It is recommended that you do not uncheck this option in order to protect yourself against the accidental deletion of files.



Every Windows user should be familiar with the Recycle Bin.  Deleting files is a common occurrence and at times you may need to recover a file you have deleted.  Properly configured, the Recycle Bin facilitates the easy recovery of recently deleted files from the hard drives of your computer.  Making effective use of the Recycle Bin can potentially save you a great deal of time and money depending on the value of the files on your computer system.

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