How to Restore Deleted Files From USB

by Jeff Grundy
Don't panic; files deleted from your external hard drive are probably in the Recycle Bin.

Don't panic; files deleted from your external hard drive are probably in the Recycle Bin.

After you connect a USB drive in Windows, you can use the device to store files and folders just as you would the primary hard drive in your computer. Similarly, you can delete files from a USB drive just as you would from one installed inside your PC. If you need to restore files you removed from a USB drive, the process may be as simple as restoring them from the Windows Recycle Bin. Windows does not actually remove most deleted files from your hard drive until you need the space for other data. Failing that, you can try using undelete software

Restoring Files From the Recycle Bin

Double-click the Recycle Bin icon on the Windows desktop. The Recycle Bin window appears on the screen.

Click and select the deleted file you want to restore to the external USB hard drive.

Right-click the selected file, and then click "Restore" on the popup menu. Windows moves the file from the Recycle Bin back to the external USB hard drive from which you deleted it. If you open Windows Explorer and click the drive letter for the external drive, the file should appear in its original folder.

Restoring Flash Drive Files or Ones Emptied from Recycle Bin

Open your Web browser and download a free undelete application that lets you restore files deleted from USB flash drives or those emptied from the Recycle Bin. Free applications such Pandora Recovery, EaseUS Free USB Flash Drive Data Recovery and Easy File Undelete provide relatively easy-to-use interfaces that allow you recover and restore all types of deleted files from USB flash drives and external hard drives -- even those you already emptied from the Windows Recycle Bin (links in Resources.) Save the downloaded file in a folder on your computer.

Click the Start button, then "Computer." Browse to the folder where you saved the undelete program setup file. Double-click the file and follow the prompts to install the application. Restart your computer if the setup wizard prompts you to do so.

Connect the USB hard drive or flash drive to your computer and wait a few seconds for Windows to detect and initialize it automatically.

Open the undelete application on your computer. Select the drive letter associated with the USB flash drive or external hard drive that contains deleted files you want to recover. Click the "Next" or "Search" button and then wait for the application to search the drive for deleted or changed file indexes and tables that indicate which files marked for deletion and removal. Depending on the size of the drive and the number of files on it -- both active and deleted ones -- the search for deleted files on the device may take only a few minutes or it might take a couple of hours. After the file search completes, the undelete programs displays a list of deleted filenames. Some applications might also display a graphic or icon of some sort indicating the chances of successful file recovery.

Select the file or files on the USB drive that you want to recover. Click the "Recover To" or "Save In" drop-down box and select the folder on your primary system hard drive to which you want to save files you recover from the USB drive. Click the "Start," "Recover" or "Undelete" button and wait as the undelete software attempts to recover the deleted files and copy them to the selected folder. After the program completes the recovery and copy process, it displays a message providing details of which files it recovered successfully and those it could not restore.


  • You can improve your chances of a successful recovery considerably if you run an undelete application immediately after deleting files inadvertently. The longer you wait to attempt recovery of the files, the less your chances of being able to restore them. Chances for a successful recovery diminish even further if you write or copy other files to the USB hard drive before running the undelete program. To ensure the best possible chance of recovery, download, install and run the undelete program as soon as you realize you deleted the needed files.


  • You can use the Restore function in Recycle Bin only for external USB hard drives and not flash drives. Windows treats flash drives as temporary storage devices and does create a Recycle Bin partition on them for storing deleted files. If you delete a file from a flash drive, the process bypasses the Recycle Bin and marks the file for removal immediately. If you copy a new file to the flash drive, Windows treats the area occupied by the file marked for removal just as it would any other free space on the device.

About the Author

Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

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