Simple questions: What is the Recycle Bin in Windows?

One of the things almost everybody uses in Windows is the Recycle Bin. And with good reason. It is very easy to throw something away and then find out you did need it after all. So here is a tutorial on how the Recycle Bin works. First, we will explain what the Recycle Bin is and where you can find it. Then, we will show you how to delete files, how to restore them and, at the end, we’ll show you how to configure the Recycle Bin so that it works as you want it to, no matter whether you use Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10.

What is the Recycle Bin?

The Recycle Bin is a folder with a fancy icon where files and folders that you have deleted are stored. They have not been permanently removed from your hard drive(s), they were only moved to this special folder. To put it simply: the Recycle Bin is the place where the references towards your deleted files and folders are kept. Physically, on your hard disk, they occupy the same location. You just can't use them or open them when they are in the Recycle Bin. Windows keeps track of where they came from, so you can “undelete” (restore) them if you want to. Each partition of your hard drive has a Recycle Bin, but the fun thing is all the files you delete appear in this one folder with the Recycle Bin icon on your Desktop.

By default, you find the Recycle Bin in the top left corner of your Desktop, looking like in the image below. This screenshot is taken in Windows 10.

Recycle Bin, Windows, delete, files, folders, recover, restore, empty, properties

In Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, the Recycle Bin icon is slightly different.

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How to delete files and folders

To delete a file or folder, select it and hit Delete on your keyboard. Alternatively, right click or tap and hold it and select Delete from the right click menu. In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, the file is deleted immediately, and no further action is required from the user.

In Windows 7 however, a pop-up will appear asking you if you really want to delete the file. When you click Yes, it will go to the Recycle Bin. You can choose to cancel the action by clicking No.

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You can also select multiple items and delete them. The pop-up will be something like the one in the screenshot below.

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How to bypass the Recycle Bin in Windows

If you are absolutely certain that you want to delete a file, you can bypass the Recycle Bin altogether by selecting a file or files and hitting Shift + Delete on your keyboard. You will immediately see this confirmation pop-up, asking if you are sure you want to permanently delete the selected content.

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Remember, when you do this, the file or folder you selected is deleted for real and cannot be found in the Recycle Bin for easy restoration.

How to view and manage the content of the Recycle Bin

When you open the Recycle Bin, you see a list with all the files and folders you have deleted.

Recycle Bin, Windows, delete, files, folders, recover, restore, empty, properties

If you want detailed information about a file you deleted, you can also open its contextual menu. Do this with a right-click on the file or by pressing and holding and then clicking or tapping Properties.

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The Properties window will tell you where the file came from and when you deleted it. In my example I deleted a document that I no longer needed. You can see it was saved using the Microsoft Word Document file format, when it was deleted and when it was created, but you can't see any preview or any of its contents. This is true for all items found in the Recycle Bin. You cannot really use them unless you restore them.

Recycle Bin, Windows, delete, files, folders, recover, restore, empty, properties

In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, if you want to use a file again, you can select it and then click or tap “Restore the selected items” on the Restore group from the Manage section of the ribbon.

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In Windows 7, choose “Restore this item” from the top menu bar.

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In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, you can also choose to restore all the files that have been deleted in one click/tap by using “Restore all items" in the Restore group from the Manage tab on the ribbon.

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In Windows 7, you will find the same button on the menu, but it will show up only if you have no files and folders selected.

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How to empty the Recycle Bin in Windows

In the Recycle Bin, you can select the files that you want to delete permanently and hit Delete on your keyboard. That way you can delete some files and keep others.

If you are sure you want to get rid of all your deleted items permanently, you can choose to empty the Recycle Bin. Right-click or tap and hold on it and then click or tap “Empty Recycle Bin”.

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You will get another popup, asking for confirmation. Press Yes to empty the Recycle Bin or No to leave it as it is.

Recycle Bin, Windows, delete, files, folders, recover, restore, empty, properties

In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, when you open the Recycle Bin, you can find a button for emptying it on the ribbon. Clicking or tapping it will have the same effect as described above.

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Even if it looks different, the same button is available in Windows 7.

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How to edit the properties of the Recycle Bin

When you right click or press and hold on the Recycle Bin icon, you get a menu like the one shown below. Click or tap Properties.

Recycle Bin, Windows, delete, files, folders, recover, restore, empty, properties

This opens up a window where you see the drives or partitions that have a Recycle Bin and where you can choose the size allocated for storing deleted files on each of them.

Recycle Bin, Windows, delete, files, folders, recover, restore, empty, properties

As you can see, on our computer we have several partitions on two hard drives. One is the “C:” drive, another is “D:” and so on. Below that are the settings for the selected partition. In this case we selected “I:”. The maximum size allocated for Recycle Bin this drive is viewable and editable. You can change it to what fits your needs, but in most cases the default settings will do just fine.

Instead of the custom size, you can also choose “Don't move files to the Recycle Bin. Remove files immediately when deleted.” This option is not recommended!

It is very easy to delete a file by mistake. If you move them to the Recycle Bin, mistakes are easy to fix. But if you have removed a file permanently there is no default way in Windows to get it back. Only drastic action, like restoring a restore point or using a third-party program specifically designed for this purpose will help you and even then it might prove difficult or even impossible.

In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, when deleting files, you are not required to confirm your action. This is because the “Display delete confirmation dialog” option is unchecked by default.

In Windows 7, things are opposite: this option is ticked by default, and you always get messages like the one below.

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We don't prefer to keep this ticked, but you might choose differently if you want another layer of protection to keep yourself from accidentally deleting things you might still need.

Why would you ever empty the Recycle Bin?

Because the files you delete and that are in the Recycle Bin just have their reference to them moved, but they are still on your hard drive. This means they still take up space. Unlike the trash function in email accounts, the Recycle Bin does not empty itself after a specific period of time. So every once in a while, when you are certain you don't need the deleted stuff anymore, you should empty it.

Conclusion

As you can see from this tutorial, managing the Recycle Bin is pretty easy and, except for some minor differences, things stay pretty much the same in Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Using the Recycle Bin is also a safe way to make sure you can still recover data you deleted accidentally. So... keep using it and let us know if you have any questions or troubles when working with it.

About the Author: Ciprian Adrian Rusen
I love technology and I work in IT for more than a decade. I am the co-founder of Digital Citizen and its chief editor. Alongside my work as an editor, I am also an author. I have written and published 7 books, most of them about Microsoft products and technologies. They are translated into more than 12 languages. In 2014, I have been recognized by Microsoft for my technical expertise and involvement in the community with the title of Microsoft MVP - Windows Consumer Expert.