How to Recover Deleted Files for Free

Are you tired of outdated tutorials and malware-infected utilities? So are we, which is why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide, listing multiple tried and tested data recovery methods to help you recover your data from any device for free. Scroll down to start with the guide or try our own free software solution right away by clicking the button below.
Free version recovers up to 500 MB

Check if the Files Are Really Deleted

There’s a a difference between deleted files and permanently deleted files. Before you move any further, you should verify that the missing files are really deleted and have not just been moved to the Recycle Bin from which files and folders can easily be restored to their original location.

To find deleted files in the Recycle Bin:

  1. Double-click the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop.
  2. Right-click on an empty space inside the Recycle Bin window and select Sort by → Date modified.
  3. Look for the missing files. If you remember how the files you’re trying to recover were called, you can use the Search bar in the top-right corner to locate them.
  4. Select your files.
  5. Drag the files from the Recycle Bin to your desktop or other desired location.
No luck? Then the files are most likely really deleted, which means it’s time to try other recovery options, and there’s a very strong chance that at least one of the two methods described later in this article will work.

Restore Previous Versions from a File History Backup

If you’re a Windows user and have configured File History to continuously protect your personal files, you’re in luck because you can easily recover them back.

To restore a previous version of a file using File History:

  1. Open Windows Explorer and right-click on the folder where the deleted file was located.
  2. Select Restore previous versions.
  3. Select the most relevant File History backup and click Open to preview its content.
  4. Select the file you want to recover.
  5. Click the green Recover button at the bottom of the preview window to recover it.
But what if you haven’t activated File History? Does it mean that your files are gone forever? Fortunately, it doesn’t. You can still use third-party data recovery software to get your files back, but you need to hurry up and act before they get overwritten.

Use 3rd Party Software

Third-party data recovery software applications can recover even permanently deleted files. They analyze the content of a storage device, looking for recoverable data, and putting it back together in a salvageable format.

Disk Drill is a great example of a third-party data recovery software application suitable for regular home users and professionals alike. Its free version can recover up to 500 MB of data using state-of-the-art data recovery algorithms capable of recognizing hundreds of file formats.

To recover files on Windows with Disk Drill:

  1. Download and launch Disk Drill for Windows.
  2. Select the storage device on which the deleted files were stored and click Search for lost data.
  3. Use the file format filters on the left to narrow down the scan results until you find the file you’re looking for. Select it to see its preview on the right.
  4. Click the checkbox next to the file and click the blue Recover button at the bottom.
  5. Specify the recovery folder and click OK.
Don’t worry, Disk Drill can also recover deleted files on Mac, but there are also other Mac recovery options that you should know about.

Recover Deleted Files on Mac

Apple created several safety nets to help Mac users easily restore accidentally deleted files, and you should give them a try before you spend money on a data recovery software application.

We’ve already described most of them on the corresponding page, so here’s just a quick summary:
Now that you know multiple methods to recover deleted files on Windows and Mac, let’s take a closer look at several common data recovery scenarios.

Recover Deleted Files from SD Card

Used in digital cameras, smartphones, and many other electronic devices, SD cards are among the most readily used storage media in the world, which explains why they’re involved in so many cases of data loss.

To recover deleted files from an SD card:

  1. Connect the SD card to your computer using an internal or external SD card reader.
  2. Wait for your computer to recognize the SD card.
  3. Open your SD data recovery software application of choice.
  4. Use it to recover deleted files from the SD card to your computer.
  5. Copy the recovered files back to the SD card if desired.
Disk Drill can recover data from all types of SD cards: SD, SD High Capacity (SDHC), and SD Extended Capacity (SDXC). It also supports other memory cards, including CompactFlash cards (CF) and xD Picture cards.

Recover Deleted Files from USB Drive

USB drives are handy for transferring files between computers and sharing them with other people. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with cheap, unreliable USB drives that use cheap flash memory modules that may cause them to fail unexpectedly.

To recover deleted files from a USB drive:

  1. Connect the USB drive to your computer.
  2. Download and install a USB data recovery application.
  3. Scan the USB drive.
  4. Select the files you want to recover.
  5. Begin the recovery process.
You can recover up to 500 MB of data from any USB drive (USB 1.x, 2.0, or 3.x) using Disk Drill for Windows.

Recover Deleted Files from External Hard Drive

External hard drive recovery isn’t any more complicated than USB drive or SD card recovery. As long as you use a reliable data recovery application, you should be able to easily recover lost files from any external hard drive, regardless of its size or brand.

To recover deleted files from an external hard drive:

  1. Connect your external hard drive to your computer.
  2. Use the same data recovery application you would use to recover files from any other storage device.
  3. Scan the external hard drive. Be patient because it may take a while.
  4. Select the files you want to recover.
  5. Recover the selected files to your computer or a different external hard drive.
Keep in mind that data recovery software applications can’t recover data from external hard drives that have suffered catastrophic physical damage. Only professional data recovery services can help.

Recover Deleted Files from Mobile Device

We have become dependent on mobile phones, using them for much more than just communication. It shouldn’t then be a surprise that more data than ever before is lost on mobile devices. The good news is that there are several ways how you can get it back, and it doesn’t matter if you’re using Android or iOS.

Recover from a Backup

Both Android and iOS devices can back up content, data, and settings from your phone to cloud storage and restore everything from the cloud backup with a few simple taps.

Disk Drill data recovery
If you’re an Android user, go to this Android help page to learn how to restore backed-up data and settings.

Disk Drill data recovery
Are you using iOS? Then, this official tutorial has you covered.

Use a Data Recovery App (Android Only)

The Android operating system allows users to access the entire file system and recover deleted files using third-party data recovery apps like DiskDigger by Defiant Technologies.

To recover deleted files with DiskDigger:

  1. Download DiskDigger from the Play Store.
  2. Launch DiskDigger and tap Start basic photo scan.
  3. Give DiskDigger permission to access your device’s storage.
  4. Select the files you want to recover.
  5. Tap the Recover button.
Unfortunately, data recovery using third-party data recovery apps is not possible on iOS, but that doesn’t mean iPhone users can’t use data recovery software at all.

Connect Your Mobile Device to a Computer

If you don’t have a backup of the lost files and found no luck with data recovery apps (or use iOS, in which case you can’t use data recovery apps due to restrictions imposed by Apple), there’s still one solution that you can try: connect your mobile device to a computer and use a data recovery software application for Windows or Mac.
For example, the Mac version of Disk Drill can recover deleted files from both Android (Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Google Pixel, Lenovo, LG, and others) and iOS devices (iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 11, and others).

Can I Recover Deleted Files Using CMD?

Yes, it’s possible to recover deleted files using Command Prompt (CMD), but the process the process is far less predictable than you might think. Whereas data recovery software applications like Disk Drill allow you to recover specific files (and even preview them before recovery), CMD data recovery commands present in Windows don’t give you nearly as much control.
  • recover deleted files using CHKDSK

    CHKDSK

    CHKDSK is a system tool that scans through your entire hard drive to discover and fix file system errors. If errors are found, the problematic files will be moved to the found.000 folder and names file01.chk, file02.chk, and so on. Then, the user has to figure out which file was recovered and what its file extension is supposed to be. This is a huge disadvantage of CHKDSK.

    To recover deleted files using CHKDSK:

    1. Type “cmd” in the search box on the taskbar and select Run as administrator.
    2. Enter the following command (make sure to replace X with the letter assigned to the hard drive you want to fix) and press Enter: chkdsk X: /f
    3. Wait for CHKDSK to finish. The process may take several hours depending on the size of your hard drive.
    4. If there are errors, the CHKDSK will ask the question “Convert lost chains to files,” and you must answer Y. However, this request doesn’t always come up. Usually, CHKDSK fixes everything automatically.
  • data restore with ATTRIB

    ATTRIB

    ATTRIB is a useful command that makes it possible for the user to change various file and directory attributes. Often, users accidentally set the Hidden file attribute, causing their files to become invisible. Because files with the Hidden attribute have never been deleted, attempts to recover them using data recovery software applications are guaranteed to fail. Instead, it’s necessary to remove the Hidden attribute, and that’s where the ATTRIB command comes in.

    To remove the Hidden attribute using the ATTRIB command

    1. Type “cmd” in the search box on the taskbar and select Run as administrator.
    2. Enter the following command (make sure to replace X with the letter assigned to the hard drive you want to fix) and press Enter: ATTRIB -H -R -S /S /D X:*.*

What Happens When You Delete Files on Mac and Windows?

One of two things can happen when you delete files on Mac and Windows:
  • trash recycle bin recovery
    The deleted files will be moved to a temporary storage area for files that have been deleted (known as Trash in macOS and the Recycle Bin in Windows).
  • computer delete data recovery
    The deleted files will be deleted right away, which means that the storage space occupied by them is marked as available, allowing the operating system to overwrite it with new data.

Which of these two possible scenarios happens depends on how you delete the files. By default, both Mac and Windows move deleted files to Trash or the Recycle Bin, but they also make it possible for users to permanently delete files right away.
  • how to permanently delete file macOS
    To permanently delete a file in macOS, select it and press Option-Command-Delete.
  • how to permanently delete file windows
    To permanently delete a file in Windows, select it and press Shift-Delete.
You can recover permanently deleted files if you act quickly enough and begin the recovery process before they get overwritten by other files.

Are Data Recovery Services Worth It? What Are Their Benefits and Downsides?

Data recovery services specialize in the recovery of lost or corrupted data from all storage devices, hard drives, USB flash drives, tape media, optical disks, and more. They have years of experience and access to clean rooms and state-of-the-art equipment. As such, they are prepared to recover data even from storage devices that have suffered physical damage and are no longer working properly.


If you’re deciding whether you should spend money on a data recovery service or attempt to recover the lost or corrupted data yourself using data recovery software, you need to consider your budget and the value of the data in question.


Are you willing to spend hundreds of dollars to recover a document that you could recreate in just a few hours? Probably not. In that case, you should attempt to recover the document yourself using data recovery software like Disk Drill. On the other hand, most businesses can easily justify spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on professional data recovery if it means that they’re more likely to get back their valuable data.


To help you decide if data recovery services are worth it, here’s a short summary of their benefits and downsides:


Benefits: Downsides:
  • High recovery success rate
  • Access to clean rooms and professional equipment
  • Experience with physically damaged storage devices
  • (Sometimes) No data, no recovery fee guarantee
  • Can be very expensive
  • Not as convenient as DIY data recovery
  • Not suitable for small data recovery jobs
  • Recovery typically takes several days

The Importance of Regular Data Backups

Your data is not as safe as you might think. Every day, countless people around the world lose irreplaceable files, such as important business documents or pictures and videos of loved ones, for a number of different reasons.

  • User error
    Modern operating systems and software applications are user-friendly, but they still leave plenty of room for users to make unfortunate mistakes and lose data as a consequence of them. For example, when deleting old files, your computer won’t notice that you’ve accidentally selected a file you definitely don’t want to delete and warn you about it.
  • Cyberattack
    In recent years, large-scale ransomware outbreaks have been making headlines, highlighting the massive damage and data loss modern cyberattacks can cause. But ransomware attacks are far from the only cyber threat users should worry about. There are also viruses, malware, spyware, targeted phishing attacks, and more. While antivirus and antimalware solutions can help, they are not 100 percent reliable.
  • Natural disaster
    For people living in certain parts of the world, natural disasters are part of life. A flood, fire, or hurricane can destroy all storage devices in a location without warning and leave absolutely no possibility for data recovery.
  • Hardware failure
    Storage devices themselves are not completely reliable. In large data centers, a few days don’t go by without a hard drive dying. Fortunately, regular home users don’t encounter hardware failure nearly as often, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t strike at any moment and cause massive data loss.
  • Software bugs
    It’s not common for the mistakes of software developers to result in data loss, but it can happen. There have been several cases of hard drive manufacturers releasing firmware updates to prevent future data loss or even total device failure.
  • Device theft
    There’s always the danger of some opportunistic thief stealing your computer or mobile device, along with all data that was stored on it. Yes, losing any device to thieves is always painful, but you can make the experience a lot more bearable by having all important data safely backed up somewhere safe.
For these and other reasons, you should regularly backup all important data so that you can easily recover it should anything happen to it.
While any backup is better than no backup at all, we recommend you follow the 3-2-1 backup rule to keep your data safe in almost any failure scenario. According to the 3-2-1 rule, you should:
  • Keep at least three (3) different copies of your data
  • Store the data in at least two (2) different formats
  • Keep one (1) copy in a different location to protect it against natural disasters
! In practice, this means having one local backup and one cloud backup of all data that you can’t afford to lose.

How to Enable and Configure File History Backups

The recent versions of the Windows operating system include a backup tool called File History, whose purpose is to makes it possible for users to restore previous versions of files with a few simple clicks.

To enable File History:

  1. Open Windows Settings.
  2. Go to Update & Security.
  3. Select Backup on the left.
  4. Click Add a drive under Back up using File History.
  5. Select a suitable drive.
! The “Automatically back up my files” option will replace the Add a drive button and be automatically turned on, indicating that File History is active.

To configure File History:

  1. Open Windows Settings.
  2. Go to Update & Security.
  3. Select Backup on the left.
  4. Click More options under Back up using File History.
  5. Change the backup frequency and the amount of time for which you wish to keep your backups.

How to Enable and Configure Time Machine Backups in Mac OS X

Any modern Mac with Mac OS X or macOS comes with an easy-to-use backup solution called Time Machine. As its name suggests, Time Machine allows you to quite literally go back in time and recover older versions of files, even files that have been deleted.

To enable Time Machine:

  1. Connect an external storage device to your Mac.
  2. Open the Apple menu and go to System Preferences and then click Time Machine.
  3. Click Select Backup Disk.
  4. Select your external drive from the list of available disks.
  5. Click Use Disk.

To configure Time Machine:

  1. Open the Apple menu and go to System Preferences and then click Time Machine.
  2. Click Options in the bottom-right corner.
  3. Add any folder you would like to exclude from backups and/or change other available options.

To restore a previous version of a file using Time Machine:

  1. Connect your Time Machine backup disk if it’s not already connected to your Mac.
  2. Open the folder that contained the deleted files. For example, if the files were in your Documents folder, open Finder and select Documents from the sidebar on the left.
  3. Click the Time Machine icon located in the Menu Bar and choose Enter Time Machine.
  4. Locate the files you want to recover using the timeline on the right edge of the screen.
  5. Click Restore to restore the selected file.

What Are Some Other Backup Options Available?

In addition to the backup tools included with your operating system, there are other backup options that you can consider.

What is System Restore? Can It Be Used for Data Recovery Purposes?

System Restore is a backup feature included in all recent versions of the Windows operating system. Its purpose is to allow users to revert their computer’s state to a previous point in time.
Because System Restore restores system files, installed applications, Windows Registry, and system settings, it can be used to recover from system malfunctions or other problems. However, it can’t be used to recover personal files that have been deleted, such as documents, photos, or videos.

Windows creates a System Restore point automatically whenever you make a significant change to your system configuration, such as when you install a new driver, but system Restore points can also be created manually.

To create a System Restore point in Windows 10:

  1. Open Control Panel
  2. Click either Large icons or Small icons under View by.
  3. Select Recovery.
  4. Click on the Configure System Restore option.
  5. Click Create and type a description to help you identify the restore point.
  6. Click Create again.

To restore Windows 10 from an earlier System Restore point:

  1. Open Control Panel
  2. Click either Large icons or Small icons under View by.
  3. Select Recovery.
  4. Click on the Configure System Restore option and choose System Restore.
  5. Select the desired System Restore point and click Next.
  6. Confirm your System Restore point and click Finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on by Disk Drill Team

Deleted files can be recovered in a number of ways. In some cases, you can use native Windows tools or system backups to get back your data. Data recovery software can also be used to search for deleted information and can locate files that cannot be retrieved through the use of basic Windows facilities.

You can recover deleted files for free by using the Recycle Bin or restoring previous versions of the file. A system backup can also be used to restore deleted files. Disk Drill for Windows allows users to recover up to 500 MB of data without any financial investment in the tool.

Follow these steps to recover deleted files on Windows 10:

  1. Download, install, and launch Disk Drill.
  2. Select the storage device on which the deleted files were located.
  3. Click Search for lost data.
  4. Select the files you want to recover.
  5. Restore the files to a specific location by clicking the blue Recover button at the bottom.

Read our comprehensive overview of data recovery on Windows 10 to learn more about this complex topic.

When Windows deletes a file it usually goes to the Recycle Bin. Once it is removed from the bin or permanently deleted, logical references to the file are deleted but the data remains physically on the storage media. This fact enables data recovery software to recover permanently deleted files.

There are several ways to recover permanently deleted files from your PC, such as those described in this article, and you should choose the one that can deliver the best results with the least amount of effort.

In the vast majority of cases, data recovery software for PC like Disk Drill is the best choice because it combines the ability to recover permanently deleted files with a simple user interface that anyone can instantly figure out.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill.
  2. Launch the program and scan the disk that contained the deleted file.
  3. Select a new storage location where the restored file will be saved.
  4. Click the Recover button to restore the Excel file to its new location.
  1. Launch a data recovery software tool such as Disk Drill.
  2. Select the drive or partition that contained your OneDrive folder.
  3. Scan the disk for recoverable files and determine if the desired files are available.
  4. Perform the recovery to restore your data.
  1. Log in to the Google Admin Console.
  2. Click on the Users icon in the Admin Console.
  3. Hover over the name of the user whose data will be restored and click the ellipsis icon.
  4. Select RESTORE DATA from the pop-up menu. Specify the date range and click Restore.

Restore Deleted Files in Hundreds of Formats

Disk Drill for Windows is capable of restoring data in hundreds of different file formats. The list of fully supported formats is almost limitless and includes many common file types which may have been lost, damaged or permanently deleted. Supported formats include:
  • Word Documents (.doc)
  • Excel Documents (.xls, .xlsx)
  • Image Files (.jpg, .png, .gif, .bmp, .psd)
  • Music Formats (.mp3, .wav, .wma, .aac, .ogg)
  • Emails (Outlook, Windows Mail)
  • Compressed Archives (.zip, .rar, .7zip)

Disk Drill Supports your Device

Disk Drill can help to undelete data on your computer’s internal hard drive, external hard drive, your USB drive, and many other devices. Some common file storage devices Disk Drill can recover media from include:
  • Internal Hard Drives
  • External Hard Drives
  • USB Pen Drives
  • SD Cards
  • Devices in “Mass Storage” Mode (Android, etc)
  • Camera Memory Cards
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