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How to recover deleted files on Windows and MacOS

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We’ve all been there. You’re doing a bit of techy spring cleaning, and you accidentally delete your work presentation for the big meeting tomorrow. Uh oh. But don’t hit the panic button! First, we’ll show you how to find deleted files. And then when you’ve found them, how to restore deleted files too. Phew.

How to recover deleted files

When you delete a file – on purpose, or by accident – it’ll end up in a digital bin. But luckily, you can still get it back before it’s gone for good…

MacOS Trash

On your Mac or MacBook, any files you get rid of end up in the Trash. It’s super easy to recover deleted files though:

  1. Open up the Trash (it’s the little bin icon on the bar at the bottom of your screen).

  2. Find the file you want to save.

  3. Right click it and pick ‘Put Back’ or click and drag it onto your desktop.

  4. And voila. Your file will now be safe and sound.

Windows Recycle Bin

Windows’ version is called the Recycle Bin. Here’s how to restore deleted files from it:

  1. Double click on the Recycle Bin icon (it should be on your desktop somewhere).

  2. Find your deleted file in there.

  3. Right click on it.

  4. Select ‘Restore’.

  5. The file you deleted should be back on your desktop.

Tech tip: You don’t have to rush to recover your files. There’s no time limit on the Mac Trash or Windows Recycle Bin, and they won’t be emptied automatically. Unless you’ve emptied them yourself, stuff you’ve deleted months ago should still be in there.

Time Machine and System Restore

Mac and Windows both have their own way of bringing files back from the dead. And these two can be an absolute lifesaver…

  • Time Machine – Apple’s feature automatically backs up your entire system every hour. This gives you a relatively up to date backup to trigger if something does go wrong - letting you restore your device to a specific point in time if it gets corrupted. And it’s not just for docs. It’ll save a copy of all your apps too.

  • System Restore – The Windows equivalent is kind of similar. It creates clever ‘Restore Points’ before new software is installed, or your system gets updated. So, you can rollback to when your computer was working properly if there’s ever a technical meltdown.

Special file recovery software

If the built-in options aren’t working out, you could always get yourself some specialist recovery software. These programmes are even better at recovering files, as they can carry out deep scans and dig up files that seemed lost forever. Oh, and they’re free too!

  • Disk Drill – This works on Windows and Mac devices, so it doesn’t matter what platform you’re on. And it’s one smart piece of software. It can recover over 400 different file formats. So, whatever the type you’ve deleted, Disk Drill should be able to help.

  • Recuva – Hard drives. Memory cards. External hard drives. Recuva can retrieve deleted files from all of these and more. You don’t need to be a computer whizz to use it either. It’s got one of the most straightforward interfaces we’ve used so far.

How to avoid losing data

Here are a few simple ways to keep your data safe:

  • Regularly backup your files. Storing all your files in one place can be a risky move. So, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan and save it all somewhere else too – like on an external hard drive.

  • Use cloud storage for any important docs. That way, if you spill tea all over your laptop and break it, you can still access them on your phone or tablet.

  • Be careful when you go on a file deletion spree. Double-check what you’re binning off before you hit delete.

  • Keep your system and antivirus software updated. Otherwise, you could lose everything if there’s a hardware failure, or hackers get access to your computer.

Choosing external storage for backups

If your computer crashes – and you haven’t backed up your files on it – you’re going to be kicking yourself. But, if you get some external storage, you’ve got a handy digital safety net to fall back on.

Here are a few things to think about before you drop some cash:

  • Storage space - This is probably the big one. You’ll need more room if you’re planning on backing up lots of documents or have chunky files floating around.

  • SSD – A solid state drive is a lot faster to fire up and makes accessing all your files nice and quick. Plus, SSDs are durable bits of kit. Because there are no moving parts, they can easily survive drops, bumps and scrapes. They’re usually a bit more expensive though.

  • Connectivity – USB 3.0 or 3.1 will transfer your data quickly, while Thunderbolt is lightning fast. Just make sure your gadgets are compatible first.


Why can’t you recover deleted files?

When you permanently delete a file, it ends up in the unallocated space on your hard drive. If the space that your old file took up then gets overwritten by new data, it’s almost impossible to recover it. That’s why you’ve got to be quick when you try to restore files!

So, now you know how to find deleted files. Need any other computing hacks? Here’s how to check your version of windows. And if you want to get your computer back up to full speed, find out what is defragging? It’s more straightforward than it sounds!

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