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, I will share what the Recycle Bin is and where you can find it. Then, I will show how to delete files, how to restore them and, at the end, I'll explain how to configure the Recycle Bin so that it works as you want it to, no matter if you use Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.
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 left top corner of your Desktop, looking like in the image below.
You can also find it on the left-side panel in File Explorer (if you use Windows 8 or Windows 8.1) or Windows Explorer (if you use Windows 7).
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 and 8.1, 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.
You can also select multiple items and delete them. The pop-up will be something like the one in the screenshot below.
Bypassing the Recycle Bin
If you are absolutely certain 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.
Remember, when you do this, the file or folder is deleted for real and cannot be found in the Recycle Bin for easy restoration.
Viewing & Managing the Content of the Recycle Bin
When opening the Recycle Bin, you see a list with all the files and folders you have deleted.
If you want detailed information about a file you deleted, you can also open its contextual menu and then click or tap Properties.
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 ".pdf" 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 of all items found in the Recycle Bin. You cannot really use them unless you restore them.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, 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.
In Windows 7, choose "Restore this item" from the top menu bar.
Also, in Windows 8 & 8.1, you can also choose to restore all the files that have been deleted in one click/tap by using "Restore all items".
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.
How to Empty 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".
You will get another popup, asking for confirmation.
In Windows 8 & 8.1, 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.
Even if it looks different, the same button is available in Windows 7.
How to edit the properties of the Recycle Bin
When you right click on the Recycle Bin icon, you get a menu like the one shown below. Click or tap Properties.
This opens up a menu 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.
As you can see I have two partitions on two hard drives on my PC. One is the "C:" drive and the other is "D:". Below that are the settings for the selected partition. In this case I selected D. The maximum size allocated for Recycle Bin on my D drive is viewable and editable here. 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 & 8.1, 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.
I don't prefer to keep this ticked, but you might choose differently if you want another layer of protection to prevent 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.
As you can see from this tutorial, managing the Recycle Bin is pretty easy and, except some minor differences, things stay pretty much the same in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. 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.