Permanently Deleting Items

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 9, 2014)


Remember that the Recycle Bin is simply a temporary holding place before an object is permanently deleted. Windows keeps track of the objects that you place in the Recycle Bin and how long they have been in there. When the Recycle Bin starts to overflow (the size limit has been reached), the files that have been in the Recycle Bin the longest are automatically (and permanently) deleted.

If you positively know that you won?t need something anymore, you can explicitly delete it by removing it from the Recycle Bin. You do this by opening the Recycle Bin, right-clicking on the item, and choosing Delete from the resulting Context menu. The file is then permanently deleted from your system, it no longer appears in the Recycle Bin, and you can no longer retrieve it.

Another method to permanently delete an item that is in the Recycle Bin is to open the Recycle Bin (double-click it on the desktop so you can see what is in there), click on the item you want to permanently delete, and then press the Del key. In most places in Windows this is a way to move something to the Recycle Bin. If you are working within the Recycle Bin, however, this is an indication that you want to permanently delete the item. (After all, it is already in the Recycle Bin. Moving it to someplace it already is would make no sense.) When you press the Del key, Windows asks you if you want to permanently delete the item. Clicking on the Yes button gets rid of the item once and for all.

Still another way to permanently delete items is to simply empty the Recycle Bin. Right-click on the Recycle Bin icon (on the desktop) and choose Empty Recycle Bin from the resulting Context menu. Windows asks you if you are sure you want to permanently delete the items in the Recycle Bin. When you click on Yes, all the items in the Recycle Bin are permanently deleted. This is analogous to emptying the wastebasket next to your desk?you can no longer get back whatever that wastebasket contained.

Finally, you can permanently delete an item by bypassing the Recycle Bin altogether. This will work anywhere within Windows: Click the item once to select it, then press Shift+Del. Windows prompts you to make sure you want to permanently delete the item. When you answer affirmatively, it is deleted without ever ending up in the Recycle Bin.

 This tip (10865) applies to Windows 7 and 8.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is three minus 2?

2014-06-09 13:10:29

Brian Hershman

For more up-to-date information on file-deletion/data-erasure, see the Wikipedia article:

2014-06-09 12:58:01

Brian Hershman

As Barry said, the safest (even if not a totally effective) way to hide the contents of a file that you want to delete is to run an application that will over-write the physical space occupied by the file. If you want to try it out, some of the Internet security packages include such an application. I believe that McAfee does.

2014-06-09 09:07:29

Henry Noble

For those who like to live life on the edge of danger, there is another option.

Right-click on the Recycle Bin and select Properties. Click the radio button to ignore the Recycle Bin and remove files immediately when deleted.

I would not do it, but the option is there.

Two more useful options are the ability to disable the delete confirmation dialog and the ability to set the size of the Recycle Bin (which usually defaults to a absurdly large size on a modern hard drive).

2014-06-09 05:35:30


Permanently deleting a file in this way is really a misnomer. All this is really being done is deleting the filename from the Windows file system, and marking the space on the HDD that it occupies as free space. The file itself isn't wiped unless you have installed a third party application that will over-write the file itself, or the space on the HDD gets over-written by another file being saved there.

Even then using sophisticated techniques (often used by Government security agencies) its possible to recover deleted files.

A sledgehammer is the only secure way to really destroy stored data.

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