Permanently Deleting Items

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated August 7, 2017)


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.

To be completely candid, talking about "permanently deleting" information as we've done so far in this tip is actually a misnomer. All it means is that you remove items from or completely skip the normal place the Recycle Bin has in the process of deleting items. Even after you "permanently delete" items, they are still accessible if you have the proper tools. Items are not really considered permanently deleted until the disk space in which they were originally stored is overwritten by new data.

If you absolutely, positively want to permanently delete information from your hard drive, you'll need to use a special "data wiping" program. There are many such programs available through an online search. You may also find the information in Wikipedia helpful, under the heading "Data Erasure."

 This tip (10865) applies to Windows 7, 8, and 10.

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 six more than 1?

2017-08-07 22:16:53

Alex B

Sadly deleting something off a network drive or USB does not give you an option, it automatically bypasses the Recycle bin.

2017-08-07 14:18:23

Paul Harvitz

You can also permanently delete a file by right clicking on it and holding down the Shift key while choosing "Delete" from the menu.
It then asks you to confirm permanent deletion.

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