What Effect Does Emptying the Recycle Bin Have on Your Computer?

What Effect Does Emptying the Recycle Bin Have on Your Computer? thumbnail
Like a physical recycle bin, your computer's version holds files only temporarily.

Emptying the recycle bin frees data storage on your computer, but the process is not as simple as it may sound. Emptied files are not truly deleted when you "empty the trash," which is both good and bad news for computer users. The good news is there is a chance to recover accidentally deleted files. The bad news is that if you are trying to destroy records of sensitive information, you need to take additional steps.

  1. How the Recycle Bin Works

    • When you delete a file in Windows, the system moves that file to the recycle bin and stores the original file path in a separate file on your computer. This allows you to restore the file to its exact previous location, such as a personal folder within the Documents folder if you decide you do not want the file deleted. As your recycle bin reaches its maximum capacity, it removes older files to make room for new ones. Think of the recycle bin as a temporary holding facility for your unwanted files.

    User View of Emptied Files

    • Click the "Empty" link. Your computer processes for a short while and then presents you with an empty recycle bin folder. A standard desktop search no longer reveals the deleted files, and you cannot perform a restore task through your operating system. However, traces of the files still exist, which means you can recover them with a high level of computer skill or third-party file recovery software.

    Internal Effects of Emptying Files

    • Your computer does not truly erase the files when you click that "Empty" link. Instead, it changes the file names in a way that designates the file space as free space. The file data still exist on the hard drive until something else saves over the files, such as new files or folders. Picture a file as a word typed in a word processing program and then highlighted with a mouse. The text is still there, but as soon as you type something new, it replaces the old text with your new data.

    Freeing Disc Space

    • Deleted files do not count against your total used disc space because they are designated as writable area. If your recycle bin is full of large files, you may see a noticeable increase in your available hard drive space after you empty the bin.

    Safe Deletion

    • Emptying your recycle bin is not an effective method of deleting files if you plan to resell your computer. The best way to do this with native software is to restore your computer to its out-of-box state using built-in recovery utilities that vary by manufacturer. For a more secure deletion, use third-party software that overwrites your deleted data at least three times. Third-party software may also allow selective deletion of sensitive files, whereas a full restoration deletes all of your data, including programs you installed after buying the computer.

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