I have just emptied the recycle bin on my c-drive and when I go to the
hidden folder C:\RECYCLER and check it, it is definitely empty.
When I go to my other hard drive and check there, the F:\RECYCLER folder,
which previously held 5.96 GB still holds 2.56 GB of data in 5000 files.
Why is that left, and how do I empty all recycle bins completely?
I’d always wondered about this myself, but never took the time to
investigate the nuances of the Recycle Bin. It turns out that multiple drives
are only part of the confusion.
One hint: remember that Windows XP is a multi-user operating
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First a little background.
When you delete a file in Windows Explorer it’s not really deleted
(usually). Instead the file is moved to something called the Recycle Bin. The
idea is simply that if you decide you didn’t really mean to delete that file,
you can restore it from the Recycle Bin.
For a while, at least.
If the Recycle Bin fills up then older files are really deleted to
make room for the newly “deleted”. Once the files are actually deleted, then
they’re typically not recoverable without some advanced data recovery tools and
a lot of luck.
Now, if you move a file from one folder to another on the same hard drive
it’s a very fast operation; the contents of the file don’t actually need to be
touched. Only the file system directory entry for the file needs to be changed.
(If you move a file to another drive, of course, the entire file must be copied
from one drive to another.)
The Recycle Bin takes advantage of the speed of same-drive moves by actually
implementing a container for the Recycle Bin on every drive. So while you might
see only one Recycle Bin icon on your desktop or in Windows
Explorer, you’re likely to find a hidden folder called
RECYCLER in the root of your NTFS formatted drives.
(Apparently it’s called RECYCLED on FAT formatted drives.)
When a file is deleted in Windows Explorer it’s moved to the RECYCLER folder on
the same drive.
So what about that multi-user thing I mentioned?
As you probably know, you can create multiple user accounts in Windows. Each
person can login to their own desktop with their own default set of programs
and their own personal files and so on.
You wouldn’t want one of those other users emptying your Recycle
Bin, would you?
Regardless of your answer, Windows thinks you wouldn’t. So, when you delete
a file in Windows Explorer it’s not only moved to a RECYCLER folder, but it’s
moved into a user-specific folder within it. So the files you delete
are in the Recycle Bin and they’re kept separately from the files deleted by other users on
the same machine.
And when you empty your Recycle Bin? You’re only emptying your
Recycle Bin. The other users Recycle Bins are not affected.
The appropriate way to truly empty all of them would be to login as each
user and empty their Recycle Bins.
That’s a little cumbersome.
It turns out that when logged in as an administrator you can safely just
delete the contents of the RECYCLER folder. The next time Windows Explorer
needs to recycle a file, it’ll re-create whatever folders and files it
And as a side note, you can configure some aspects of how the Recycle Bin
behaves. Right click on your Recycle Bin icon and click on
Properties. There you can control how much space is allocated
to the Recycle Bin and RECYCLER folders, and whether recycling should even
happen, either system wide or on a per-disk basis.