How to Add a Recycle Bin to USB and External Drives

Mistakenly deleting a file or folder from a flash drive or an external hard drive is something you want to avoid, as recovering an external disk will be tricky. However, you can add a Recycle Bin folder to any flash drive, external hard drive, or even SD card that you connect to your Windows PC! You only need to set this up once for it to work every time.

Good to know: it may be a good idea to learn how to encrypt your USB drive in Windows to keep your data safe.

Add a Recycle Bin to External Disks

The famous Recycle Bin is the destination for deleted files on your Windows PC. When you casually delete a file on your PC, it moves to this system folder so that you can recover it later if you need to. As it turns out, you can also add a Recycle Bin on your external HDD or flash drive using a registry trick.

Note: as always, before tweaking the registry, create a registry backup to make sure you're covered in case something goes wrong.

  1. Open a Run dialog by pressing Win + R.
  2. Type regedit, then press Enter to access the Registry Editor.
Typing "regedit" in Run window.
  1. Manually navigate to the following path, or copy and paste it into the path bar at the top: "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer."
Accessing path in Registry Editor.
  1. If you can't see the Explorer key (folder), right-click "Policies," then click "Key -> New." Rename the new key "Explorer."
  1. Click any empty space on the right and select "New -> DWORD (32-bit) Value."
Renaming "RecycleBinDrives" key in Registry Editor.
  1. After adding the value, select it and press F2 to rename it "RecycleBinDrives."
  2. Right-click the "RecycleBinDrives" value and select "Modify."
Adding "Value data" for RecycleBinDrives key.
  1. In the new window, type "ffffffff" in the "Value data" field, choose the hexadecimal base, then click "OK" to save.
  2. Restart your device for the modifications to take effect. After rebooting, each file or folder you delete from your flash drive will be sent to your PC's default Recycle Bin, and this will automatically apply to any removable disk you connect. Think of it as extending the Recycle Bin functionality to any external drive you connect.
  3. In this example, our flash drive contains a 1.26 GB folder.
USB Drive Properties window visible.
  1. After deleting the folder, the space continued to be occupied.
Space continues to be occupied after deletion on USB drive.
  1. Looking at the Recycle Bin, you can see that the deleted folder is still there. You can recover any deleted file by right-clicking it and selecting "Restore." Basically, you can delete files from an external device and recover them on your PC.
Checking Recycle Bin for deleted files.

Tip: learn how to clean your Windows registry and improve your PC's performance.

How to Manage and Disable Recycle Bin on an External Drive

You can tweak some settings to get a better user experience. First, edit the Recycle Bin space limit on every flash drive. Do this when you connect an external device. Alternatively, you can rely on Windows's automatic settings that set a limit based on the disk's space.

  1. Go to your desktop, right-click the Recycle Bin icon, and select "Properties."
Clicking on "Properties" option under Recycle Bin.
  1. Select the external drive. You can set the space limit, which restricts the volume of disk space that can be used to store deleted files and can also opt whether to confirm before deleting.
Setting space limit in Recycle Bin.
  1. Display the Recycle Bin system folder inside the flash drive by returning to the flash drive in File Explorer, clicking the three-dot icon at the top, then "Options."
Accessing "Options" from File Explorer.
  1. Navigate to the "View" tab, untick the "Hide protected operating system files" setting, then click "OK."
Disable "Hide protected operating system files" in Folder Options window.
  1. The Recycle Bin folder will now be visible. Keep in mind that this option will let you see the system folders everywhere (which are different from the standard hidden folder), so you may need to disable it until needed.
  2. It's worth noting that opening the Recycle Bin from the flash drive directory will lead you to the main Recycle Bin, not just the deleted files on the flash drive.
Viewing Recycle Bin folder in removable drive.
  1. Finally, if you need to disable the flash drive's Recycle Bin, you must return to the Registry Editor and delete the "RecycleBinDrive" value we made earlier. Don't forget to recover any deleted files before that.
Deleting "RecycleBinDrive" key via Registry Editor.
  1. Keep in mind that when you delete a folder or file and remove the flash drive from the device, the folder will disappear from the Recycle Bin. However, it will reappear when you reconnect it to your device or any other PC that has the registry edited.

FYI: need to create a bootable flash drive? Create one easily with Rufus.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I restore deleted files?

If you deleted the file by pressing the Del button, you can quickly restore it from the Recycle Bin. However, if you have permanently deleted it, you can use file recovery software for Windows. Note that restoring permanently deleted files from an SSD can be notably more complex.

How can I permanently delete files on Windows?

You can select the file and press Shift + Del to delete any file or folder permanently. However, technically speaking, the file is still there, and anyone can recover it using specific software or tools. To ensure that the file you deleted is wiped clean, you can use free tools like Permadelete that delete the file and make it impossible (at least for individuals) to recover by rewriting over its passes to remove the traces.

How can I show the Recycle Bin on the desktop?

If the Recycle Bin isn't visible on the desktop, launch the Settings app by pressing Win + I, navigate to "Personalization → Themes → Desktop Icon Settings," and tick the "Recycle Bin" option.

Can I delete the Recycle Bin folder completely?

No. However, you can right-click it and select "Properties -> Don't Move Files to Recycle Bin, Remove Files Immediately." This will disable the Recycle Bin functionality and make any deletion process a permanent one. Moreover, you can hide it from the desktop through the Desktop Icons Settings.

Image credit: Pexels, Flaticon. All screenshots by Mustafa Ashour.

Mustafa Ashour

Mustafa is a tech content writer who's a geek at heart. His passion lies in writing about technology, especially software-related topics. He's also interested in digital marketing, business development, and entrepreneurship. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Accounting and Finance.

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