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The Recycle Bin is a convenient safety net for accidental deletions. The cost is low, and the value can be very high. But it's not required.

I see lots of people stressing because they've accidentally deleted their recycle bin icon. But, really, do I even need a recycle bin? Does it perhaps slow my computer down?

Windows Vista made it very easy to accidentally delete your recycle bin (but it's easy to fix). But you raise a good point: is that necessarily a bad thing?

The fact is, you don't actually need a recycle bin. It's there solely as a convenience. You may want it, but you can live without it too.

Let's take a closer look at exactly what the recycle bin is and how it works. Maybe you'll decide you don't even need it.

The recycle bin is nothing more than a safety net. That's all. It serves exactly one purpose: to help you recover from situations where you do something you wish you hadn't.

Something like deleting a file.

It turns out that deleting a file by accident is very common. We all do it from time to time. In fact we do it in the real world as well ... how often have you gone fishing through your garbage can or bin of paper to be recycled to retrieve something you threw away by accident?

It's that behavior that the Windows Recycle Bin attempts to mimic. When you delete a file in Windows Explorer that file is not actually deleted, it's moved to the Recycle Bin. That way, if you later decide you didn't mean to do what you just did, you can search for that file within the Recycle Bin and move it back.

"The recycle bin is nothing more than a safety net."

Now, the Recycle Bin is not without its limitations:

  • It's of fixed size. The Recycle Bin typically has a certain amount of disk space assigned to it to hold the files you deleted. Once it fills up it automatically and permanently deletes the oldest deletions to make room for the newest.

  • It's of fixed size. If you try to delete files that are larger than that size, you'll get a warning that the file(s) won't fit and will not be placed in the Recycle Bin.

  • It's not always used. If you delete a file from within the Windows Command Prompt, for example, the file is deleted permanently, bypassing the Recycle Bin. Similarly, if you delete files from within applications, they may, or may not, use the Recycle Bin.

  • It's not always there. The Recycle Bin is not present on "removable media" like USB thumbdrives, nor is it present when you access a drive across a network.

  • It's not related to your email. While your email program may have a Recycle Bin folder alongside your inbox or other mail folders, this is totally unrelated to the Windows Recycle Bin. The Recycle Bin in your email is provided by, and implemented by, your specific email program, and thus follows whatever rules that email program chooses to give it.

You can bypass the Recycle Bin manually by holding down the SHIFT key when you delete a file in Windows Explorer. When you do this the file is permanently removed.

So, do you need the Recycle Bin? Well, that's up to you. If you rarely make mistakes deleting files, or are thoroughly backed up, then perhaps you don't need it at all. As I said, it's certainly not required.

On the other hand, and to address the second part of your question, the Recycle Bin has very little cost. Moving a file to the Recycle Bin is in most cases just as fast as actually deleting it, so there's no practical speed impact. The number of files or size of the Recycle Bin also has no appreciable impact on the speed of deletion.

The only actual tangible impact of the Recycle Bin is disk space. By default the Recycle Bin is allowed to use up to 10% of your disk space. You can adjust this size, as well as turn off the Recycle Bin completely, by right clicking on the Recycle Bin icon in Windows Explorer or the one on your desktop, and clicking on Properties.

(By the way, if you do lose or remove your Recycle Bin desktop icon, remember that you can always still access the Recycle Bin through Windows Explorer if you'd prefer not to restore the icon.)

Naturally, you can also empty your Recycle Bin by right clicking on it and selecting Empty Recycle Bin, which will free up the disk space used immediately. Naturally, as long as the Recycle Bin is enabled, it will once again begin to grow as you delete files until it takes up its configured maximum allotment.

Is it worth it?

Well, I'll put it this way: I rarely delete things by accident (anymore Smile), and in reality have little use for the Recycle Bin. And yet, I leave it enabled. It costs next to nothing, and it's handy on the off chance that I screw up and its safety net can save me.

Article C3596 - December 20, 2008 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Deyaa Addeen Fahmy Shedeed
December 23, 2008 11:47 AM

I think it is important anyway.

Tony Martin
December 23, 2008 11:56 AM

I don't remember ever recovering anything from the recycle bin and I have been using PC's since my first 286.

April 26, 2011 3:08 PM

I have read the article and more, but I still want to know why I lost ALL the contents of my recycle bin (not just the older ones) - it just took everything (old and recent) and left only .bak files of all my e-mail folders, which I'd deleted several weeks ago from My Documents. Hundreds of photos had been deleted from My Pictures much later than those .bak files and they're gone. Properties shows I have 27% disc space. My question is why did it take all the deletions of photos and documents and not just take the oldest to make room for the newest? And yet leave backups of email folders which were deleted long before the photos? The reason I am bothered is because I was moving photos out of My Pictures onto another computer to sort them before transferring to an online site. Being careful not to duplicate I deleted some of them from My Pictures as I did this - but then I planned on going back to the photos to get the captions off. It couldn't all be done at once. I'd been doing this for 2 wks and it was going great until this empty bin appears. I feel it should have taken the e-mail backups and left many of the recent documents.

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