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Windows tries to help protect you from accidentally deleting files with the Recycle Bin. How the Recycle Bin appears on disk can be a little confusing.

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 system.

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 needs.

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.

Article C3157 - September 23, 2007 « »

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?

John Chamberlain
September 29, 2007 2:20 AM

Thanks, Leo - answered something that always puzzled me, and as usual, very clearly explained. Now - can you explain what happens with removable drives? They appear to have a RECYCLER folder that has content and one sub-folder per active user, but when you open the folder, it's empty!

LeRoy Laycock
September 29, 2007 8:33 AM

I have a related?, different?, problem. I have a C:\Recycler\NProtect folder with 1.85 GB [42,114 Files] that I cannot delete. Any idea on how to get rid of???

October 3, 2007 8:22 AM

LeRoy: NProtect = Norton Protected Recycle Bin. Empty it from within Norton.

John Chamberlain
October 5, 2007 10:56 AM

Answering my own question - if you use a removable drive on several machines you get one folder per user per machine. You have to delete them manually, or plug the drive back into each PC and empty the Recycle folder on each one.

March 14, 2008 12:19 AM

recycler folder is automatically created in all drives in my computer. that folder was not deleted. that folder is empty.Tell me how to delete that folder

Rodney Howard
April 29, 2008 7:06 PM

When I deleted a folder from Program Files directory, it goes to my recycle bin, but I cannot empty the bin. It just remains there. I cannot restore it or move it either. Even worse, when I delete another file, it goes to the recycle bin but when I do a 'empty recycle bin' neither on disappears. I can only empty the second file by right clicking asnd deleting inside of the recycle bin. I am on Vista.

February 24, 2009 6:34 AM

My anti-virus program disabled my recycler on two of my drives and I am wondering how to repair this. I am not able to access the drives by double clicking on them. I must right click and choose "explore" to view the contents. Pleae tell me how I can correct this problem and is it a serious issue to be concerned about.


March 4, 2009 1:53 AM

iam using one folder in f: drive accidently my folder moved to recycler folder. how can i catch my folder

April 10, 2009 6:00 PM

Something is still not quite clear. On my single-drive XP, "RECYCLER" and "Recycled" are present, TRUE. In my case, the "RECYCLER" has 3 folders with a Trash Bin Icon. If I right-click "Recycled", and look at the properties, it reads 85 bytes, 2 files, 0 folders. However, if I open "Recycled" or any of the 3 folders in "RECYCLER", the contents LOOK identical -- 308 objects, 76.4 MB. And now it gets really complicated...
If I right-click on the Desktop Icon, I have one setting for all Drives, and 970 MB reserved space. If I look look at the properties of each of the 3 folders in "RECYCLER", I get sizes of 885 (no typo) bytes, 323 MB, and 392 MB. The 323 + 392 is the same size as observed when right-clicking/properties of "RECYCLER".
I am the only user on the system. One of the folders in "RECYCLER" is for the Administrator, and one is for me. I don't know who the 3rd (smallest) one is for. I never use the Administrator account... I am the only one creating deletions on the OS.

So I guess my questions are... (1)Why are there 2 recycle bin folders with size approx 1/2 the total? (2)Why is the size of "RECYCLER" only 716 MB instead of 970 MB? (3)Why do I see the same files in ANY of the folders?

May 2, 2009 9:51 PM

I have check my friend's computer, but they have no recycler folder. Only mine got, and it just appear recently. This was cause my computer become much slower than before. So, how to delete the folder? In my thought, this should be a trojan or something..
Thanks a lot

May 12, 2009 8:40 PM

Hi Leo, just like Darren posted his comments, I am also facing the same problem, recently I saw a hidden recycler folder in my C drive and also in my removeable disk (Pen drive). Also I checked in my friend's computer there is no such folder found. I tried to delete the folder it pop's me a message that some programs of my computer will not work. But within some seconds it again get created. I have no idea about folder within computer but there was no such file use to find in Pen drives which I found recently. Please help.

August 24, 2009 9:13 AM

A quick way to empty the recycler is to open a cmd prompt and type

rd /s \Recycler

Windows will re-create the folder next time it is needed. This works for XP, at least. Can't vouch for other Windows versions.

December 21, 2009 3:40 AM

to answer to some of the situations you guys are having (guinea3 and Sreekumar). The fact that there is a recycle folder hidden inside the root of your drives is completely normal depending on how your recycling bin is set to react on those specific drives. Also means it is normal that it keeps coming back every time it needs to. Basically dont even bother with that hidden folder the only time it could bother is if you end up with a recycling worm witch i think is what Sreekumar ended up with. If so you wont be able to access any of your drives even after a virus scan its also spreads to external drives if you are having this problem just email me [email address removed] and il give you the steps to get rid of it. Hope this helps.

April 15, 2010 8:07 AM

I have no recycler folder instead I have $RECYLE.BIN on all the partitions of my folders. I am using Vista and NFTS. I have been trying to delete it but it always recreates itself. So far its empty. But I'm suspicious about it. Is this a legitimate Windows file or a Worm/Trojan/Virus? Norton and Malware have not detected it as such. Pls help. Thanks so much

January 6, 2011 8:35 AM

It's a virus or other kinds. in infected machins every drive contain a folder that known as Recycler. I found it in 3 years ago and start to detecting by bigest Antiviruses. kaspersky, on that time made best result; cleaning and detecting. BBBBUUUUtttt now and reinfecting. I dont know how the best antiviruses cant detect and clean this virus. if you know anything tell me.

Shivam Chauhan
February 4, 2012 4:23 AM

Some say its a virus some say its a system file............besides in xp if you right click on recycle bin and select the option "Donot move deleted to recycle bin" then it will definitely get deleted.......if it is not a virus....
go to cmd type "cd.." two times(with dots)
& then type dir/ah....if u see autorun.inf file in your directory then you are definitely infected...........

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