How to Recover Deleted Desktop Files and Folders in Windows 10

6 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutesThe desktop folder makes our most commonly used files, folders, and applications easily accessible. Many of us move or copy files like images, audio, and documents to the desktop, i.e. they are stored in the desktop folder itself.

No one is immune to data loss, and users may accidentally delete some files from the desktop, or the files may be wiped out because of reasons beyond the user’s control (such as malware and drive corruption). But, it’s still possible to recover deleted desktop files using the steps below.

Where Are Desktop Files Stored?

Usually, the desktop contains icons of applications and games you have installed on your system. But, they’re not stored there, the icons are simply shortcuts, unless you chose the desktop folder as the install location while installing the program. However, other files such as photos, videos, and documents are commonly copied or moved to the desktop and stored there.

Any files copied to the Desktop folder will be visible on the desktop screen on your computer. By default, the Desktop folder can be located at: C:\Users\<username>\Desktop.

It’s important to know where desktop files are stored because it helps you narrow down the data recovery process. You can simply scan for deleted files in the relevant partition instead of scanning the entire storage drive.

How to Change the Desktop Folder’s Location

You can opt to move the Desktop folder to another location as per your convenience. The process is the same for both Windows 10 and Windows 11. Here is a step-by-step tutorial:

  1. Open File Explorer and navigate to C:\Users\<username>\.
  2. Right-click on the Desktop folder and click on Properties.
  3. Click on the Location tab.Desktop folder Properties.
  4. Select the Move option in the window.The Location tab and Move option in Desktop Properties.
  5. Navigate to the address where you want to move the Desktop folder to. Ideally, create a new folder at the location using the CTRL + SHIFT + N shortcut and name it Desktop. Select the folder, then click the Select Folder option.Select folder option.
  6. Windows will move the original Desktop folder’s contents to the selected location.

Reasons Why Desktop Files May Disappear

It is important to know why your desktop files have disappeared, so you can choose an appropriate fix. To make your job easier, we’ve listed a few common reasons why your desktop files disappeared in Windows 10 and the relevant solution for each one:

Reason Description Solution
Hidden Desktop Icons Windows allows users to hide all desktop icons using the View option after right-clicking on the desktop. The files are not deleted, but simply hidden. To recover hidden files on the desktop, simply right-click on the desktop, click on View > Desktop icons. All your desktop icons will now be visible.
Tablet Mode is Enabled If you have a touchscreen device, enabling tablet mode may cause some icons to disappear. Disable tablet mode in Windows 10.
Accidentally Deleted Files and Accidentally Deleted Desktop Folder Users can unknowingly delete important files or the entire desktop directory. You can restore the deleted files from the Recycle Bin, provided they were not permanently deleted. Otherwise, use a data recovery program to get back the files. Full instructions for both methods are in the next section.
Logical Damage to the Storage Drive All storage devices are susceptible to logical damage due to corruption, improper, usage, wear and tear, and malware. This causes files to disappear. Use data recovery programs to recover deleted files from the desktop due to logical damage.
Physical Damage to the Storage Drive Damage to the moving parts of a hard drive or noticeable physical damage to other storage media like SSDs, USB drives, etc. This could be due to shock, power surges, water, etc. Contact a professional data recovery service.

How to Recover Desktop Files in Windows 10

There are three primary ways to recover deleted desktop files in Windows 10. Using the table in the section above, you can determine what method suits your specific scenario.

Method 1: Recover Deleted Desktop Files Using the Recycle Bin

The Recycle Bin temporarily stores deleted files and folders after you delete them from the Desktop or any other folder for that matter. These files can easily be restored using the steps below:

  1. Open Recycle Bin using the desktop icon or Windows Search (Windows + S).
  2. Select the files or folders you want to restore, then right-click on them and choose Restore.The Restore option in Windows Recycle Bin.
  3. The selected files will be moved back to their original location.

Method 2: Recover Desktop Files Using Data Recovery Software

An easy way to recover permanently deleted desktop files, or files deleted due to logical corruption, is to use third-party data recovery programs. But, it is important to choose a program that is capable, and easy to use.

Disk Drill is one such program that offers the perfect blend of advanced features, and ease of use. Windows users also get a free trial that lets them recover up to 500 MB of data for free. Here is how you can recover missing desktop files using Disk Drill:

  1. Download Disk Drill and install the application.
  2. Open Disk Drill, and select the partition that contained the Desktop folder. Click on Search for lost data.Disk Drill's home screen.
  3. Wait for Disk Drill to finish scanning.
  4. Click on Review found items. Alternatively, you can directly click on the file type you want to retrieve, such as Pictures, Videos, etc.The Review found items screen in Disk Drill.
  5. Now, expand the folder trees, until you locate the Desktop folder and click the checkbox to select it. Click on Recover.Recoverable files selection screen in Disk Drill.
  6. Choose a recovery destination for the folder. Click OK.Recovery destination screen in Disk Drill.
  7. Wait for Disk Drill to complete the recovery.
  8. Click on Show recovered data in Explorer to view the recovered Desktop files in Windows Explorer.File recovery complete screen in Disk Drill.

Method 3: Recover Deleted Desktop Files Using Previous Versions/File History

Windows has a backup feature, called Previous Versions, that lets you restore previous versions of a file or folder. You can restore these earlier versions of the folder either from the copies stored in System Restore Points or File History. Here is how you can do the same:

  1. Connect the external storage drive that contains the File History backup.
  2. Open the C:/Users/<username>/ location in Windows Explorer. If your Desktop folder is located elsewhere, open the relevant location.
  3. Right-click on the Desktop folder and click Properties. Click on the Previous Versions tab.
  4. Select the version of the Desktop folder you want to restore and click Restore.Previous versions tab in Desktop Properties.

How to Restore Default Settings for Desktop Folders

Many users report accidentally merging the Desktop folder with another folder, causing unnecessary clutter on their desktop screen. A quick fix for this, is to simply restore the default settings for the Desktop folder, and subsequently copy or move the required files to the desktop.

Here is how to do this:

  1. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to C:/Users/<username> and create a new folder called Desktop.
  2. Now, press Windows Key + R to open the Run application. Type regedit in the text box and hit Enter to open the Registry Editor.Registry Editor in Windows.
  3. In the Registry Editor, go to Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell FoldersUser Shell Folders screen in Windows Registry Editor.
  4. Here, double-click the Desktop entry and change the Value data to C:\Users\<username>\Desktop and click OK.Desktop entry value data option in the Registry Editor.
  5. Close Registry Editor and your Desktop folder will be restored to its default state with only the Recycle Bin icon. You can now copy files and folders to it from the merged folder.