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Permanently delete files on macOS, iOS, Windows, and Android

If you think that after hitting delete your files are gone for good from your smartphone or computer, think again. You don’t even need to be an IT whiz either to find files on your devices that were supposedly deleted.

Aside from the fact that files that aren’t permanently deleted gradually accumulate to fill up your device’s storage space and sap its performance, they can also put your online privacy at risk. However, with a tune-up tool like Avira Free Security, you can significantly reduce these negative impacts.

Read on to learn how to permanently delete files from your computer — be that your Windows PC, Mac, or even your Android or iOS device.


Why should you permanently delete files?

Although deleting a file from your computer or mobile device doesn’t mean it’s gone for good, it’s important to do it for numerous reasons.

The most obvious reason is that deleting unnecessary files can help you declutter your computer and mobile devices, making it easier to find the files that matter to you.

Permanently deleting files also frees up space on your hard drive and other storage media — always a good idea if you’re running low on space.

Files are only really removed once you’ve erased them permanently

Simply deleting a file doesn’t permanently remove it from your hard drive. What actually happens in Windows is that the storage space it occupies is simply marked as being overwritable. Strictly speaking, only references to the data in the index, the hard drive’s table of contents, are deleted and the area released for overwriting. However, this area may never be overwritten. The supposedly discarded data remains on the hard drive — you simply can’t access it any longer by regular means.

This means that as long as this file on the storage medium has not been overwritten, the files you actually deleted can be recovered easily using special data recovery tools.

So if you want to ensure that the deleted files cannot be recovered, you should use special deletion methods such as secure erase or consider disk encryption. Alternatively, you can use a tune-up tool like Avira Free Security to give your hard drive a thorough clean up.


Permanently erasing files can improve your online privacy and device security

In terms of data protection, permanently erasing files and data plays a key role in minimizing the risk of data breaches, identity theft, and data misuse.

We therefore highly recommend that you’re aware of and know how to apply the correct deletion procedures, especially if you’re handling confidential or sensitive data.

How do you permanently erase files?

Before we delve into how you permanently erase files on different operating systems (Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS), remember to create a backup in case you need some of the files at a later date.

If you have an iPhone, check out our post for additional tips on how to back up your device.

How to permanently delete files in Windows 11

When you delete your files in Windows, they’re first moved to the Recycle Bin. Really, it’s just like the wastebasket under your desk, which isn’t emptied when you put things in it. In terms of your PC, it means the data is only deleted once you empty the Recycle Bin.

You probably know how to permanently delete files once they’re in your Recycle Bin.

  1. If you’re unsure, here’s how: After sending a file to the Recycle Bin, open the Recycle Bin folder on your desktop.
  2. Then right-click the file (or folder) you want to permanently delete.
  3. Select Delete from the context menu.
  4. In the confirmation window, click Yes to permanently delete the file.

The advantage of using the Shift and Del keys when deleting files or folders is that they’re not moved to the Recycle Bin first, but instead removed directly from the storage medium. This will help you minimize the chances of the file or folder being recovered. Here’s how:

  1. Select the file (or folder) you want to permanently delete.
  2. Press the Shift and Delete keys on your keyboard at the same time.
  3. In the confirmation window, click Yes to permanently delete the file without sending it to the Recycle Bin first.

If you want to be sure that the space is overwritten, simply download some large files via your browser and save them in the folder where the file you deleted was previously stored. Now delete those files. This is how you overwrite this area of the hard drive. It’s a bit more long winded, but it should help — although even with this method, there’s no guarantee that you’ll overwrite the storage locations where the deleted data was located.

In our opinion, it’s much easier and more convenient to use a tune-up tool, such as Avira Free Security for Windows, to clean and tune up your hard drive.


How to permanently erase files on your macOS device

Deleted files on your Mac are only permanently erased once you’ve removed them from the Trash.

If you want to permanently delete files from your Mac, first move them to the Trash in the Dock or select the item and press Command-Delete. If this file is protected, click Continue to confirm that you do indeed want to move it to the Trash.

Then click the Trash icon in the Dock.

  • If you want to empty one item from the Trash, hold down the Ctrl key and click the item you want to delete. Now select Delete Immediately…. In the warning message that appears, click Delete.
  • If you want to empty all the Trash, click Empty at the top right of the Finder window. Alternatively, click the Finder icon in the Dock, then select Finder and then Empty Trash. Once again, press Empty Trash in the warning message that appears.

By the way, files you move from iCloud Drive to the Trash are automatically removed after 30 days, regardless of your Finder preferences.

Speaking of which: You should regularly treat even powerful Apple computers to a Mac clean-up as it’s an efficient way to improve your device’s performance.


How to permanently delete files from iPhone and iPad

Experts consider Apple smartphones to be so secure that even the FBI is said to have problems accessing encrypted data. That’s because iPhones and iPads come with encrypted storage as standard, ensuring their storage space is automatically filled to the brim with random data.

On iPhone, you can permanently delete individual files, such as photos or documents, to ensure they cannot be recovered.

How to permanently delete photos:

  1. Open the Photos app on your iPhone.
  2. Select a photo to delete.
  3. Tap the Trash icon at the bottom of the screen.
  4. In the confirmation message, tap Delete Photo to permanently remove this file from your iPhone.

How to permanently delete files in other iPhone apps:

Many apps on the iPhone, such as Notes, Files, or Mail, allow you to save and manage files — or even permanently delete them from your iPhone. Here’s how:

  1. Open the app where the file is saved.
  2. Search for the file you want to delete.
  3. Press and hold the file until a context menu appears.
  4. Select the Delete option or the Trash icon to permanently remove the file.

To empty the Recently Deleted album:

If you’ve deleted photos or videos, you may find them in the Recently Deleted album. These files will be permanently deleted after 30 days.

  1. If you want to make sure these files are removed immediately, first open the Recently Deleted album.
  2. Tap Select in the top right corner.
  3. Select the files you want to delete.
  4. Now tap Delete and confirm the action.

You’ve probably noticed that your iPhone or iPad has slowed down over time — but a regular clean up can restore its zip again.


How to permanently delete files from your Android device

Android devices don’t have a central trash folder where all your deleted files end up. That said, you can still erase the deleted items for good in the Gallery and Messages apps. All files in the trash folder will be deleted automatically after 30 days without you needing to do anything.

Here’s how to permanently delete files from the Gallery app on Android 13:

  1. First tap the Gallery app, then tap the folder containing the files you want to delete. Now tap Edit.
  2. Select all the files you want to delete and tap the trash icon.
  3. Then go back to the Gallery app home screen, tap More options (the icon with the three bars on the bottom right), and select Trash.
  4. Finally, tap More options (the icon with the three dots on the top right) followed by Empty and confirm this action.

By the way, the optimizer included in Avira Antivirus Security for Android — which you can find at the bottom of the screen under the Performance menu item — makes it easy for you to erase large files forever, plus a whole bunch more.


Additional privacy tips

When it comes to data protection, permanently deleting files plays a key role — especially in terms of protecting your confidential or personal information. Here’s a summary of the key takeaways:

  • Preventing unwanted access:
    If you don’t permanently delete files, but only move them to the recycle bin/trash or remove them using the operating system’s delete function, the data will still be present on the storage medium. As long as the data is not overwritten, it can potentially be recovered by someone else — be it a malicious person or using data recovery software. By deleting it, you can ensure that your data is no longer accessible and others can’t access your confidential information.
  • Protecting against identity theft:
    Cybercriminals can use your personal information (such as social security numbers, banking information, or passwords) to commit identity theft. Permanently deleting files ensures that such sensitive information is not left unprotected on your device, helping you reduce the risk of identity theft.
  • Complying with data protection guidelines:
    Data protection laws and regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), introduced in the European Union in 2018, require companies and organizations to ensure they put adequate safeguards in place to protect people’s personal data. This also includes appropriate measures for secure data deletion. If sensitive data is not properly deleted and falls into the wrong hands, there can be significant legal consequences for the organization concerned.

Check out our blogpost on the topic of data protection and data security on the internet (2023) for more info [link in German].


This post is also available in: GermanFrenchItalian

Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.
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