How to Recover or Permanently Delete Files from the Cloud

Cloud services are all basically the same, upload your files, and they sync to other clients connected to it. Sometimes accidents still happen and the wrong files are deleted. Luckily, deleted files aren’t always gone forever.

There’s a lot of stuff you can do with cloud storage that you couldn’t do even just a few years ago. If you need to clear some space off your local storage, for example, you can offload stuff to your cloud folders. You can also move special folders to the cloud, so they can be easily synced across various devices. Today, however, we want to talk about how to undelete or permanently delete files from the cloud.

There are a lot of cloud storage services nowadays, but the three most prominent names for end users are the offerings from Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. Thus, those are the ones that we tend to cover and will be today.


Dropbox keeps deleted files differently than Google or Microsoft. With Dropbox, there is no Trash or Recycle Bin, instead the files are deleted but aren’t moved from their location. More accurately, the files are simply hidden. Thus, when you want to recover or delete a file permanently, you need to go to the folder from which you deleted them and unhide them.

To do this, you can click the little trash can icon in the upper-right corner. This is the “show deleted files” button.

Alternatively, you can right-click and then choose “show deleted files” from the resulting menu.

Either way, your deleted files will appear in gray and when you select one or several of them, you can right-click once again for further options.

To restore the file or files, click “Restore…” Obviously then, to permanently delete them, you can choose “Permanently delete…” or view and restore “Previous versions” of that file (if they are any).

When you are ready to restore a file, Dropbox will prompt you with a dialog. If there are other versions to view, you can do that before you commit.

Dropbox will keep unlimited versions of your files for up to 30 days, or with Extended Version History, up to one year.

While you may never need to take advantage of Dropbox’s versioning powers, they do come in handy for those rare times when you overwrite a file and want to revert to an older version.

Google Drive

Google Drive sports a much more conventional method of deleting files: Trash. You can delete a file from anywhere on your Drive though it will be technically moved to the Trash.

To restore that file, you’ll first need to click the “Trash” icon on the location sidebar. You might be surprised to see all the files you once thought were gone, still sitting there.

You can select one or several or even all these files and right-click to see a menu with two options to “Restore” or “Delete forever.” Note also, the same two options are available in the upper-right corner as well.

The quickest way to permanently delete all the files in your trash is to click the arrow next to “Trash” above your files. From the drop-down, select “Empty trash.”

That’s how you restore and permanently delete files on Google Drive. Let’s now turn to Microsoft OneDrive, which is similar to its Google counterpart.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft’s OneDrive also moves deleted files instead of actually removing them. In keeping with a Windows’ theme, deleted files can be found in the “Recycle bin.”

The recycle bin is found in the bottom-left corner of the navigation pane.

Once you’ve opened the recycle bin, again you may be a little surprised at just how many files you thought were gone, are still hanging around.

If you wanted at this point to restore them all, you could click “Restore all items” and if you want to permanently delete them all, click “Empty recycle bin.”

On the other hand, if you want to restore or delete certain files, you would check the ones you want and then then your action options will change. You can “Restore” these files, “Delete” them, view their “Properties,” and finally you can clear the selection to start over.

It’s easy to sometimes lose data even when you’re going to pains not to. If you make the mistake of removing data from a local cloud folder without first unsyncing it, then it will be removed from the cloud server and all the attached clients. Accidents happen, so it’s good to know they can be undone if necessary.

Of course, we realize there are quite a few other cloud storage services out there, but this should give you a better idea of how those might allow you to restore or permanently delete files. When all else fails, your cloud service should list a solution in their support section. Either that, or you can search for an answer.

We’d like to hear from you now. If you have something you’d like to add such as a comment or question, please share your feedback with us in our discussion forum.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.