After you’ve deleted a file, it’s sometimes possible to recover it. Here’s how to get rid of your unwanted data for good.
When you delete a file from your Android phone, it remains in the storage until it is overwritten by new data. This used to be a serious privacy worry because it meant that data recovery software might recover erased files.
All Android phones are encrypted by default since Android 6 (Marshmallow), prohibiting recovery tools from accessing their contents. However, if you’re still worried about sensitive files slipping into the wrong hands, we’ll show you how to permanently remove your deleted data.
1. Erase Sensitive Files From SD Cards
There are a couple of options for deleting a private file that is stored on an SD memory card rather than your phone‘s internal storage.
Go to Settings > Storage > SD card first. Find the file you want to delete and delete it. However, because this does not render the card unrecoverable, you may wish to format it as well. This will delete the phone‘s data completely, so make sure you transfer any files you want to keep to your phone first.
Choose Storage options from the three-dot menu in the top-right corner. To clean and format the card, select Format, then touch Erase & Format or Format SD card.
2. Delete Items Using a File Manager
The worst place on your Android phone to delete a confidential file is from within the app. This puts the item at danger of being moved to the Trash or Bin folder instead of being permanently deleted or remaining as a synced cloud copy.
Unless you manually empty its trash, the Google Photos app, for example, saves deleted photographs and videos for 60 days. Even if you choose Delete from device to avoid this, stuff will stay in your Google account.
Using a file explorer or file manager tool to permanently delete sensitive information is a far better solution. For Android, there are a slew of free file explorers, including Google’s own Files app.
Select the item in your file explorer. Then, tap the trash button or press the three-dot menu and choose Delete. Confirm you understand deletion can’t be undone and tap Delete again. This is how you should delete your files on Android.
3. Erase Data With a File Shredder
Consider installing a file shredder if your phone‘s encryption doesn’t guarantee that destroyed files can’t be recovered, or if you’re using an older version of Android. This will safely wipe any “free” space on your device that might still hold deleted data.
File shredders such as iShredder, Shreddit, and Data Eraser offer a choice of shredding algorithms. This lets you decide how many times the data is overwritten with random characters. Each overwrite is known as a “pass” or “cycle,” and the more passes, the slimmer the chance deleted data can be retrieved.
You’ll need to grant these apps permission to access your files (and optionally your contacts, which we wouldn’t recommend), but they won’t shred anything without asking you for confirmation.
Wipe Free Space Using Data Eraser
- Tap Freespace on the home screen (be careful not to choose Complete Erase!) and select Internal Storage. The app will calculate how much free space to wipe.
- Tap Continue and choose a shredding algorithm. NATO Standard and BSU TL-0342, which perform seven and eight passes, respectively, are the most thorough. However, they also take a long time.
- Confirm you want to proceed, and Data Eraser will wipe all available free space on your phone so that files you’ve deleted can’t be recovered.
- Your phone will be slow while the wiping process is in progress. You can abandon it at any time by opening the notification at the top of your screen and tapping Cancel.
4. Restore Your Phone to Factory Settings
A factory reset is the most extreme approach to permanently remove private files. Because this will remove all of the data on your phone, it’s better to use it before selling or recycling it. Any Android data you want to keep should be backed up first.
To ensure that data cannot be recovered after a factory reset, double-check that your phone is encrypted. Tap Encryption & credentials under Settings > Security > Advanced. If the option isn’t already enabled, select Encrypt phone.
After that, navigate to Settings > System > Advanced > Reset options. Press Delete all data after selecting Erase all data (factory reset).