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.

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