On a Windows 98 or Win95 PC, the familiar desktop Recycle Bin reflects the contents of the C:\Recycled folder. Since Windows NT that folder has been renamed to C:\Recycler. Apparently, when a PC is upgraded from Win9x to Windows XP, Windows 2000, or NT, the Recycle Bin points to the newly created C:\Recycler folder, but the old C:\Recycled folder remains on the drive.

If you use Windows Explorer to peek at the leftover C:\Recycled folder on an upgraded machine, you'll notice that it's basically empty. Seeing is believing, right? Well, my friends, don't believe it. To see what's actually in that folder, you need to install an old DOS file manager such as Stereo Shell (STS) or XTree and navigate to C:\Recycled. (You can find STS or XTree by searching the Internet. To find STS, search for sts_410.zip.) There you'll find directories with names such as DC1 and many .lnk files in those directories. Using a DOS editor on those .lnk files might provide some interesting historical information. You might also find some equally attention-grabbing .htm, .jpg, .wav, or .avi files. On one PC I worked on recently, I found 170 files in 150 directories left in the C:\Recycled folder after an upgrade. Those files totaled more than 52MB.

At this point, you can use the DOS file manager to delete the files and folders in C:\Recycled. Finish up by deleting the C:\Recycled directory itself. After deleting the files and folders, you might want to dump the Recycle Bin.

If you don't want to download and use an old DOS file manager, you can follow this alternative course of action:

  1. Select Run under the Start menu. Type cmd

    then click OK. You should receive a command-shell window that takes you to the C:\Documents and Settings\YourName folder, where YourName is your username.

  2. Type cd\

    then press Enter, which takes you to the C:\ folder.

  3. Type cd recycled

    then press Enter, which takes you to the C:\Recycled folder.

  4. To obtain a list of the folders in C:\Recycled, type attrib -s -r -h * /s /d

    and press Enter. The Attrib command displays or changes the attributes of files and folders. In this command, we're using the -s switch to unset the system file attribute, the -r switch to unset the read-only file attribute, and the -h switch to unset the hidden file attribute. The asterisk (*) is a wildcard character that tells Attrib to search for folders with any name, and the /s option tells Attrib to include subfolders. The /d option tells Attrib to list the attributes of the folders and subfolders found. Incidentally, you can run the command

    attrib /?

    to get a complete list of Attrib's switches and options.

  5. To obtain a list of the files in C:\Recycled, type attrib -s -r -h *.* /s /d

    and press Enter. The *.* is a wildcard sequence that tells Attrib to search for files with any name. If you want to determine the size of those files, you can use the command

    dir *.* /s

    To delete those files and folders, you can use the Del command. However, do so with great care. At this low level of the directory tree, it's easy to make a mistake and run a command such as

    C:\ del *.*

    which would effectively incapacitate the PC. For this reason, I highly recommend using a DOS file manager rather than the Del command to remove the files and folders.

Remember that these procedures are for XP, Win2K, or NT. They're not for Win9x.