Recover Lost E-Mail Attachment After Editing It

You opened an e-mail attachment from Outlook Express, edited it, and saved it. When you go to open it, it’s gone—nowhere to be found! You’d just spent hours editing that file, and it has vanished without a trace.

To avoid this from happening to you, always save file attachments before opening them to make changes. The right way to proceed is instead of double-clicking the attachment to open it, right-click the attachment, click Save As, and then save the file to a folder on your hard drive. As long as you can remember where you saved the file, it can’t simply disappear.

Once the file is saved, use your word processor (or whatever program you use to edit or view the file) to open the file and edit it. When you are done editing, you can then attach the file to an outgoing e-mail message to send it.

Is there any hope for that file you lost? Maybe. These files are stored in hidden, temporary folders that Outlook often deletes in the course of doing its business. If you’re lucky, the edited file is in one of these temporary folders. You can try one of the following maneuvers to hunt it down:

Go back to the email message that contains the attachment and try to open the attachment. If the file contains your changes, use the program’s File, Save As command to save the file to a permanent folder on your computer, such as My Documents. If the file does not contain your changes, DO NOT save the file; you could end up writing over the file that contains your changes.

If that didn’t work, try this:

  1. Run My Computer by double-clicking its icon on your desktop or on the Start menu.
  2. Click Tools -> Folder Options.
  3. Click the View tab.
  4. Click Show hidden files and folders, and then click OK.
  5. Double-click the icon for the drive on which Windows is installed, which is almost always drive C.
  6. Double-click the Documents and Settings folder.
  7. Double-click the folder for the user name you are logged on as.
  8. Double-click the Local Settings folder.
  9. Double-click the Temporary Internet Files folder.
  10. Click at the end of the entry in the address bar to move the insertion point there, and type \Content.IE5. Your entry in the address bar should look something like this: C:\Documents and Settings\YourUserName\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Settings\Content.IE5
  11. Press Enter.
  12. Double-click each folder in the Content.IE5 folder and look for the file. The files should be listed by name in alphabetical order. It could be in any one of these folders. If you find the file, double-click it to open it, and then use the program in which the file opens to save it to a separate folder on your computer, such as the My Documents folder, so it doesn’t get lost again.

Meet the Author

Joe Kraynak

Author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Computer Basics.

7 comments… add one
  • avatar Liz Jun 25, 2010, 2:08 pm

    Thank you.

  • avatar Malcolm Peel Dec 22, 2011, 7:16 pm


    You instruct me to click on “My Computer.” Regrettably, no such description link bears this name on the Desktop of WINDOWS 7. Have hunted in vain and even done searches for “My Computer.” It did exist in WINDOWS XP but seems to have disappeared in WINDOWS 7.

  • avatar Oded Mar 12, 2012, 4:37 pm

    In Windows 7 you now also need to select ‘show system folders’.

    I posted on my blog the updated step-by-step instructions how to find a lost Word doc that was opened as an attachment:

  • avatar Karen Feridun Feb 24, 2013, 1:42 am

    Oded, you saved my life! I NEVER forget to save an attachment before editing it. Don’t know how I did it this time. THANKS SO MUCH for the instructions you provided. I found it in no time! You’re my hero!

  • avatar mattprior Jul 23, 2014, 5:23 am

    In outlook everything like emails, contacts, calender and the attachments all are stored in same PST file resultant the outlook got corrupt and we loss our data some times, for the space issue we used Attachment Management Software, for the same go to and download Kernel for Attachment Management Software to detach attachments from emails and store them to some specific location and when ever it is required to access the attachment of that emails the program self call the attachment and open it, to know more about Attachment Management Software check the site and download the demo software.

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