How to Recover Deleted Files from Trash on Mac

It might seem impossible to recover files from Trash on Mac. But it's not! We will show you several methods for recovering data from the Trash including the use of data recovery software. With the Disk Drill data recovery app getting your lost data back is a matter of a few clicks and just several minutes. Moreover, it's free to completely scan and find your trashed data, even if your Trash was emptied. macOS Sonoma Ready!

Trash on Mac
How to Recover Deleted Trash on Mac

Check out our article Variables That Impact File Recovery Chances to better understand your chances of successfully being able to recover deleted trash on Mac OS X. If you only emptied your trash a short while ago and you did NOT use the “secure empty trash” function, then your chances are good.

Read on for a quick overview of the steps needed to recover Recycle Bin on Mac. For detailed tutorials, see How to Install Disk Drill and How to Recover Lost Files from Your Mac Internal Hard Drive in our Knowledgebase.

Quickly Restore Recently Deleted Files from the Trash on Mac

Recently deleted files typically end up in the Mac Trash folder, where they stay until the folder is emptied.

To recover deleted files from the Trash on Mac:

  1. Click the Trash icon in the Dock.
  2. Find the deleted files and select them.
  3. Right-click any selected file and choose the Put Back option.

Once you click the Put Back option, all selected files will be immediately moved back to their original locations. If you would rather move them someplace else, then you can click & drag them to any folder you want.

Quickly Restore Recently Deleted Files from the Trash on Mac

Steps to Recover Deleted Files from an Emptied Trash on Mac

1. Download and Install Disk Drill

If you haven’t already, download and install the completely free Disk Drill Basic. To install, simply drag and drop the Disk Drill icon to your Applications folder.

Download and Install Disk Drill

2. Scan for Files Deleted from Trash

Launch Disk Drill and when the main window appears, select your hard drive and click Search for lost data. This will scan your hard drive and attempt to recover files deleted from trash on Mac OS X.

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mac trash recovery

3. Review Found Files

After the scan is complete, Disk Drill will show you the list of files it has found. Sometimes the recovered files do not have their original names preserved, so you can filter your results by date, size and type. Click the “eye” icon to preview the files right in Disk Drill.

Be sure to preview the entire file to make sure it is complete and uncorrupted. There is a good chance you will be able to recover emptied trash on Mac.

How to recover deleted files on Mac

recover empty trash mac

4. Recover the Deleted Trash on Mac OS X

When you find the files you need, check the box next to them and click Recover. Disk Drill will walk you through the file recovery steps.

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how to recover files deleted from recycle bin mac

5. Set Up Guaranteed Recovery

When you successfully recover the emptied trash on Mac, you will want to prevent it from happening again. The best way to do this is to use Disk Drill’s Guaranteed Recovery feature. Guaranteed Recovery monitors your Mac’s trash folder, and makes an invisible copy of any file you send to the trash.

This way you always have a copy – even after you emptied the trash. Simply install Disk Drill on your Mac’s hard drive and then follow the instructions in How to Use Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery to activate it. After that you will never have to worry about recovering deleted files from your Mac trash again.

Recover lost data from FAT, NTFS, HFS+, etc.

how to recover deleted trash on mac

Mac Trash Recovery for Different Data Loss Situations

Mac Trash data loss can have a number of different causes, with each having a different solution or solutions. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Emptied Trash

Emptied Trash

When you empty the Trash folder, all files that were stored inside become permanently deleted, recoverable only with the help of data recovery software like Disk Drill.

Storage device formatting

Storage device formatting

Despite its special status, the Trash folder doesn’t survive storage device formatting, which means that you need to scan the formatted device using data recovery software if you want to retrieve your data.

Malware infection

Malware infection

When your Mac becomes infected with malware, it may be impossible to open the Trash folder, let alone retrieve files from it. To fix the issue, you should first address the malware infection using reliable anti-malware software.

Physical damage

Physical damage

It can be extremely difficult to recover data from a physically damaged storage device. In most cases, it’s best to send the device to data recovery professionals and let them recover your data for you.

File system issues

File system issues

File system corruption may cause files to become impossible to open. Fortunately, macOS comes with a feature called First Aid, and you can use it to fix file system errors and restore access to your data.

Permanent deletion

Permanent deletion

It’s possible to delete files on macOS while skipping the Trash folder. Such files immediately become permanently deleted and recoverable only using data recovery software.

The Reason it is Possible to Recover Emptied Trash on a Mac

Once you have emptied your Mac’s Trash Can your recovery options are limited. The only reliable ways to recover from an emptied Trash Can on a Mac are:

Methods to Recover Trash on a Mac without Software


Use the Undo command

🏆 Best for: Files that were deleted a few moments ago.

If you accidentally delete a file or folder, using the undo command immediately can get it back. On your Mac, the Command-z keystroke combination undoes your last command and will undelete your files. This command will NOT undo the emptying of the Trash Can. Once you empty the Trash, you cannot undo the procedure.

Use the Undo command

How to Recover Files from the Trash on Mac

🏆 Best for: Recently deleted files.

We will look at the details of using specific methods to recover data from your Mac’s Trash.

How to recover the Trash on Mac:

  1. Open the Trash Can by clicking on its icon.
  2. Locate the items you wish to recover.
  3. Drag the files out of the Trash to the desktop or another folder.
  4. Alternately, select an item, right-click, and choose Put Back.
how to recover trash on mac

Recover with a Time Machine backup

🏆 Best for: Permanently deleted files that have been backed up.

  1. Connect the storage media that contains the Time Machine backup to your Mac.
  2. Open a window displaying the folder which last contained the deleted file.
  3. Open Time Machine by clicking on the clock icon on Mac’s menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.
  4. Locate the items and version you want to restore from within Time Machine.
  5. Select an item to recover and press the Spacebar to preview it.
  6. Click Restore to recover the selected file or folder.
recover emptied trash mac

Restore from another type of backup

🏆 Best for: Files not included in Time Machine backups.

You may have decided on another backup solution rather than using Mac’s Time Machine feature. If this is the case, you can recover files deleted from the Trash using your backup media by following the steps for your particular backup solution. A good solution is to use Disk Drill to create a byte-level backup of your system which includes deleted files that can be recovered. Here’s how to recover from a Disk Drill backup.

  1. Connect the storage media that holds the backup to your Mac.
  2. Launch Disk Drill.
  3. Select the DMG file created during the backup process from the disk list.
  4. Click the Recover button to start recovering data from the backup media.
mac trash recovery

Use a data recovery service

🏆 Best for: Files located on physically damaged storage devices.

A data recovery service may be able to recover files after the Trash has been emptied. Here’s what to expect if you need to engage a recovery service to get your data back.

  1. Use Google to locate a reputable recovery service. You may find one that is located near you, but you want reliability over convenience in this case. We highly recommend using the CleverFiles Data Recovery Center.
  2. Contact the recovery service to obtain an estimate on the restore and to get instructions on how to ship the device.
  3. Ship the storage device to the recovery center.
  4. Technicians will use a clean room and sophisticated hardware and software tools to recover your data.
  5. The recovered data will be returned after you pay for the center’s services. Reputable recovery centers will not charge you if the procedure is unsuccessful.
recover empty trash mac

Recover Your Files from an App-Specific Trash Folder

🏆 Best for: Files deleted from within certain applications.

Some Mac software applications have their own alternatives to the Trash folder. For example, the Photos app has a folder called Recently Deleted, where all deleted photos and videos are placed for a certain amount of time before they become permanently deleted.

  1. Open the Photos app.
  2. Select the Recently Deleted folder.
  3. Choose every photo you want to recover.
  4. Click Recover.

Other Mac apps that have an app-specific Trash folder should work similarly, so adapting the steps above to recover lost data from them shouldn’t be a problem for you.

Recover Your Files from an App-Specific Trash Folder

Use the Terminal App to Recover Files from Trash

🏆 Best for: Those who prefer command-line methods.

Since Trash is just a special folder on your hard drive, you can access it from the Terminal app and use readily available file management commands (such as cd, ls, cp, and mv) to recover your files. While cumbersome, this approach may be a real life-saver in situations when accessing the Trash folder using Finder isn’t possible.

  1. Launch the Terminal app.
  2. Enter cd .Trash to navigate to the Trash folder.
  3. Enter ls -la to display the content of the Trash folder (the Terminal app must have Full Disk Access privileges).
  4. Use the move and copy commands to restore your files.
Use the Terminal App to Recover Files from Trash

What to Do Before Emptying the Trash on Mac

Taking a few simple precautions before emptying your Mac’s Trash can save you a lot of time later. Consider following these practices to minimize the possibility that you empty the Trash along with important files that can no longer be recovered.

Verify the items in the Trash before you empty it

Verify the items in the Trash before you empty it

This is a simple activity that shouldn’t take too much time. Glancing at the sites in the Trash may draw your attention to some items that you did not want to delete. You can easily get them out of the Trash and then go ahead and empty it if that’s your plan.

Backup your computer using Time Machine

Backup your computer using Time Machine

It never hurts to take a backup before any activity that can potentially delete data. It might seem like overkill, but why not take a backup before emptying the Trash rather than afterward? You will be able to recover files that were in the Trash at the time of the backup without using recovery software.

Create a byte-level backup with Disk Drill

Create a byte-level backup with Disk Drill

Downloading Disk Drill for free gives you the capability to take a byte-level backup that includes files from an emptied Trash that have not been overwritten. You can use this backup with data recovery software to repair the logical links and make the items accessible to your OS again.

How Does the Mac Trash Folder Work?

When you click the Trash icon in Dock, you don’t actually open any specific Trash folder. Instead, you open an aggregated view of all Trash folders on storage devices connected to your system.

  • The primary Trash folder is located at ~/.Trash.
  • Secondary .Trashes folders are created on external storage devices.

When you delete a file on macOS, the file is moved to a Trash folder, and it will stay there until permanently deleted, which can happen automatically or manually, depending on your settings.

Once a file is permanently deleted from Trash, you can recover it only using specialized data recovery software like Disk Drill and only under certain conditions (the storage devices mustn’t be encrypted, and the file itself must still be physically present on the storage device).

How Does the Mac Trash Folder Work

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on by Disk Drill Team

How can I recover deleted files from the Recycle Bin on Mac for free?

You can recover deleted files from the Mac equivalent of the Recycle Bin folder by clicking the Trash icon in the Dock, selecting your deleted files, and moving them to a safe folder.

How to recover deleted files from an emptied Trash Bin on Mac?

To recover deleted files from an emptied Mac Trash Bin:

  1. Download, install and launch Disk Drill for Mac. Don’t use the disk or partition that contains the Trash Bin.
  2. Select the disk on your Mac where the Trash Bin is located.
  3. Click the Recover button to start scanning the drive for recoverable data.
  4. Choose the files to retrieve from an empited Trash Bin and click the Recover button.

How to restore permanently deleted files from Trash without software?

You can restore permanently deleted files from Trash using Time Machine:

  1. Open Spotlight and use it to launch Time Machine.
  2. Navigate to the location where your permanently deleted files were stored.
  3. Select an older backup that contains the missing files using the timeline on the right.
  4. Select the files you want to recover.
  5. Click the Recover button.

Does emptying the Trash permanently delete files on Mac?

Yes and no. When you empty the Trash, the files are permanently logically deleted from your system. The physical data still exists until it is overwritten and can be recovered with data recovery software or a data recovery service.

How do I undo sending a file to the Trash on Mac?

You can undo sending a file to the Trash folder on Mac by pressing the Command-Z shortcut. Know that you can press the shortcut multiple times to reverse more actions.

Where is the Trash on Mac?

The Trash icon is located on the far right of your Mac’s dock.

Where do deleted files go after emptying Trash?

Deleted files remain in their original location after you empty the Trash. The space they occupied is marked as available for use by the operating system and will eventually be overwritten by new data.

How can you recover photos after emptying Trash?

You can recover photos after emptying Trash using data recovery software like Disk Drill:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill data recovery software on your computer.
  2. Launch the software and select the drive or partition where the deleted photos were located.
  3. Click the "Search for lost data" button to begin a scan of the selected drive or partition.
  4. Once the scan is complete, preview the recoverable files and select the deleted photos you want to recover.
  5. Click the "Recover" button to save the selected photos to a new location on your computer.

What if you can't find Trash on a Mac?

If your Trash Can has disappeared from your Mac’s Dock, you can try this method of recovering it.

  1. Navigate to HD > Users > Your Account > Library > Preferences.
  2. In this folder, locate, and move the file to the Desktop.
  3. Restart your computer.

How to recover deleted files from Trash using Terminal command?

If you have not already emptied the Trash Bin you can use the Terminal application to recover deleted files. Use this procedure:

  1. Open the utilities application.
  2. Enter the cd .Trash command.
  3. Type ls to display the files that are in the Trash Bin.
  4. Use the mv "filename" ../ command to move the designated file from the Trash to the current folder.

How to undelete files from the Trash to original locations?

Follow these steps to restore files from the Trash to their original locations:

  1. Click on the Trash Bin icon to review its contents.
  2. Locate the file or files that you would like to restore.
  3. Right-click on the items to be restored.
  4. Select Put Back from the menu to return the file to its original storage location.

Is there a Trash Bin on my external drive?

Yes, there is a Trash Bin on your external drive. There is a hidden folder in the root directory of every drive named .Trash. Your system’s Finder settings can be modified to allow you to view the hidden folder. The Trash Bin located on an external drive can be used to restore recently deleted files through the command-line interface.

Disk Drill is an excellent tool for recovery from trash on Mac OS X

Use Deep Scan to be efficient even in the situations when almost no file structure is left. Even if the files were moved to Trash quite some time ago Disk Drill will apply its best knowledge of file signatures to locate the correct ones and bring them back to life. Files like XLS, DOC, AVI, MP4, JPG, and others are pretty easy to recover from emptied Trash on Mac when the needed signatures are found.

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