How to Recover Deleted Files Emptied from Trash on a Mac

Mac Trash Recovery
If you have an Apple computer you know how easy they are to use and how helpful they can be for a wide variety of personal and professional tasks. These computers make it a breeze to create anything from word processing documents to spreadsheets alongside creative endeavors like audio and video production.

As easy as it is to create these types of files, it’s also just as easy to delete them by dragging them into the trash can.

Most Mac users know that files sent to the trash are not permanently deleted initially. Files can sit in the trash for a number of days or weeks before you go in and click on the Empty Trash button. But what happens if you have deleted your files from the trash bin only to find out that you need them back?

empty Trash Mac

There are indeed a few ways you can go about recovering these files so let’s take a look at how to recover any deleted files from an emptied trash on a Mac.

Why Files Get Sent to the Trash

File deletion is similar to file creation, you get rid of things on your computer when you no longer need them. As easy as it is for our modern machines to allow us to create documents and files, it’s just as easy to get rid of these files in a few simple clicks. If you have a laptop computer, you also know that storage space is limited and deleting files can free up precious room for new data and information of whatever variety you need.

Mac users will be familiar with the drag and drop into the trash bin features that make it so easy to clean up and remove files. There are also key commands that will send a file of your choosing to the trash bin in a flash. Once these files are sent to the trash, they are stored in this place until the trash bin is emptied. You might have a pretty full trash can or you might be used to emptying it on a regular basis.

Where is Trash on Mac?

Like Recycle Bin for Windows PCs, Mac computer use Trash to recycle unwanted files you delete. In case you are new to the macOS world, the Trash app can be found at the right-hand end of the Dock (similar to Windows taskbar, which is located at the bottom of the display, of course, Dock can be moved to the side). Click on the Trash icon and you’ll be able to see the contents in it.

It’s funny that the Trash app icon actually changes a little bit, depending on whether it’s empty or contains some files.

How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac?

macOS allows you to directly drag and drop a file or an app to the Trash (unless those items are read-only), or you can do so by right-clicking and selecting “Move to Trash” from the menu. To restore those files, you simply go to the Trash. Select them and right-click “Put Back” option to bring them back to their original location.

What Happens When Files are Emptied from Mac Trash?

If you have recently emptied the trash bin on your Mac, you might be thinking that these files are gone forever. That actually isn’t the case as the location in which this file data was stored on your computer’s system is simply removed from its accessible location. The file itself is not completely removed initially and that is why it is even possible to recover files after they have been deleted from the trash.

If your Mac is equipped with a traditional spinning hard drive (HDD), when you delete files from Trash, empty Trash, or use other means to erase the files — what happens is that the space your trashed file used to occupy is now released and available to be written over.

Information such as the real data, file size, location, etc. associated with your files remains 100% intact, provided that there are no new writing activities. However, the space marked as free can be re-used by any new data you generate on the hard drive if the file system tells that old space needs to be reused.

That means if you continue using your Mac or save additional files (especially large ones) to the same hard drive, it’s possible that your old files can be overwritten thus become unrecoverable. However, it often takes quite some time for that to happen, considering modern hard drives usually have a large volume.

How to Recover Deleted Files Emptied from Trash Mac

Method 1: Use the Terminal app

The Terminal on your computer is like a command center that you can access to directly instruct your computer to perform a variety of tasks. If you are familiar with coding or computers on more than a basic level, you are probably familiar with the terminal on a Mac. It’s not always possible to recover files using this method but it’s a good place to start. To use the Terminal to recover deleted files emptied from the trash, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Finder on your Mac
  2. Click on Applications
  3. Click on Utilities
  4. Click on Terminal
  5. The Terminal window will now open and you can type in commands. Type mv the name of deleted file../
  6. Hit the return key
  7. Type Quit
  8. Go back to the Finder
  9. Type in the name of the deleted file in the search bar and it should appear
  10. Click on the recovered file and be sure to save it

Method 2: Check Any External Devices

Another way you can recover deleted files emptied from the trash is by looking through hidden folders created when you use an external device. If you use an external hard drive or SD card to back up any of your files, this is another option. If you don’t use any of these devices, you won’t be able to use this method.

When you use an external device, your Mac computer will automatically create hidden folders. You can sometimes locate your deleted file in a .Trashes folder and not in the actual trash bin on the computer itself. To locate these files and then recover them you will again access the terminal.

Open the Finder app on your Mac

  1. Click on Applications
  2. Click on Utilities
  3. Click on Terminal
  4. The Terminal window will now open and you can type in commands. Type defaults write com.app.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE hit the return key and then type killall Finder
  5. This will show you all of the hidden files and you can locate your deleted file within the .Trashes folder

Method 3: Recover Trashed Files via Time Machine Backups

If you back up your Mac on a regular basis, chances are you could get those files back from your latest Time Machine backup provided that the deletion happened after the backup.

Things you need include your Mac, the external hard drive that contains Time Machine backups, and a bit of time. This Apple support article has a step by step tutorial. If you prefer watching video tutorials, here’s one that looks great.

Method 4: Mac Trash Recovery Software

A third option and one that is sometimes the best choice is to use data recovery software to locate and recover your deleted file or files. If you have tried the steps above and have not been able to recover the missing files, recovery software may be your only real option. It’s also a good choice if you feel like you are not that computer savvy and what a step by step method to locate and recover your files instead of using the Terminal as listed above.

There are many different data recovery software available on the market and they all offer similar capabilities in recovering lost or deleted files of many types on different devices.

We recommend using Stellar Mac Data Recovery, one of the most powerful data recovery tools out there that could rescue many kinds of files from Mac machines as well as external hard drives. It’s the best alternative to use when Time Machine fails to restore your data. This application offers a free trial that will help you locate these deleted files quickly and easily, then you decide whether to pay to activate the software to save those files.

Step 1: Get Stellar Mac Data Recovery and install it on your Mac. Launch the app and select the file types to recover and click Next.

Step 2: Select Macintosh HD and click on Scan to continue.

Step 3: Now the software will scan your Macintosh HD for recoverable files. Wait until the scanning process is complete. Preview found items when the scan was complete.

Step 4: Select and recover files you want to get back. Done!

If Stellar doesn’t work out, you may also want to try other Mac data recovery software we’ve reviewed.

Why SSDs Matter?

Update: now that many new Mac machines are loaded with flash storage (SSD), we added this section to make this post more informational.

Because the way an SSD (solid-state drive) manages files is different from that of a spinning HDD. As we said, the data contained in the trashed files won’t be occupied immediately unless it has to. But SSDs always shift files around in a random manner, so to speak.

If you delete a file on your Mac with an SSD inside, the file will be immediately moved off to another random location, which at some point newly generated files can overwrite it very soon. As a result, it’s safe to conclude that once you remove a file out of an SSD, the chance of recovering the file is slim if not impossible — unless you have backups.

To know if your Mac is using an HDD or SSD, click on the Apple logo, then About This Mac > More Info > Hardware > Serial-ATA to find it out.

Final Thoughts

Losing important information is never ideal. If you placed a file in the trash bin on your Mac and deleted it, you probably thought it was gone forever. Luckily, by following the tips and methods above, you stand a chance at recovering those files. It’s good to remember that there is no guarantee that your lost files can be recovered but the only way to find out for sure is by using the tips suggested here.

Have you ever been able to recover a deleted file emptied from your trash bin? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments below.

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