Last updated: Jun. 10, 2017
So you are working on a document on your Mac, or syncing family photos to an external drive. All of a sudden, you realize some files have got accidentally deleted. Maybe you have dragged them to the Trash, maybe you even have emptied Mac Trash.
Now these questions may come to your head: how do I recover or undelete files on Mac? Is it possible to undo Empty Trash option?
Today, we're here to address your puzzles. In this guide, we are going to show you everything related to Mac Trash recovery.
Where is Trash on Mac?
Like Recycle Bin for Windows PCs, Macs have Trashcan to recycle unwanted files you intend to delete. In case you are new to the Mac OS X (now macOS since Sierra) world, the Trash 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.
Fun fact — the Trash icon actually changes a little bit, depending on whether it's empty or contains some files.
How to recover deleted files on Mac?
To delete files or apps, most of the time macOS allows you to directly drag and drop them 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. Very simple, right?
What if I have deleted the files from Trash?
Sometimes in order to clean up your Mac to release more free storage, you may have deleted several files in Trash or have clicked "Empty Trash" or use other methods to get rid of files such as Command + Del.
In this situation, common sense tells us the files are removed permanently. The truth is, however, they may not.
What do I mean? I'll explain later.
Can I undo Empty Trash on Mac?
No, there is no such reverse option available on macOS. Once you click Empty Trash, Apple (the company invented Macs) assumes you know what you intend to do — get rid of something, so there is no point designing another "undo" or "undelete" feature. Sounds reasonable, right?
But, that does not mean your files are lost for good. Because you can still restore them by using Time Machine or a third-party recovery utility (see review here) which we'll cover later. Though it is not 100% guarantee that you'll be able to retrieve them due to the nature of data loss, the chance is often high provided that you act as quickly as possible.
Why is it possible to recover trashed files?
If your Mac is equipped with a traditional spinning hard drive (HDD), when you delete files from Trash, empty Trashcan, or use other means to erase the files — what happens is that the space the trashed data originally occupies is now released and available for reusing. Information such as the real data, file size, location, etc. associated with your files are still 100% intact, provided that there are no new writing activities.
However, the space marked as free can be re-occupied by any new data you generate on the hard drive if its file system tells 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 written over — thus become unrecoverable. However, it often takes quite some time for that to happen, considering modern hard drives usually have way larger volumes.
Bottom line: even trashed files are still recoverable on Mac provided that they are not overwritten.
Please note: if your Mac uses an SSD (solid state drive) other than an HDD, it'll be a whole different story.
Why SSDs matter?
Because the way an SSD 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, chance to get it recovered is slim if not impossible — unless you have backups.
To know if your Mac is using an HDD or SSD, go to Apple logo > About This Mac > More Info > Hardware > Serial-ATA to find it out.
What's the best Mac Trash data recovery software?
There is a wide range of programs that claim to be able to recover trashed data, few actually work as they advertise, especially watch out those developers who guarantee 100% recovery rate (no one can do so). In my opinion, below are the two apps we found incredibly powerful and easy to use. A detailed step by step tutorial is attached later.
Time Machine — the built-in app designed by Apple for every Mac machine. It is a free yet comprehensive solution for rescue data lost from some situations including when you have trashed Mac. However, it only works if you've set it up and had some backups made already.
Stellar Macintosh Data Recovery — one of the most powerful data recovery tools designed to rescue all kind of lost data from Macs as well as external hard drives. It's the best alternative to use when Time Machine fails to restore your data.
See tutorials below for step by step instructions...
Restoring your files via Time Machine backups
Things you need to prepare include: your Mac, the external hard drive that contains Time Machine backups, and a bit of time. This Apple support article shows a step by step tutorial already, so I won't elaborate here.
Also, if you prefer watching video tutorials, here's one that looks great.
Recovering trashed Mac using a data recovery utility
- Get Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery and install the program on your Mac.
- Launch the app and click "Start New Scan" to get started.
- Select a scanning method. In this case, click "Search Lost/Deleted Volumes" and hit "Start Scan" to continue.
- Now the software will scan your Macintosh HD for recoverable files.
- Wait until the scanning process is complete. Note: it might take quite some time depending on your volume size.
- Preview found items when the scan was complete.
- Select and recover files you want to get back.
The Trash in macOS is generally used to delete items — it acts as a safe recycler to prevent accidental deletion. The reality is often we are used to hit Empty Trash to regain more storage space, only to find that some precious files get wiped along.
Fortunately, it may not be too late to recover them with by using Time Machine or a third-party data rescue program. Hope this Mac trash recovery guide has helped you retrieve your lost precious items.
Influenced by the startup culture in the Silicon Valley, Jessica loves building things from zero to one and is keen on following news related to the Big Five tech giants and many SaaS startups.