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 Big Sur ready!
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.
If you haven’t already, download and install the completely free Disk Drill Basic. Since you want to recover trash from your Mac’s internal hard drive, it’s better to install it on an external drive (and use Portable Mode). This way you’ll avoid the possibility of overwriting your lost files when you install the software.
Download Disk Drill
Drag to Applications Folder
Launch Disk Drill
2. Scan for Files Deleted from Trash
Launch Disk Drill and if a popup window appears, uncheck all options – you don’t want to install anything extra at this point. When the main window appears, select your hard drive and click “Recover.” This will scan your hard drive and attempt to recover files deleted from trash on Mac OS X.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
With a backup copy of your data
If the data had been backed up before it was removed from the Trash Bin, you could easily recover it from the backup storage media. This is a fairly straightforward method of recovering your lost information. There is no mystery to the fact that you need to have backed up a particular file if you want to recover it from a backup.
Using data recovery software
Using data recovery software or a recovery service are the other methods to recover emptied Trash from your Mac. Both of these recovery methods take advantage of the way that the macOS deletes data. When the operating system deletes a file, it does not physically remove the data from the storage media. It simply eliminates the logical links that make the files and folders accessible by the system and marks the space they occupied as available for future use.
Engaging a data recovery service
Until the space has been overwritten by new data, the original files can be recovered. If the storage device can be accessed by your operating system, data recovery software may be able to perform a Mac Trash recovery. If the device has experienced physical damage, a professional data recovery service may be required to get your data back.
Methods to Recover Trash on a Mac without Software
There are multiple ways to recover deleted items on a Mac without software:
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:
Open the Trash Can by clicking on its icon.
Locate the items you wish to recover.
Drag the files out of the Trash to the desktop or another folder.
Alternately, select an item, right-click, and choose Put Back.
Use the Undo command
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.
Recover with a Time Machine backup
Connect the storage media that contains the Time Machine backup to your Mac.
Open a window displaying the folder which last contained the deleted file.
Open Time Machine by clicking on the clock icon on Mac’s menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.
Locate the items and version you want to restore from within Time Machine.
Select an item to recover and press the Spacebar to preview it.
Click Restore to recover the selected file or folder.
Restore from another type of backup
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.
Connect the storage media that holds the backup to your Mac.
Launch Disk Drill.
Select the DMG file created during the backup process from the disk list.
Click the Recover button to start recovering data from the backup media.
Use a data recovery service
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.
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.
Contact the recovery service to obtain an estimate on the restore and to get instructions on how to ship the device.
Ship the storage device to the recovery center.
Technicians will use a clean room and sophisticated hardware and software tools to recover your data.
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 Your Files from an App-Specific Trash Folder
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.
Open the Photos app.
Select the Recently Deleted folder.
Choose every photo you want to 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.
Use the Terminal App to Recover Files from Trash
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.
Launch the Terminal app.
Enter cd .Trash to navigate to the Trash folder.
Enter ls -la to display the content of the Trash folder (the Terminal app must have Full Disk Access privileges).
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
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
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
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).
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated on by Disk Drill Team
How can I recover deleted files from the Recycle Bin on Mac for free?
The Trash is the Mac equivalent of the Windows Recycle Bin. Follow these steps to recover the Trash on your Mac:
Open the Trash by clicking its icon.
Locate the items you want to recover.
Right-click on the items and choose Put Back to recover your selection.
How to recover deleted files from an emptied Trash Bin on Mac?
To recover deleted files from an emptied Mac Trash Bin:
Download, install and launch Disk Drill for Mac. Don’t use the disk or partition that contains the Trash Bin.
Select the disk on your Mac where the Trash Bin is located.
Click the Recover button to start scanning the drive for recoverable data.
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?
Here’s how to recover deleted files from the Trash without software:
Connect the storage media with your Time Machine backups to your Mac.
Open a window that contained the deleted data.
Choose Enter Time Machine from the menu bar icon.
Locate the item to be recovered.
Press the Space Bar to preview the file.
Click Restore to recover the item.
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?
Follow these steps to get back a file that you have sent to the Trash.
Open the Trash by clicking its icon.
Locate the items you want to recover.
Right-click on the items and select Put Back to recover the file or folder.
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 have several options available to recover photos after emptying the Trash.
Use a backup from Time Machine or another solution.
Restore your data with data recovery software like Disk Drill.
Engage a professional data recovery service to get your data back.
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.
Navigate to HD > Users > Your Account > Library > Preferences.
In this folder, locate, and move the com.apple.dock.plist file to the Desktop.
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:
Open the utilities application.
Enter the cd .Trash command.
Type ls to display the files that are in the Trash Bin.
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:
Click on the Trash Bin icon to review its contents.
Locate the file or files that you would like to restore.
Right-click on the items to be restored.
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.