Mac users should be very familiar with the macOS Trash Bin. It’s a special folder that is designed to temporarily hold recently deleted files. If you have accidentally deleted files, the Trash is the first place you should look to try and recover your lost data.

To recover deleted files from Trash on Mac: click on the “Trash” icon and choose deleted files or folders, then Right-click or Control-click on the item. After a drop-down menu will appear, click “Put Back” to restore files.

How to recover files from Trash on Mac

But what about if you have manually or automatically emptied the Trash and the files you are looking for are no longer available?

Is There a Way to Recover Emptied Trash on a Mac?

The simple answer to this question is “Yes”. Due to the way that the operating system handles file deletions, there is a good chance that you can successfully recover lost files even after the Trash Bin has been emptied.

When a file is deleted the OS marks its storage space as being available for use. If that space is needed to save new data, the old files will be overwritten, but until this time it still physically exists on your storage device. It has been logically, but not physically deleted.

You will increase your chances of recovering deleted files on your Mac by minimizing the usage of the storage device on which the files were stored. In the case of your Trash Bin, this is almost always going to be your internal hard drive. So your best bet is to stop using your computer for other activities until you have completed your file recovery. Failure to follow this advice will potentially overwrite the files you intend to restore.

Newer versions of the operating system such as macOS High Sierra, macOS Mojave, macOS Catalina, macOS Big Sur have a Finder preference which can be set to automatically empty files from the Trash after they have been there for 30 days.

undelete files on mac

This makes it less likely that you will find the file you need in the Trash where it can be easily recovered with a few clicks. If the file you need to restore is not in the Trash you will have to employ specialized software that can recover deleted files on a Mac after the Trash has been emptied.

Recover Deleted Files on a Mac with a Data Recovery Software

The fact that files remain physically present on their storage media until being overwritten allows Mac data recovery software to restore them. These software tools scan your computer’s hard disk and locate files that are no longer visible to the OS but are still physically intact and available for recovery. File recovery is based on the quality of the scanning algorithms used and the file types that the tool recognizes.

There are a number of applications that will perform data recovery for a macOS, one of the best is – Disk Drill for Mac.

Steps to Recover Deleted Files from an Emptied Trash on Mac

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac

Disk Drill
Data recovery for free
Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery

Step 2. Launch the application and select the drive that contained the Trash Bin on your Mac.

recover deleted files from an emptied Trash on Mac

Step 3. Click the “Search for lost data” button. This will initiate Disk Drill’s scanning algorithms. As the scan progresses, you will see the files that can be recovered displayed in the application’s window. You can shorten the scanning time by filtering on file type.

how to recover deleted files from an emptied Trash using Disk Drill

Step 4. Preview the files that the tool can recover from a Trash.

If you are not satisfied with the initial scan you may need to use the app’s Deep scanning facility.

preview found files

Step 5. Select the files that you wish to recover.

Choose a new location where they will be stored, don’t use their original location as this could lead to file corruption or overwriting during the recovery process. A good place for the initial recovery is on the removable storage device that you used to download and install Disk Drill.

how to restore files from Trash on a Mac with a data recovery tool

Step 6. Click the ‘Recover’ button a second time to perform the actual file recovery.

There are several reasons why Disk Drill stands out from other data recovery software including:

Quick and Deep scanning options that can address any lost file issue. If a Quick scan does not find the required files, running a Deep scan interrogates your drive at the sector level and can scavenge it for file fragments that can be reconstructed into recoverable files.

Extensive knowledge of file types. Disk Drill can recover just about any file type that might be present on your Mac.

An intuitive user interface that makes it easy to scan your disks and recover lost files found by the application. With just a few clicks you can scan your storage media, identify and recover deleted files from Trash on Mac.

Advanced data protection and disk maintenance features. Free tools included with Disk Drill allow you to create a disk map and identify files that can be removed to regain valuable storage space. Easily find duplicate and unnecessary files that can be deleted from your system. You can also protect your files from accidental deletion with the Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery features built into the app.

Recover Emptied Trash on a Mac for Free without Software (with Time Machine)

time machine iconThere is really only one way to recover deleted files from an emptied Trash Bin without using file recovery software. You need to restore the missing files from a backup taken before the file was permanently deleted from the machine.

Apple users should be taking advantage of the built-in backup tool known as Time Machine to regularly backup their data. Now is the time those backups prove their worth by enabling you to recover accidentally deleted files.

Step 1. Launch Time Machine on your Mac

You can access Time Machine by clicking on the clock icon located on the Mac’s menubar. You can also use the Terminal app which allows you to control Time Machine through a command-line interface. Using Terminal will allow you to remotely manage other computers and obtain many statistics regarding the backups that Time Machine has taken.

enter time machine

Step 2. Locate your file

Performing a file recovery with Time Machine requires that the media you are using to back up your Mac is connected and turned on. Once you launch Time Machine, you will be able to navigate through the backups made of your file system.

Step 3. Search for the desired files in their original locations

Identify the files that were inadvertently deleted from a backup that occurred prior to the deletion date.

Step 4. Select the file you want to restore

After you have found the requested files, simply click restore to recover them to your hard drive.

how to recover emptied trash on mac for free

Video Tutorial

Recovering from an Emptied Trash with iCloud Backup

You may be using backup solutions other than Time Machine to protect the valuable data on your Mac. If that’s the case, you can use those tools to recover files that have been permanently deleted when you emptied the Trash. Let’s look at how to recover files from Apple’s iCloud and then more general methods appropriate for virtually any third-party backup and recovery tool.

Use the following steps to recover files from an emptied Trash using iCloud.

  1. Go to and sign in to the site with your account credentials.
  2. Click on Settings.go to account settings
  3. Click on the Restore Files option which can be found on the bottom-left of the window under the Advanced restore files
  4. Find the files you want to recover and denote them by checking the boxes to the left of the file names. Everything can be restored at once by choosing the Select All option.restore files with icloud
  5. Click on Restore Files to complete the operation and recover your lost data.

Recovering with Other Backup and Recovery Solutions

Other offline and online backup and recovery solutions may have unique features that distinguish them from the competition. There are, however, general recovery steps that can be applied to recovering deleted data with just about any recovery tool. Use the following steps as an outline.

  1. Connect to the stored backups either by physically attaching the storage device or navigating to the website used for storing your data.
  2. Locate the files you want to recover.
  3. Select the files for recovery and specify a storage location on your Mac where they will be saved.
  4. Use the tool’s unique interface to complete the recovery.other backup solutions

Restore Deleted Files From Emails

If you don’t have backups available, there is one more place you can look for deleted items on your Mac. If the files were important, there is a chance that you exchanged them with colleagues or friends by exchanging emails. Go through your sent and received emails and attachments to see if any of the files you are looking for are there. You just might get lucky and find what you need.

check attachments

Using a Data Recovery Service to Recover Data from an Emptied Trash

use data recovery service

When all other options fail, you might want to consider engaging a data recovery service to get back files lost when you emptied the Trash. This is the most expensive method of recovering permanently deleted data, but in some cases it may be your only viable option.

Data recovery services use advanced software and hardware techniques to clone a damaged or corrupted storage device and enable its contents to be recovered. Here are the basic steps you will use when working with a data recovery service.

  1. Perform an online search to locate a reputable data recovery service.
  2. Contact the service for a recovery estimate and to obtain shipping instructions.
  3. Ship your device to the recovery center.
  4. After the device arrives at the center, technicians investigate the device and should be able to provide a more reliable estimate regarding its recovery.
  5. After the customer agrees to a recovery price, the center will recover the lost data and store it on a new storage device.
  6. When recovery is complete and the bill is paid, the new media is shipped to the customer. Old media should be destroyed by the recovery center.

A reliable data recovery center like Clever Files will not quote a by-the-gigabyte price. The variables involved in performing this type of data recovery make that kind of estimate impossible. They also will not charge you if they cannot recover any data for you.


Maintaining valid backups of your computer is a critical aspect of protecting its data. While this task should definitely not be ignored, there may be times that you need to recover files that were not included in a backup.

Perhaps you manually emptied the Trash Bin right after deleting some newly created files that have never been backed up. Data recovery software such as Disk Drill can be used to restore those files. It’s a great solution to the problem of recovering files from an emptied Trash Bin.


Jeff Cochin

Jeff Cochin is a data management and recovery expert. He also serves as a technical writer, testing and reviewing tech solutions in various fields. Jeff Cochin is a professional data management, warehousing and recove...

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Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.