There are many ways to delete files on Mac, and we, thankfully, also have several methods to recover deleted files. To help you find the most suitable method for your situation, we’ve put together this easy-to-follow guide in which we compare multiple ways of restoring deleted files and provide step-by-step instructions for each one. 

How to Choose the Right Way of Recovering Mac Files?

When deciding how to recover deleted files on Mac, you need to take into consideration the following factors: 

  • Your skills: There’s absolutely no shame in admitting that your computer skills are limited. If you don’t feel confident enough to use some of the more difficult methods described below, you can simply pick an easier one and retrieve deleted files on Mac just as reliably. 
  • The limitations of each method: All recovery methods have certain limitations that dictate when they can be used. You need to keep these limitations in mind to avoid wasting time on a file recovery method that has no chance of working.  
  • How much time you have: Some data recovery methods are more time consuming than others. While the difference tends to be fairly small, being able to recover lost files just a few minutes faster when you’re about to give an important presentation may be the difference between success and failure. 

Use the following comparison table of different recovery methods to pick the right one for you. 

Methods to Recover Deleted Files on Mac

NameDescriptionTimeDifficultyBulk recovery
Undo optionA command that allows you to undo the last action taken. 10 secEasyNo
Trash binA special folder where Mac computers store deleted files. 1 minNormalYes
Terminal commandsSpecial text commands that make it possible to recover deleted files from the command-line. 3 minHardNo
Backup toolsSoftware solutions that help you create backup copies of your files and recover deleted files from them.10 minNormalYes
Recovery softwareSpecial software applications capable of recovering even permanently deleted files that other methods can’t recover. 7 minNormalYes

As you can see, you have quite a few options when it comes to recovering deleted files on Mac. Regardless of which option you pick, you should always make data recovery your top priority and avoid writing new data to the storage device on which the deleted files were located.  

Step-by-Step Instructions for Each Recovery Method

Now that you’ve picked the most suitable recovery method, it’s time we take a closer look at each one and provide you with detailed step-by-step instructions that you can easily follow to restore deleted files on Mac.  

Option 1: Undo Option

  • Approximate time to recover a file: 10 seconds
  • Difficulty: Easy. You don’t need special knowledge to use this method.
  • Limitations:Doesn’t work if you’ve already taken other actions or exited the application used to delete the file. 
  • Bulk recovery: Impossible. Because this recovery method for Mac can undelete only the last deleted file. 
  • Location and name of recovered files: Recovered files will appear in their original locations and have their original names.

When you delete the wrong file on Mac and notice your mistake right away, you can instantly recover it using the Undo command. As its name suggests, this command reverses the last completed action, and there are several ways to invoke it. 

Step 1. Highlight the application that was used to delete the file (such as Finder). 

Step 2. Open the Edit menu in the menu bar.

Step 3. Click Undo Move of “filename”.   

Click Undo Move of file

Alternatively, you can press Command + Z on your keyboard to invoke the Undo command straight away. Just keep in mind that the correct application must be in focus for the Undo command to do what you intend it to do. 

Pros

  • Straightforward 
  • No learning curve whatsoever 
  • Works in all Mac applications 

Cons

  • Can recover only the last deleted file 
  • Must be used before exiting the application from which the file was deleted 

 

Option 2: Trash Bin

  • Approximate time to recover a file: 1 minute
  • Difficulty: Easy. You don’t need special knowledge to use this method.
  • Limitations: Files can’t be recovered from Trash that has been emptied, which can happen either manually or automatically after 30 days.
  • Bulk recovery: Possible. You can recover as many files at the same time as you want.  
  • Location and name of recovered files: Recovered files will appear in their original locations and have their original names, but you can also recover them to any other location.

When you delete a file on Mac, it usually (not always!) ends up in a special folder called Trash, where it stays until you manually/automatically empty Trash. While the file is in Trash, you can recover it to its original folder with a few simple clicks and know that the recovery will be 100% successful. 

Step 1. Click the Trash icon in the Dock.

Trash Icon in the Doc

Step 2. Select your files (you can use the search bar if you remember the name of the file you want to recover). 

Step 3. Right-click on any of the selected files and choose the Put Back option. 

Put Back Files

If you don’t want to recover the deleted files to their original folders, you can drag and drop them to any folder you wish. 

Pros

  • Takes less than a minute 
  • Lets you recover deleted files on Mac without software
  • Makes it easy to find deleted files 

Cons

  • Not all deleted files end up in Trash 
  • The auto-empty feature of Mac removes files from Trash after 30 days

 

Option 3: Terminal Commands

  • Approximate time to recover a file: 3 minutes
  • Difficulty: Hard. You need to know exactly which commands to use.
  • Limitations: You have to know the exact name of the deleted file you want to recover.
  • Bulk recovery: Impossible. With a single Terminal command, you can recover only one file. 
  • Location and name of recovered files: Recovered files will have their original names, but you must manually specify the recovery location.

On Mac, there are always several ways to accomplish the same thing, and you can use whichever you like the most. If you’ve always loved Macintosh computers because of their Unix roots and powerful command-line interface, you may like the idea of using Terminal to recover your files from Trash. 

Step 1. Launch Terminal from /Applications/Utilities or using Spotlight. 

Launch Terminal

Step 2. Enter cd .Trash to navigate to the Trash folder.

Step 3. Enter ls -al ~/.Trash to view the content of the Trash folder.

View Content of the Trash Folder

Step 4. Enter mv filename ../ to move a specific file to your home folder (replace filename with the name of the file you want to recover).

Since Terminal commands are really just alternatives to the graphical user interface of Trash, they won’t help you recover Trash that you or your Mac has emptied. 

Pros

  • Potentially useful alternative to the graphical user interface of Trash 
  • Relatively quick method once you know what you’re doing. 

Cons

  • Intimidating 
  • Bulk recovery not supported 
  • You must know the exact name of the file you want to recover
  • Can’t preview files before recovery. 

 

Option 4: Backup Tools

  • Approximate time to recover a file: 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: Normal. As long as you use a user-friendly backup tool, you should be able to recover your files without any major issues.
  • Limitations: Works only if you had created a backup prior to losing your files. You have to remember where your files were stored.
  • Bulk recovery: Possible. Virtually all backup tools can recover multiple deleted files at the same time. 
  • Location and name of recovered files: Recovered files will appear in their original locations and have their original names.

There are multiple categories of backup tools that can be used to reliably recover deleted files on Mac. All Macs with macOS 10.5 or newer are equipped with an incremental backup tool called Time Machine, which allows users to restore the entire operating system or specific files from a local backup stored on a dedicated backup drive. This is how you can restore deleted files from a Time Machine backup:

Step 1. Open the folder that contained the deleted files using Finder.

Step 2. Click the Time Machine icon located in the Menu Bar and choose Enter Time Machine.

Enter Time Machine

Step 3. Select the files you want to recover. Use the timeline on the right edge of the screen to find the most recent version of your files.

Step 4. Click Restore to restore the selected files.

Restore the Selected Files

Some Mac users may prefer the convenience of cloud backup solutions like Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox, whose biggest advantage is the fact that you can access them from anywhere. 

Regardless of which backup tool you prefer, you will be able to recover your lost files with it only if you had created a backup beforehand. If you don’t have an up-to-date backup to recover from, you need to try some other method. 

Pros

  • 100% reliable 
  • All new Macs ship with a great backup tool pre-installed 
  • Can be used to recover data after physical damage

Cons

  • Works only if you have an up-to-date backup of your data 

 

Option 5: Data Recovery Software

  • Approximate time to recover a file: 7 minutes
  • Difficulty: Normal. No special knowledge or skills are necessary to recover deleted Trash on Mac with modern data recovery software.
  • Limitations: Even data recovery software can’t recover files that have been overwritten by new data.
  • Bulk recovery: Possible. Data recovery software solutions typically allow their users to recover multiple files at the same time. 
  • Location and name of recovered files: Recovered files will have their original names, but you must manually specify the recovery location.

Data recovery for Mac can also be performed using specialized recovery software applications. Such applications cost anywhere from $0 to several hundred dollars, and they target casual home users and professionals alike. 

Unlike the methods we’ve described so far, recovery software applications can recover emptied Trash on Mac and get back permanently deleted files that were never in Trash in the first place. Some recovery software applications, especially those that cost money, include various file protection and backup features, which you can use to avoid data loss in the future. 

Let’s take a closer look at how to recover deleted files on Mac OS X and macOS with one free file recovery software application and one paid recovery software application. 

Free: Lazesoft Mac Data Recovery

Step 1. Download Lazesoft Mac Data Recovery to your Macintosh and install it.

Install Lazesoft

Step 2. Launch Lazesoft Mac Data Recovery and select the Undelete option. 

Select the Undelete Option

Step 3. Select the drive you want to recover and click Start Search.

Start Searching the Files for Recovery

Step 4. Wait for the scan to finish and select all files that you want to recover. 

Step 5. Click the Save Files button in the toolbar and specify the destination folder. Click Choose to begin the recovery process. 

Begin the Recovery Process

Paid: Disk Drill 

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac. 

Install Disk Drill for Mac

Step 2. Launch Disk Drill and click the Recover button next to the drive you want to recover. 

Launch Disk Drill

Step 3. Wait for the scan to finish, select all files that you want to recover, and click the Recover button.

Select Files that You Want to Recover

Step 4. Specify the recovery destination and click Choose to begin the recovery process.  

Specify the Recovery Destination

Pros

  • Can recover permanently deleted files
  • Suitable for beginners and pros alike
  • No expert knowledge required 
  • Support for all commonly used storage devices and file types 

Cons

  • Free recovery software solutions don’t always perform great
  • Administrator credentials required 

Which File Types Can Be Recovered?

Types of Files

Using the above-described methods, you can recover just about any file type and file extension you encounter. 

Here are some common file types and file extensions Mac users often want to recover: 

File Type File Extension
Video 3G2, AVI, CRM, FLV, M4V, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPG, OGM, RM, WEBM, WMV
Audio AA, AAC, CDA, FLAC, M4A, MP3, MP2, MPA, OGA, OGG, RA, WAV, WMA
Images AI, BMP, C4D, CR2, DJVU, ICO, JP2, JPG, NEF, PNG, PSD, SVG, TIFF, WMF
Documents DOC, DOCX, ENL, EPUB, FB2, HTML, ICS, NUMBERS, ODT, ODS, ODP, PAGES, PPT, PPTX, QBB, RTF, TTF, XLS, XLSX, XML
Archives 7Z, ARJ, CAB, DMG, ISO, JAR, MBX, PST, RAR, RDB, TAR.XZ, ZIP

 

We’ve collected detailed guides on how to recover specific file types, and we encourage you to read them so that you understand the recovery process as much as possible: 

How to Increase the Chances of Successful Recovery?

Unfortunately, not all attempts to recover files from Trash and other places have a good ending. Sometimes, the deleted files can’t be recovered because they’ve become overwritten, but there are also other factors that may jeopardize your recovery attempts, such as data corruption, physical damage, or user error. 

The good news is that there are certain things that you can do to significantly increase the chances of successful recovery: 

  • Don’t wait: The sooner you start recovering your files, the better. If you notice that an important file is missing within a few seconds after its accidental deletion, you can get it back with a single shortcut. On the other hand, recovering a file that has been deleted for more than a month may not be possible even with the best file recovery software for Mac.  
  • Avoid unnecessary data transfer operations: Permanently deleted files that are no longer present in Trash or an existing backup can be recovered only until they become overwritten, which is guaranteed to happen sooner rather than later if you keep writing lots of new files to the storage device. To be extra safe, you should avoid all unnecessary data transfer operations until you recover your files. 
  • Eliminate the root cause of data loss: Not all files disappear because a user makes a mistake. Malware and hard drive issues are just two of many other possible causes of data loss. You should always eliminate the root cause of data loss before you begin the data recovery process, otherwise you might lose your files again as soon as you get them back.  

With just these three simple tips, you should be able to get files from Trash or any other folder without much trouble. 

HELP: None of the Solutions Have Worked. Is There Anything Else I Can Do?

With the solutions described in this article, you should be able to recover all deleted files from healthy storage devices, including traditional spinning hard drives, modern solid-state drives, USB flash drives, and memory cards. 

However, they can’t reliably recover files from storage devices that have suffered physical damage, which may occur when a storage device is exposed to extremely high or low temperatures, moisture, dust, or simply dropped on the floor. 

In such cases, there’s zero room for DIY solutions since most attempts to repair a damaged storage device at home do more harm than good. Instead, you should use a data recovery service and let professionals with state-of-the-art equipment recover your data for you.