When was the last time you lost an important file because you accidentally deleted it and then managed to empty Trash on your Mac without noticing?
Don’t be afraid to admit that the experience is still in your recent memory. The good news is that it’s possible to recover items deleted from Trash, but don’t expect the Undo shortcut or some Terminal command to work.
What Is Trash Can on Mac?
The Trash can on Mac is a special folder for deleted files. Like its name suggests, its functionality mimics the functionality of a real-life trash bin. Moving files to the Trash can is convenient because you can easily get them back if you change your mind.
Windows has its own Trash can, called Recycle Bin. Mac’s Trash can and Recycle Bin on Windows work quite similarly, but there are some minor differences you should keep in mind if you want to undo Recycle Bin or Trash. To help you understand them, let’s take a closer look at the process of deleting files on Mac.
How Trash Works on Mac?
When a file is moved to Trash, the operating system doesn’t erase its data. It simply changes the file’s location, allowing you to clean up your computer while giving you the option to recover deleted files from Trash if you change your mind.
Files are moved to Trash on Mac when you perform any of the following actions:
- Dragging a file to the Trash can icon in the Dock.
- Right-clicking on a file and selecting the Move to Trash option.
- Using the keyboard shortcut Command + Delete.
To free up storage space on your hard drive or USB flash drive, you need to empty the Trash folder, which you can do either manually or automatically:
- Manually: To manually empty Trash, click the Trash icon in the Dock and click Empty. Confirm your decision to permanently erase all items in Trash by clicking the Empty Trash button.
- Automatically: In newer versions of macOS, you can set the Trash can to empty automatically after 30 days by going to Finder Preferences > Advanced. There, activate the “Remove items from the Trash after 30 days” option.
On Mac, it’s also possible to skip Trash and delete files directly. This can be done using the Option + Command + Delete keyboard shortcut or by using the Delete Immediately option in Finder’s File menu, which can be revealed by holding down the Option key.
How to Recover Files from Emptied Trash on Mac?
To recover emptied Trash on Mac, you need a third-party data recovery application capable of scanning the raw data on your storage device and allowing you to recover individual files. The Undo shortcut or some Terminal command won’t work because your Mac can no longer see your files.
We recommend Disk Drill because it lets you restore emptied Trash on Mac with a single click. Disk Drill supports over 400 file formats, including all commonly used image, video, audio, and document file extensions.
To use Disk Drill to recover files from Trash that has been emptied on Mac:
The first thing you need to do is download and install Disk Drill. If you want to restore items from Trash after emptying it, don’t install Disk Drill on your main hard drive. In fact, don’t even download it to the Downloads folder because you could overwrite the same files you’re trying to undelete. Instead, use an external hard drive or a USB flash drive. Alternatively, you can remove your Mac’s hard drive and connect it to another Mac.
Launch Disk Drill and click the Recover button next to your system drive. You want to scan your system drive because that’s where Trash is located. Disk Drill will automatically go through its recovery algorithms to restore as many files as possible.
Go through the scan results and select files for recovery. You may use the preview feature when restoring Trash on Mac to decide which files you want to get back. All files that can be previewed can be recovered.
Now it’s time to perform the actual data recovery from Trash. Disk Drill makes this otherwise complicated step easy, allowing you to undo empty Trash on Mac with a single click on the Recover button. Just make sure to recover your files to a different storage device than the one you’re recovering them from.
That’s how easy it is to learn how to recover Trash on Mac with Disk Drill. You can now navigate to the folder with your recovered files and verify that the recovery process has been completed successfully.
Alternative Third-Party Tools for Recovering Empty Trash
Disk Drill isn’t the only data recovery solution that you can use to restore items from Trash that has been emptied. The following three applications are popular among Mac users and well-worth taking a look at.
R-Studio is a professional-grade data recovery application capable of recovering empty Trash on all recent versions of Mac. Unlike Disk Drill, R-Studio is heavily geared toward data recovery professionals, so expect to encounter some technical terms and advanced data recovery options that you may not immediately understand.
Simple and effective—that’s one way to describe Data Rescue. This popular Mac data recovery tool makes it easy to perform data recovery from Trash because it doesn’t overwhelm users with too many options. Unfortunately, not all features work on macOS 10.15 Catalina, but it’s likely that Prosoft Engineering, the company behind Data Rescue, will fix this in the near future.
PhotoRec is a free and open source data recovery tool whose name doesn’t make it immediately obvious that it can recover all common file formats. Its biggest downside is the fact that it has a command-line user interface. As such, it isn’t exactly approachable, and some Mac users may even consider it to be intimidating. Also, PhotoRec doesn’t let you restore files from Trash on an individual basis, forcing you to undelete all deleted files at once.
Other Ways to Recover Deleted Files from Trash on Mac
As we’ve explained earlier in this article, data recovery from Trash that has been emptied is possible only with special data recovery software capable of extracting data from your storage device.
That said, you can always restore Trash on Mac from a backup if you have one. Let’s take a look at three backup approaches commonly employed by Mac users.
Did you manually copy the deleted file somewhere before you emptied Trash? If so, you’re in luck because you can simply retrieve it from the backup.
Unfortunately, most Mac users who manually back up their data don’t do so nearly as often as they should. As a result, their backups tend to contain outdated files that aren’t of much use.
All newer Macs come with a backup software application called Time Machine. The purpose of Time Machine is to create incremental backups of files on an external storage device and allow users to restore the whole system or specific files with just a few clicks.
To recover deleted files using Time Machine:
- Connect your Time Machine backup disk if you haven’t done so already.
- Open the folder that contained the deleted files.
- Click the Time Machine icon located in the Menu Bar and choose Enter Time Machine.’
- Locate the files you want to recover using the timeline on the right edge of the screen and select them.
- Click Restore to restore the selected file.
iCloud is Apple’s cloud storage and cloud computing service that all Mac users can use to back up important photos, videos, documents, notes, contacts, and other data. If you’ve been using the service to avoid losing important data, you can now use it to restore all files that are no longer in Trash.
To recover deleted files from iCloud:
- Go to: www.icloud.com
- Sign in with your username and password.
- Click iCloud Drive.
- Select the files you want to undelete.
- Click the Download button in the toolbar.