Recover Deleted Files on Mac: Top 5 Free Solutions to Restore Your Lost Data

Many computer users who use macOS machines are familiar with accidental data loss. Whether you are using an older Macintosh or the newest MacBook Pro, there is always the potential that some important information may be deleted. This can be a stressful situation that needs to be quickly resolved. We are going to show you a number of ways to rescue your lost data.
When a file is deleted from your Mac, your first thought might be that it is gone for good. Fortunately, that is not always the case. In fact, there are a number of ways that you can attempt to recover deleted files from your Mac. Some employ native Mac features while others require third-party software solutions.

After a file is deleted from your computer, macOS simply marks the space that the files formerly occupied as available for reuse. The files are still physically on the disk, though no longer logically accessible through the operating system. As long as the files are not overwritten, there is a good chance that you can recover deleted files on Mac.

5 Proven Ways to Recover Deleted Files on Mac

#1 Make Sure the File was Actually Deleted

While your first instinct may be to panic when you think you have lost an important file, a systematic search for your file will often produce successful results. Perhaps you were working on a file and accidentally deleted it. You look in the Finder app and it is not in the folder where it should be located. Here’s how to try and find it.

The first place to look is in the Trash Bin. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Open the Trash Bin by clicking on its icon.
  2. Search for the file you suspect was deleted.
  3. If the file is found, right-click on the file and select the “Put Back” option.
  4. Verify the recovery by using Finder and searching the file’s original location.
Recover deleted files on Mac

Other ways to search your computer may turn up a missing file. You may have inadvertently moved it to a different location, perhaps even to the cloud. A Spotlight search or employing the Siri digital assistant will quickly help you determine if the file is simply misplaced or really deleted. If it has been deleted, then keep reading and we will look at some ways to get it back.

#2 Restore From a Time Machine Backup

The Time Machine application is Apple’s backup solution for the Mac. Using it should become a regular part of your computer maintenance schedule and performing periodic backups through the app can be critical if you find you have deleted a file.

Once you have determined that you have indeed deleted a file and it is no longer in the Trash Bin, you can restore it from your Time Machine backup. This is a fairly easy operation that begins with you attaching the external device that you have been using to hold your Time Machine backups.
How to recover deleted files on Mac

To restore files using a Time Machine backup, follow these steps:

  1. Connect the device that contains the TIme Machine backup.
  2. Launch Time Machine.
  3. Open a Finder window in the location you last remember seeing the file.
  4. Scroll back through Time Machine until the file appears in the Finder window.
  5. Select the file and click Restore to recover it.

#3 Use Third-Party Data Recovery Software

If you need to recover lost data from a computer or storage device for which you have no backup, you will need to employ dedicated Mac data recovery software. Disk Drill is an excellent data recovery application that can answer the question of how to recover deleted files on your Mac.

To recover deleted files on your Mac computer using Disk Drill you'll need to do the following:

1. Download Disk Drill for Mac

When performing data recovery you want to eliminate as much activity as you can from the disk where the deleted file or files formerly resided. This means that you want to download and install Disk Drill or any other data recovery package on a different drive or partition than the one used for the recovery. A USB flash drive is a good choice for this purpose.
Download Disk Drill for Mac

2. Install Disk Drill for Mac

Install the application and supply it with your Administrator’s password when prompted. The app needs this level of access to perform its functions. Now start up the application.
Install Disk Drill for Mac

3. Scan for Files Deleted from the Trash Bin

Scan your disk to allow Disk Drill to locate the files that have been deleted. Try a Quick scan first but if you don’t get the expected results use Disk Drill’s Deep scan capabilities that will search your disk bit by bit.
Recover deleted files from emptied trash bin

4. Preview the Found Files

Preview the found files in Disk Drill’s main window. You can select the files that you want to recover and the location in which to recover them. We emphasize again that you need to recover the files to a new location so as not to overwrite them during the recovery process.
How to restore deleted files on mac

5. Recover your files

Clicking the “Recover” button will restore the files previously identified in the preview to your desired location. Now you can thank the developers at Disk Drill for saving your precious data.

Recover Files from Recycle Bin on Windows
How to recover trash on mac

#4 Recover Deleted Files From a Backup

There are other ways besides Time Machine to backup your files. You can download free or purchase third-party backup products or just copy folders and files to an external disk or cloud storage. Then, when the need arises, just attach your peripheral storage device and copy the deleted files back to your hard drive.
Recover Deleted Files From a Backup

Guarding Against Data Loss

You probably have noticed that backing up your data is an important strategy in enabling you to recover from data loss events. Regular backups are considered best practice for all computer users. If you value your data, make sure you regularly take a backup of your system, whether it is to the cloud or an externals storage device.

In addition to the backup methods discussed above, Disk Drill offers a byte-by-byte disk image that is essentially an exact copy of your drive. This type of backup is especially helpful when recovering from a catastrophic disk failure.

Disk Drill also offers additional data protection with its Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery options. To enable these functions you need to have the application installed and running on your system before the data loss occurs. Disk Drill retains metadata related to deleted files and makes it possible to quickly recover files that are accidentally deleted from your machine.

#5 Recover Deleted Files Using Mac Terminal

The Mac Terminal program provides an alternate method of recovering files from your Mac’s Trash. It is a command line way to recover recently deleted files from your computer.

To use the Terminal app, use these steps:

  1. Launch the Terminal application.
  2. Enter the cd .Trash command.
  3. Type this command: mv xxx.xxx where xxx.xxx is the full filename and extension. Hit Return.
  4. Type Quit to exit the Terminal app.
  5. Open a Finder window and you should find the recovered file in its original location.
Recover Deleted Files Using Mac Terminal

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on by Disk Drill Team
  1. Download, install and launch Disk Drill.
  2. Select the disk or partition that contained the lost data.
  3. Click Recover to start scanning for deleted files.
  4. Preview the recoverable files and choose a new storage location.
  5. Select the files to restore and click Recover again.

Disk Drill for Mac is listed as a free method because it provides a complete preview of the files that it can recover before costing you a cent.

The most effective way of restoring data on a Mac without software is with a backup. Backing up your computer should be a part of your regular routine if you value your data.

Probably not. You will quickly learn if you can recover with a backup or the Trash. If not, you should move on to a quality data recovery tool like Disk Drill to get your files back.

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