Recover Accidentally Emptied Trash on Mac

How to Recover Accidentally Emptied Trash on Mac

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Written by Robert Agar Robert Agar Staff Writer • 49 articles Robert Agar, a staff writer at Handy Recovery, specializes in data recovery and data management topics, with a particular affinity for macOS and iOS. He played a key role in the founding of our team and project back in 2017, and is notably responsible for authoring much of the initial content that graced our website. Robert brings over 30 years of experience in data storage, security, compliance, backup, and recovery to the Handy Recovery team. LinkedIn Approved by Andrey Vasilyev Andrey Vasilyev Editor Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team. LinkedIn

Your Mac’s Trash is a great feature that temporarily stores deleted files and folders, enabling you to recover them quickly with a few clicks if you decide you need them back. But what about if you emptied the Trash by mistake before realizing you had deleted some important docs or irreplaceable photos? Are they gone for good?


Fortunately, you can recover accidentally emptied Trash on your Mac. We are going to show you a variety of methods that can help you retrieve your valuable data from an emptied Trash bin.


Want to skip the background and jump straight to the recovery guide? Click here.

How Does Trash Work on Mac?

We believe everyone understands the purpose of the Trash bin. Apple developers built the Trash facility into the Mac operating system to address the common issue of users accidentally deleting important files or folders. It’s very easy to inadvertently hit the wrong button or highlight the wrong item and delete something you cannot afford to lose. You should have the option to change your mind and retrieve them if needed, right?

When you or an application deletes an item on your Mac, it is not physically removed from your hard drive. Instead, it’s moved to a special folder called the Trash. Items are held in the Trash for a set period (usually 30 days) or until it reaches its storage limit. After this time, they are ‘permanently’ erased. Of course, you can also manually empty the Trash at any time.

You can easily restore files from the Trash on your Mac before it is emptied. Just open the Trash folder by clicking on the wastebasket icon in your Mac’s dock. Right-click on the item you want to restore and select Put Back. The item will be recovered to its original location on your Mac.

Putting back files in to trash bin

But what to do if that option is no longer available? Read on.

Is it Possible to Restore Mac’s Trash After it is Emptied?

Yes, it is possible to restore Trash on a Mac after you empty the Bin. Emptying the Trash essentially instructs the macOS to permanently delete all files and folders in the Bin. However, these items are not immediately erased from your Mac’s hard drive or the external storage media where they were originally located.

In simpler terms, the logical links that make the file accessible to the OS are deleted, but the data remains on the storage device. The space occupied by the files that were in the Trash is marked as available for future use by the operating system. Data will eventually be overwritten by new information based on the needs of the OS.

Until the data has been overwritten, it can be recovered by specialized data recovery software. This software repairs the deleted logical links and makes the files and folders available to the operating system and applications. Once the files have been overwritten, they can only be recovered if you have backed them up.


PRO TIP: Stop using the Mac or other device where you deleted data from as soon as you realize you have accidentally emptied the Trash. Continued use makes it more likely that the files you want to recover will be overwritten by new data and impossible to recover with a software solution.

How to Recover Emptied Trash on Mac with Software

Let’s look at how to recover accidentally emptied Trash on a Mac using two different types of software solutions. One provides a user-friendly interface that simplifies data recovery and enables anyone to successfully recover emptied Trash on a Mac. The other is a command-line program that requires more extensive technical expertise to use effectively.


For more about the options available in the world of data recovery software, we point you to our review of some of the best macOS solutions on the market.

Let me add some technical details about the solutions mentioned below. Many modern data recovery programs offer a “Quick Scan” mode. This mode is ideal for situations where you’ve emptied the Trash or deleted data using the rm command. It scans the device’s file system and recovers data based on saved records, provided the relevant file information hasn’t been corrupted or overwritten. In this mode, software often recovers data with original file names, folder structure, and regardless of file format. If the Quick Scan fails, the software usually utilizes more complex algorithms based on file types (unique file signatures). However, some programs, including the one we’ll discuss today (PhotoRec), rely solely on this latter method. This means they cannot recover file metadata, and the number of supported file types becomes crucial.

Oleksandr Lukashyn QA Specialist, Handy Recovery

Option A: Disk Drill

Disk Drill is a freemium product that falls into the class of user-friendly data recovery software. It enables even novice Mac users to recover emptied Trash on a Mac with just a few clicks. The tool uses advanced scanning algorithms to find recoverable deleted data and allows you to preview, select, and restore the identified files.

Disk Drill logo

The following procedure demonstrates how to use Disk Drill to recover files when you have emptied the Trash by mistake or simply need to recover any lost or deleted data on your Mac or any other external storage device.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac on a separate disk or device from the one where you deleted your files. This is to protect the recoverable data from being overwritten when downloading and installing the application.Installing Disk Drill for Mac
  2. Launch Disk Drill and select the disk that contains the deleted data.
  3. Click the Search for lost data button to start scanning for recoverable items.Disk Drill's disk list
  4. Preview the found files and select those you want to recover.Previewing files from emptied Trash
  5. Click the Recover button to start the recovery. You will be prompted to supply a safe location where the recovered files will be stored. Don’t use the disk you are recovering for this purpose.Selecting the Trash bin files for recovery
  6. Click OK after providing the location and let the software complete the recovery.Choosing the recovery path

For comprehensive details, check out our full Disk Drill review. To determine if it’s safe, you can also review our separate safety analysis.

Option B: PhotoRec

PhotoRec is a freeware open-source data recovery tool that can be used to recover emptied Trash on your Mac. It employs a less friendly command-line interface and requires users to have some knowledge about their disk configuration. These facts make it less viable as a recovery method for the general user who just emptied the Trash by accident on their Mac.

PhotoRec logo

The following overview of how to recover Trash on a Mac with PhotoRec illustrates the potential difficulties users may face with this software.

  • You need to install the software using /bin/bash in Terminal. Some users may not be familiar with this procedure.
  • The software provides a rudimentary command-line interface that is navigated with arrow keys and has not been updated since 2019.
  • Files are recovered under generic filenames which complicate and slow down the recovery effort.

Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of a PhotoRec recovery.

  1. Download, install, and launch PhotoRec.
  2. Select the disk that contained the deleted data.Selecting the disk in PhotoRec
  3. Choose the partition containing the files you need to recover.Choosing the partition containing accidentally emptied Trash data
  4. Select the PhotoRec options to be used for this recovery.Scanning options
  5. Choose the files and file type to be recovered.Choosing of filetype to scan
  6. Carve a partition to store the recovered files.
  7. Choose where to save the recovered data.Choosing the recovery path in PhotoRec
  8. Perform the recovery.Trash bin recovery process via PhotoRec

Though PhotoRec is not as feature-rich as commercial recovery software, it can restore Trash on your Mac. For more details on this software, we suggest you read our full review of PhotoRec.

How to Recover Emptied Trash on Mac Without Software

Now let’s look at some ways to restore Trash on a Mac without software.

Method 1: Check Your Backups

If you regularly back up your Mac, you may be able to use the backup media to recover an emptied Trash bin. The key here is having the deleted files contained in your backup. New or recently modified data may not have been captured in your backups. Here are some options for recovering from backups that do contain the data that has been emptied from the Trash.

Manual Backup

The recovery method with manual backups is entirely dependent on the tool used to create them. It may simply involve moving and copying files or may require you to interact with the backup solutions user interface.

Manual Backup

Time Machine

This backup and recovery tool comes installed on your Mac. Use the following procedure when restoring the Trash from a Time Machine backup.

  1. Connect the Time Machine backup media to your Mac.
  2. Open a Finder window in the Trash folder. (You should also check the folders that held the files before they were sent to the Trash).
  3. Launch Time Machine and browse for the deleted items.
  4. Select items to be recovered and client Restore.Time Machine


You can attempt to recover an accidentally emptied Trash with iCloud using the following steps.

  1. Log in at
  2. Click the gear icon to access the iCloud Settings web app.
  3. Scroll to the bottom and click on Restore Files.Restoring files using iCloud
  4. Select the recently deleted files you want to recover and click Restore.

Method 2: Contact a Data Recovery Service

A Data Recovery Service

Data recovery services are great for addressing issues with damaged storage devices or failed hard drives. If you have simply emptied the Trash by mistake on your Mac, the technical skills of the data recovery center may not provide any additional value.

Either the files are there and can be recovered with DIY software or they have been overwritten and cannot be recovered except with a backup. You can save time and money by performing the recovery yourself using a reliable software solution.


This page provides more info about recovering data on a Mac without software.


Here’s what you need to recover something from Mac’s Trash:

  1. Open Trash on your Mac.
  2. Pick the items you want to recover.
  3. Select something you want to restore from your Trash, then right-click on it.
  4. Click the ‘Put Back’ option to undelete files.

Use this procedure to recover accidentally emptied Trash on a Mac:

  1. Download and install data recovery software on your Mac or an external disk.
  2. Launch the App and select the disk containing the lost data.
  3. Scan the disk and preview recoverable items (if the software allows for previews).
  4. Select the files you want to restore (if the software has this option).
  5. Restore the selected items to a new storage location.

Yes, it is possible to recover Trash on Mac using Terminal but only if it has not been emptied. Check out this page for more info on using Mac Terminal to recover deleted files.

You can use data recovery software to restore items from an emptied Trash on a MacBook Pro using the procedure detailed above. We invite you to look at a more in-depth look at MacBook data recovery.


There are multiple methods of restoring the files from an accidentally emptied Trash on a Mac. Data recovery software offers the most efficient recovery path and does not rely on previously created backups that may not contain recently updated items. That does not minimize the importance of regularly backing up your Mac.

It is vitally important that you stop using the device until you have recovered the deleted items or you risk overwriting the information you wish to retrieve. You should get in the habit of checking the Trash before emptying it to make sure nothing important slipped by. If you do accidentally empty your Mac’s Trash, recovery software should be able to get it back for you.

About article
Staff Writer Robert Agar

This article was written by Robert Agar, a Staff Writer at Handy Recovery Advisor. It was also verified for technical accuracy by Andrey Vasilyev, our editorial advisor.

Curious about our content creation process? Take a look at our Editor Guidelines.

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