Flash drives are pretty reliable. Thanks to their solid-state storage, they generally don’t fail as regularly as spinning-disk hard drives. But they’re not invincible — and sometimes you’ll lose files from a flash drive. When that happens, there are a few things you can do to try and recover your files if they’re lost. Follow the steps below to try to recover lost data from a flash drive on Mac.

Before getting started with data recovery methods, it’s important to stress one point — as soon as you find out that you have lost files, stop using your flash drive. Deleted files can still exist on your flash drive, as long as the space they were taking up isn’t written over by your computer. Don’t copy any more files to your flash drive, and in fact, keep it disconnected from your computer except to follow the instructions below.

#1. Check the Trash Can

Perhaps the easiest thing you can do to try to recover files from a USB flash drive on Mac is to simply check the Mac Trash. It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many files I personally have recovered by simply checking the Trash.

If you do find the lost files in your Trash, you can recover them by right clicking on them and pressing the “Put Back” button. The files will then be put back to where they were before they were deleted.
recover deleted files via trash can

#2. Check Other Trash Cans

Your Mac stores deleted files in a separate location for each drive you use — and not in one single Trash “folder.” In other words, the files you can see in the Trash might change depending on whether or not you have a particular drive connected to your computer.

Technically, your Mac should aggregate all those files into your Trash when drives are connected to your Mac. So as long as your drive is connected to your Mac, it should show up in your Mac’s Trash.

If you want to dig around in a drive’s own trash though, you can do so, but to do so you’ll need to enable hidden files.

  • If you’re using a Mac with Sierra or later (f.e. macOS Catalina), then you can enable hidden files in Finder by simply pressing Shift + Command + . (period). You should then see hidden files, and one of those will be a folder called “.Trashes”. You can open that folder and explore deleted files for your drive.
  • If your Mac is running a version of MacOS that’s older than Sierra, you’ll need to open the Terminal app (you can quickly open it by searching Terminal in Spotlight, by pressing Command + Space). Once Terminal is open, copy and paste the two commands below, pressing Enter after each line.
    defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
    killall Finder

check trash can for deleted files

If you want to then hide hidden files again, do the same, but change TRUE to FALSE. It’s recommended that you hide hidden files again after you search for your lost files, as hidden files are hidden for a reason — and accidentally deleting them could have unintended consequences.

#3. Use Data Recovery Software

If you can’t find files by checking the Mac’s Trash and the drive’s own Trash, you may need to turn to a data recovery tool. There are a few different kinds of data recovery tools, and some are free while others require a purchase. Generally speaking, it’s worth starting with a free tool (or with software with a free trial), and then moving to a paid tool if you can’t find the files you’re looking for. It’s important to note that paid tools are often better than free ones because of the fact developers of paid tools can devote more resources and time to those tools.

The tool that we tend to use most is Disk Drill. Disk Drill for Mac actually has a free preview feature, which you can use to preview files before recovery to make sure they are recoverable.

We’ll run through how to use Disk Drill below, but again, there are other options. For example, you can find out how to use the EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard to recover lost files here. Or, you can find out how to use Stellar Data Recovery here.
To use Disk Drill to recover lost files from a flash drive, follow the instructions below.

Step 1: Download and install Disk Drill for Mac, then connect your flash drive to your computer.

step 1

Step 2: Open Disk Drill and find your flash drive from the list of drives that show up. Select it, then press the “Search for last data” button on the bottom of the display.

step 2

Step 3: Wait for Disk Drill to scan for files. Once it has finished scanning, you’ll be able to “Review found items,” or “Recover all.” Tap the button that best applies to your needs.

step 3

Step 4: Press the “Recover” button and wait for Disk Drill to scan your flash drive. Once it has finished, you’ll be able to navigate through the files that were recovered.

There are some situations in which you may have to take extra steps to recover your files. For example, if you have a malfunctioning hard drive, whether it be corrupted or unrecognized, you may still be able to use Disk Drill to recover files from it, especially if your computer still recognizes it. If not, however, you may need to involve the help of a professional to recover files from the flash drive.

Conclusion

Between checking your Trash, checking your flash drive’s own trash, and using a professional data recovery tool, you’ll hopefully be able to recover any files that you have lost. If you still can’t recover your lost files, unfortunately, those files may be lost forever. That said, solutions like EaseUS and Disk Drill are pretty good at finding files that were previously deleted so hopefully you will have been able to find your file.

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