Whether you’re the victim of an accidental reformatting or a corrupted drive, it can be heart-wrenching to think of losing all your precious data forever. The special moments captured in family photos. The vital tax documents. The work-related spreadsheets. And yes, even the saved game files you spent far too much time on.

But luckily, a formatting error doesn’t mean your data is gone for good. There are a few simple steps you can take to get your files back—permanently.

Can You Recover a Formatted Hard Drive on Mac?

The short answer here is yes, you can recover a formatted hard drive on Mac.

When you format a hard drive, you’re preparing it to use a specific file format system. On the surface, this process erases all of the information on the drive—a terrifying prospect if you aren’t expecting it.

However, your data isn’t actually gone here as long as:

  • you used quick formatting rather than full formatting (default on macOS);
  • if you’re using an HDD (things get a bit trickier on SSDs thanks to TRIM, which deletes data permanently to boost performance).
Instead, it’s more like the process makes your information invisible. It’s only after you write new data over the existing data is your information lost completely.

As a result, you can recover those “lost” files. But to do so successfully, you need to follow these steps before you can hope to recover your files from an erased hard drive on Mac.

  1. Immediately stop using the drive. Every moment you continue to write new information to that drive, your chances of recovering your lost data are less and less.
  2. Find a data recovery solution. This guide outlines four of the best solutions out there (three that are software and one that’s a service). More on those in a bit.
  3. Cross your fingers. As long as you don’t use your hard drive immediately after formatting, chances are good you can recover your data. But some factors, like your hard drive type, can end up making recovery impossible.

A Quick Guide on the Basics of Formatting

To better understand how you can recover files from a formatted hard drive on Mac, it’s best to get a basic grasp of what formatting means.

In most cases, formatting a hard drive refers to creating or changing a drive’s format system. All drives need a format system. Simply put, the format is the specific way information on the drive is organized. Without that system of organization, the data won’t make any sense to the system reading it.

Now, different operating systems can only read the data according to specific file systems. Modern Macs are compatible with three file systems: Apple File System (APFS), Mac OS Extended (HFS+), and MS-DOS (FAT) & exFAT (also compatible with Microsoft).

As a result, you may find yourself needing to reformat a drive to make it compatible with your Mac. Fixing a corrupted hard drive may also mean you need to reformat. And you may have even reformatted your drive entirely by accident.

No matter why you’ve formatted your drive, you may still be able to get your files back since those files aren’t gone until you write new info on the drive.

How to Recover Files From a Formatted Hard Drive on a Mac

There are a few ways to recover deleted files on a Mac. But when it comes to getting your data back from a formatted hard drive, your best bet is to use third-party software to get your data back (a.k.a, “unformat your Mac hard drive”). Don’t worry—it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Below are the three best options we’ve found for formatted Mac hard drive recovery.

Option A: Disk Drill for Mac

Disk Drill is without a doubt our go-to option if we want to recover files from an erased hard drive on Mac. Among the best data recovery software options out there, Disk Drill is remarkably simple to use. And it boasts an impressive 90% recovery rate—not bad at all.

This data recovery software is free to use and capable of recovering hundreds of file formats from storage devices. Whether your drive is formatted, corrupted, or even perfectly healthy, Disk Drill is an excellent tool for data recovery.

To “drill down” into the specifics about Disk Drill, have a look at our in-depth review. You can also check out this comprehensive review of Disk Drill for macOS.

To recover your deleted files from a formatted Mac hard drive using Disk Drill:

  1. Download Disk Drill and install it on your Mac by dragging the icon to the Applications folder.The first step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to install Disk Drill.
  2. Launch Disk Drill and grant it full disk access (required if you want Disk Drill to find your lost files).The second step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to launch Disk Drill.
  3. Choose the formatted hard drive you want to scan and click the “Search for lost data” button to start the scan.The third EaseUS step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose your drive.
  4. Wait for the scan to finish. It may take several minutes, depending on the size of your drive.The fourth step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to wait for the scan to finish.
  5. Click “Review found items” to view the found files (or click “Recover all” to relocate everything found on the drive).The fifth step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to click review found items.
  6. Find the files you’re looking for. Click the eye icon next to the files to preview them.The sixth step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to find your files.
  7. Select the files you want to restore and click the “Recover” button.The third step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to select your files.
  8. Choose the destination you’d like to restore them to and click the “OK” button. Make sure you don’t restore to the same drive to avoid overwriting the data.The eighth step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose where to save the files.

Option B: PhotoRec

PhotoRec is another data recovery software option. It’s completely open-source, which means you won’t have to pay to use it. You’ll have to download and install two additional pieces of software to access it though, Homebrew and TestDisk.

It also doesn’t have a graphical interface (maybe a turn-off for some). But rest assured, it’s a snap to navigate.

Take a look at our detailed review on PhotoRec to learn more about using this recovery software.

To recover your files from a formatted Mac hard drive using PhotoRec:

  1. Install Homebrew by navigating to Terminal (Command + Space, then type “Terminal”). Then copy and enter this command:
    ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)" 2> /dev/null

    You may need to enter your Mac user password. Do so and hit Enter (your screen will not show your password as you type as a security measure).

    The first PhotoRec step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to install Homebrew.

  2. Enter the following command to install TestDisk:
    brew install testdisk
    

    The second PhotoRec step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to install TestDisk.

  3. Run PhotoRec by entering the following command:
    sudo photorec

    The third PhotoRec step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to run PhotoRec.

  4. Choose your drive from the populated list. If your formatted disk is not showing, check that it’s correctly connected to your Mac and relaunch PhotoRec.The fourth PhotoRec step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose your drive.
  5. Select the type of file format that the storage device uses.The fifth PhotoRec step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose the file format.
  6. Select the location you’d like to save the deleted files. You can’t select the individual files on the drive, so be sure you put them in a location that’s easy to navigate, as PhotoRec will recover all the files it finds.The sixth PhotoRec step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose the recovery location.
  7. PhotoRec will then start recovering your missing files. You’ll receive a notification when the process is over. You’ll also be able to see how much of your data PhotoRec was able to recover. After that, head to the location you selected, and your recovered files will be there, good as new.

Option C: EaseUS Mac Data Recovery Software

Another option to recover an erased hard drive on Mac is EaseUS. Featuring a smooth graphical interface, plenty of compatible file types, and yes, a free option, EaseUS is a favorite for data recovery.

That being said, you’re limited to 2GB of recovered files with the free version, which may be less than some users hoped. The paid plans may also be out of some people’s price range.

We’ve talked about EaseUS before. And if you want to get a better idea of how this recovery software stacks up, take a look at our comprehensive EaseUS review here.

To use EaseUS to restore a formatted hard drive on Mac:

  1. Download and install EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard. You’ll want to make sure you’re downloading the “Free” version rather than the “Trial” version. The free version lets you recover up to 2GB of files. With the trial version, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan to recover any files.

    The first EaseUS step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to install EaseUS.

  2. Grant EaseUS permissions to access your drives (required for data recovery).

    The second EaseUS step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to grant EaseUS permissions.

  3. Choose the formatted drive you’d like to recover files from and click the “Scan” button.

    The third EaseUS step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose your drive.

  4. Wait for the scan to complete. It may take a while, depending on the size of your drive.

    The fourth EaseUS step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to wait for the scan.

  5. Drill down through the file locations to find the files you’d like to recover. You can double-click the files to generate a preview. After you’ve chosen your files, click the “Recover Now” button.

    The fifth EaseUS step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose your files.

  6. Choose where to save your recovered files and then click the “Save” button. Your files will then transfer to that location where you can interact with them like usual. Remember, you’re limited to restoring just 2GB of files using EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.

    The sixth EaseUS step to recover your formatted Mac hard drive is to choose where to save.

Honorable Mention: Professional Data Recovery Service

If the free options above don’t work for you (or you simply want to leave your data recovery to the professionals), you can also reach out to a data recovery service.

These services specialize in getting your data back, no matter the cause of loss. They use specialized tools, advanced recovery methods, and a wealth of experience to achieve the best results possible.

It’s worth noting that a professional data recovery specialist will be able to restore data from mechanically damaged drives (which is outside the limits of most free software). They may also offer a warranty on their work—if they can’t recover your data, you don’t pay.

Wondering where to find the best professional data recovery service? Wonder no more. We have already put together a list of the five best data recovery services in the industry.

FAQ

Below are just a few of the most frequently asked questions about how to recover a formatted Mac hard drive.

Conclusion

An accidentally formatted hard drive on Mac may seem like it spells disaster for your files. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can.

But with the solutions outlined above, you can bring your data back from the abyss. Best of all, the strategies are uncomplicated, widely available, and inexpensive (even free). And with them, you can get rid of that lump in your throat and recover your files from a formatted hard drive on Mac before you know it.