Mac Data Recovery
Last updated: December 5, 2023
Recover Accidentally Emptied Trash on Mac

How to Recover Accidentally Emptied Trash on Mac with Ease

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Have you ever emptied the Trash on your Mac, thinking that you had copies on an external drive, only to find out that you forgot to create backups of some of the files? You’re not alone.

Prematurely deleting files from the Trash tool is an exceedingly common occurrence with Mac users, but the good news is that there are various ways you can go about getting those erased files back.

In this guide, we’ll give you a better idea of how the Trash tool works and walk you through how to recover emptied Trash on Mac using the most effective methods.

How Trash Works & Is It Possible to Recover Emptied Trash on macOS

Whenever you delete a file or folder on your Mac, it doesn’t get erased right away. Instead, it gets sent to the Trash tool, where it’s kept until the Trash is emptied. That way, if the data was deleted accidentally, you still have the opportunity to restore it before it’s permanently gone.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Trash tool automatically gets rid of files older than 30 days by default.

Once a file has been erased from the Trash, the system purges its entry from the directory index, making it inaccessible to the user from the macOS. But in reality, the file data remains on the drive until it’s overwritten by new information or the TRIM command is executed on an SSD. That’s what makes it possible to recover data from an emptied Trash.

Before we jump into the different data retrieval methods, it’s important to understand the different factors that can affect your recovery chances. Below is a table detailing these factors, as well as the impact that they may have on the restoration process and the overall likelihood of recovery.

FactorImpact on RecoveryEstimated Recovery Chances
Time since deletionThe less time has passed, the higher the chance of recovery, as data is less likely to be overwritten.High if immediate action is taken.
✒️ Data overwritingIf new data has been saved over the location of the deleted file, recovery chances drop significantly.Low if the drive has been used extensively after deletion.
🗂️ File systemDifferent file systems like HFS+ and APFS handle deleted files differently. For instance, APFS’s snapshot feature can affect the recovery process.Varies. Depends on a particular file system and OS settings.
💽 Type of storageIt’s far easier to recover files on an HDD compared to an SSD, as the latter utilizes a TRIM feature that engages as soon as a file is deleted and results in the data becoming gone for good.Directly depends on the type of drive.
🧰 Recovery softwareSpecialized software can scan for and recover data that hasn’t been overwritten yet.Moderate to high, depending on the software and condition of the drive.
👨‍💻 Professional servicesExperts may recover data in complex cases, like physical drive damage or extensive overwriting.Varies widely; it can be low to high depending on specific circumstances.

How to Recover Files from Emptied Trash on Mac

Ideally, the best way to recover lost data from an emptied Trash would be through a backup, but we know that that’s not always available. After all, data loss often occurs abruptly, and it’s not uncommon for users to be unprepared. If that’s the case for you, then your best chance at getting your files back is through a data recovery program.

You may have come across several data recovery software options online, each promising to recover your deleted files. They may share a similar function, but they vary in terms of special features, the recovery process, pricing or plans, and even the type of file that the app can recover.

For this guide, we’ve picked out a couple of the most popular and effective data retrieval solutions around – Disk Drill and PhotoRec. Before we discuss how to use them, here are a few high and lowlights of both apps:

CriteriaDisk DrillPhotoRec
🖥️ User-InterfaceFeatures a well-designed graphical user interface that’s friendly to both newcomers and expertsUtilizes a command-line interface that’s geared more toward the technically skilled and may prove challenging for casual Mac users
🔍 File recovery competencyCapable of recovering pretty much all available file types, ranging from images and videos to documents and archivesCapable of recovering pretty much all available file types, ranging from images and videos to documents and archives
🗃️ File System CompatibilityCompatible with all major file systems, such as APFS, HFS+, NTFS, ExFAT, FAT32, etc.Utilizes a signature-based file search process, allowing it to ignore file systems. That way, it can scan even severely compromised file systems. The program’s officially supported file systems are  FAT, NTFS, exFAT, ext2,ext3,ext4, HFS+
🚀 Scanning SpeedSpeedy scanning capabilities, though the overall duration of the scan still depends on the size and state of the storage deviceNot quite as fast as Disk Drill, but it impressively thorough in scanning for recoverable files
💲 CostAllows you to scan a device for all retrievable files at no cost but requires a license purchase to actually recover any dataOpen-source and totally free

Option A: Disk Drill

For Mac, one of the most trusted data recovery programs is Disk Drill, on account of its high efficiency, quick scans, and intuitive user interface. Aside from that, it also includes a host of nifty features, including the following:

  • Support for all modern Mac devices and the latest macOS
  • High compatibility for RAW photos and video formats
  • Special disk management tools that include S.M.A.R.T monitoring. This tool constantly updates and monitors your drive for potential data loss.
  • Additional features like byte-to-byte backup, data shredder, and macOS bootable installation drive.
  • Capable of mobile device recovery on certain data on iOS and Android devices, which is a rare feature versus other competitors.
Want to know more about Disk Drill for Mac? Then read our full review.

Since files from an emptied Trash are still located somewhere in your hard disk but are no longer visible to the OS, Disk Drill will be able to recover emptied Trash on Mac with its advanced algorithms that can perform a quick or deep scan on your hard disk.

To start recovering files from an emptied Trash on Mac, Disk Drill recommends that you perform the recovery process using an external hard drive. Doing so will prevent overwriting the files that you intend to recover with Disk Drill.
  1. Download and install the Disk Drill app from their official website and save it on a USB stick or any external device. Click the Free Download button if you want to try the app first to test it out without any monetary commitment.
  2. Launch the app and select the drive where your Trash folder is located. After that, scan for lost files by clicking “Search for lost data” on the right part of the screen.
    select drive
  3. Upon clicking, Disk Drill will start scanning for recoverable files on your drive. To proceed to the results screen, click the “Review found items” button at the top-right corner.
    disk drill scan
  4. Once you’re in the results section, you can preview files before recovering them to make sure you are retrieving the correct ones. Select the files that you want to get back and click “Recover” on the bottom-right corner of the screen.
    disk drill choose files
  5. Select a new location where you want to place the retrieved file from Trash. It’s best that you choose a different storage device than the one you’re recovering from in order to avoid overwriting issues. Click “Next” once you’ve selected a folder destination.
    disk drill recovery location
Disk Drill is nice and easy to use. You’re able to first make sure whether your files are recoverable by freely deep scanning your drives. If you happen to find your files and want to recover them, you’ll need to upgrade to the PRO version for $89 first.

Option B: PhotoRec

As you may have surmised from the table above, PhotoRec’s biggest advantage is the fact that you won’t have to spend a dime to use all of its features. On top of that, it boasts effective data recovery prowess, high file system/ file type compatibility, and thorough scans.

The glaring downside, however, is its command-line-based nature, which means you’ll need to be at least slightly knowledgeable in Terminal commands to get it to run.

If that’s not an issue for you or you’re up for learning new things, here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how you can use PhotoRec to retrieve files that were emptied from the Mac Trash tool:

  1. To get started, navigate to the CGSecurity website and download the newest version of PhotoRec. From there, extract it to your Mac device.
  2. Launch Photorec, then highlight the storage device where your Trash is located and press Enter.
    photorec select device
  3. Next, select the option labeled “Whole disk” and hit Enter.
    photorec select partition
  4. Pick the corresponding file system and tap Enter.
    photorec select file system
  5. After that, navigate to the folder where you want to save the retrieved files and hit the “c” key to proceed.
    photorec choose destination
  6. Upon clicking, PhotoRec will begin scanning and automatically save any successfully recovered files to the selected destination folder.

How to Recover Emptied Trash on Mac Without Software

We always recommend data recovery software first because our practice shows that no other method has successfully recovered more deleted files. Additionally, these third-party programs aren’t dependent on the user to make regular backups.

But, if you want to try alternative ways to recover data from an emptied Trash, here are other methods that don’t need third-party apps.

Option A: Backups

Regularly backing up your files can save you from lots of trouble and hassle whenever situations like accidentally emptying Trash on Mac happen. There are several, simple ways to recover Trash using backups, which we will be discussing in detail below:

  • Manual Backups
  • Time Machine
  • iCloud

Unfortunately, if you didn’t save a backup of your file with either of these programs beforehand, then the alternative methods below won’t work for you.

Manual Backups

If you manually backed up your files using an external hard drive, just plug that drive into your Mac and select the accidentally deleted file that you want to use again. Then, drag the file to the desktop and you’re good to go.

You’ll also want to repeat the same process with other files that you want to backup.

Since manual backups are not done very frequently, chances are the backed-up files that you have may not be the most recent versions. This is why we recommend that you set up automatic backups using Apple or Mac’s pre-installed backup tools.

Time Machine

Time Machine is macOS’ built-in backup feature. It can create automatic backups on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis. While it is recommended to store the backed-up files on Time Machine via an external hard drive, you can still store them in your Mac’s hard drive as long as it has enough space.

Just keep in mind that when the drive no longer has any storage space left, it will automatically delete the oldest backups to make space for new ones.

To restore files from an emptied Trash on Mac using Time Machine, do the simple steps below:

  1. Launch the Time Machine app on your Mac by clicking Time Machine’s icon on the Menu bar or by using the Spotlight search bar.searching time machine on spotlight search bar
  2. Locate your file from the backed-up files displayed on the screen. If you are unsure of the file name, you can also preview the files before restoring them.
  3. Click Restore once you’ve found the right file, and you’re done.restore files with time machine


The last backup solution for Apple is iCloud. If you previously linked your iCloud backup to your Mac, you can recover your files from an emptied Trash through it. Here’s how:

  1. Log in to your iCloud or Apple ID account on in to iCloud
  2. Text.go to data recovery section
  3. restore files
  4. files and click restore button

Option B: Data Recovery Service

Hiring a data recovery service is our final option to recover files from an emptied Trash. It will cost you some money since you will be paying for a professional service and you will probably be asked to leave your Mac behind for diagnosis and the recovery process.

We must tell you that, chances are, they will still be using DIY software like Disk Drill to try and recover files from your emptied Trash on Mac, so why not try it yourself first? It is a small investment that comes with great benefits.

For this reason, we recommend seeking professional help as a last resort, when nothing you’ve tried so far has worked.


You can recover deleted files on Mac after emptying the Trash by accessing the backed-up files or using a data recovery software.

  1. Download and install data recovery software for Mac on an external hard drive.
  2. Launch the tool and scan for lost data.
  3. Browse the results, preview the file, and select files to recover.
  4. Choose a destination folder for your files.

Remember not to save the files to the location you are recovering from. In this case its Mac hard drive.

Yes, you can recover deleted files on Mac using Terminal since it allows you to control Time Machine, which is Mac’s built-in backup feature. Plus, since Terminal uses a command-line interface, you can recover deleted files as long as you are familiar with the codes and correct paths.
You can access the Trash folder by clicking the Trash bin icon located on your dock. If it’s not on your dock, you can launch it by typing “Trash” on the Spotlight search bar.


Thanks to technology that’s constantly improving, it is now possible to recover accidentally emptied Trash using several methods, without having to go through technical difficulties.

Since accidents can happen at any time, it’s always best to get in the habit of regularly creating backups to avoid feeling stressed over lost files. If you failed to do a backup, a data recovery software like Disk Drill can do the work for you.

Mako Young is a writer for all things tech. He's been writing about Macs for years and has been using Macs for more than a decade. When he isn't reading about the latest news on Apple, he's busy studying cybersecurity, cryptocurrency, cloud computing, and other IT-related sectors.
avatar approver Andrey Vasilyev Approver
Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor at onMac. Andrey is a software expert with extensive experience in data recovery, computer forensics, and litigation. Andrey has over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair.
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