Mac Data Recovery
Last updated: November 27, 2023
How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac

How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac: Best 5 Essential Methods

Home->Mac Data Recovery->How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac: Best 5 Essential Methods

While there are numerous methods on the internet on how to retrieve deleted data on Mac, it’s not as easy as it looks. In some cases, the solutions suggested fail to give satisfactory results.

There are also some other factors that affect your chances of data recovery on a Mac. After carefully analyzing all the possible fixes, we’ll be sharing some hints that will help you recover deleted files on Mac. So, without any further ado, let’s dive in.

Note: To increase your chances of recovering the maximum amount of data and reduce any further damage, we suggest not using your Mac until the data recovery process is done.

Is It Possible to Recover Deleted Files on a Mac?

The short answer is, yes, it’s possible to recover deleted files on Mac.

However, not all deleted files can be recovered. After stress-testing all the recovery methods, we found that as a Mac owner, you should be aware of the following factors:

  • 💾 Backup availability: The availability of backups plays a pivotal role in data recovery. If you’ve backed up your files using tools like Time Machine, iCloud, or other third-party backup solutions, your chances of successful data recovery increase significantly. Additionally, these backups serve as a safety net, allowing you to restore deleted files with ease.
  • ⌛️ Time elapsed since deletion: The amount of time that has passed since you deleted the files can affect the likelihood of recovery. As the clock ticks, the risk of overwriting deleted data with new files grows. The sooner you attempt recovery, the better your chances of retrieving your lost files.
  • 📦 Type of storage device: The type of storage device you use can impact the recovery process. For example, if you’re using a Mac with an SSD, you might face challenges due to TRIM. On the other hand, older Macs with Hard Disk Drives (HDD) may offer more favorable conditions for data recovery.
    For instance, I use a MacBook M1 Max with an SSD. I had mistakenly deleted a folder consisting of pictures from a vacation. Upon realizing that the folder was missing after a few days, I went through all the tricks and “hacks” there were on the internet to recover it. I took some learnings from that experience and will be sharing those with you today in this article.
    Note: TRIM is a storage-cleaning function on Mac that optimizes the storage space for writing new files. In addition, this speeds up the writing of data and increases the lifespan of your SSD at the expense of essentially replacing your previous files with a blank slate. Therefore, when TRIM is enabled, the chances of your data being recovered on a Mac SSD are slim.
  • 🗂️ File Size: The size of the deleted file can be a critical factor in recovery. Smaller files are generally more likely to be recoverable than large files. Large files may have been fragmented and scattered across the drive, making recovery a more intricate process. In my case, I once lost a sizeable photo album, which presented significant challenges in recovery due to its large size and fragmentation.
  • 📂 Available Free Space: The amount of free space on your drive also plays a role in data recovery. If your storage device (SSD or HDD) is nearing its capacity, the chances of overwritten data increase. The less free disk space available, the more likely your deleted files will be replaced by newer data, making recovery more challenging.

Review of the Possible Solutions to Recover Deleted Files on Mac

When it comes to recovering deleted files on your Mac, several factors come into play. We’ll explore the various methods and options available, considering the type of deletion, backup availability, and your level of technical expertise.

  • Type of deletion applied: Firstly, it’s essential to determine how the files were deleted. There are two primary methods: files can be moved to the Trash or permanently deleted using a Mac keyboard shortcut. The distinction is crucial because the method you choose for recovery may depend on how the files were deleted.
    If the files were moved to the trash, you have a higher chance of recovery, as these files are not immediately removed from your hard drive. You can recover the files by right-clicking on them and selecting the “Put Back” option.
    Note: If you set the Trash to empty automatically, files will be deleted from the Trash after 30 days.
  • 🗒️ If the files were permanently deleted: Using the keyboard shortcut Option + Command + Delete, they skip the Trash and are tagged for overwriting. However, it’s important to note that even permanently deleted files may still exist on your hard drive until new data overwrites them.
  • 💿 Backup availability: Check if you have backups in place. If you regularly back up your data using Time Machine, iCloud, or other backup solutions, you can quickly restore files from your backup. Having a backup dramatically simplifies the recovery process and ensures that your data can be quickly restored.
  • 👤 User expertise: Consider your level of technical expertise when choosing a recovery method. Some methods, such as using data recovery software, may require more technical knowledge. If you’re not confident in the technical know-how of the software or if the data is critical, you should seek professional assistance. Data recovery experts can offer specialized tools and experience to increase the chances of successful file recovery.

5 Proven Ways to Restore Deleted Files on Mac

In the following sections, we will explore specific methods for recovering your deleted files, considering these factors and providing step-by-step guidance on each approach. Whether you’re a tech-savvy user with a backup strategy in place or someone needing more straightforward solutions, we’ve got you covered. Moreover, we will segment the methods depending on the cost and likelihood of retrieving permanently deleted files.

Method 1: Reverse Deletion Using Undo Command

The simplicity of the methodCostDoes it recover permanently deleted files?
EasyFreeNo

The undo command is a straightforward and quick way to recover recently deleted files on your Mac. It’s an essential tool for addressing minor accidental deletions and can be a real lifesaver when you realize you’ve removed something you didn’t intend to. However, it’s important to note that the undo command has its limitations and may not work for all types of deletions, especially if some time has passed since the deletion occurred.

Here are two ways to do the undo command:

Option 1: Press Command + Z on your keyboard:

This is the simplest and most commonly used way to execute the undo command. If you’ve just deleted a file and wish to retrieve it, press Command + Z on your keyboard immediately. This key combination will reverse your last action and restore the deleted file to its original location. It’s a quick and convenient option when you’ve made a recent mistake.

Option 2: Click on Edit at the Apple Menu bar and select Undo:

If you prefer using the menu bar, you can access the undo command through the Apple Menu.

  1. Click Edit on the top menu bar.
  2. Select Undo Move. This will have the same effect as pressing Command + Z, reversing your most recent deletion.selecting undo move on mac

While the undo command is a handy tool for swift file recovery, it’s important to remember that it is primarily designed for recent actions and may not be effective for older deletions. As we explore additional recovery methods, we’ll address scenarios where the undo command may not suffice, and alternative solutions become necessary.

Method 2: Recover Files from Trash

The simplicity of the methodCostDoes it recover permanently deleted files?
EasyFreeNo

Recovering files from the Trash is one of the most straightforward and user-friendly methods for Mac users. However, it comes with a few limitations that are essential to understand. This method is primarily effective for files that were recently deleted and have yet to be emptied from the Trash. Its usefulness is bounded by time and availability of the file.

Here’s how you can recover files from the Trash:

  1. Open the Trash Bin, usually located on the right side of the Dock.
  2. Once the Trash folder is open, you can browse through the files to find the ones you want to recover.
  3. After locating the file, right-click on it to reveal the options. From there, select Put Back. You can do this for one file or select multiple files to restore them.using put back file from trash
You have the option to sort the files in the Trash by date, type, and name, which can make the process easier. Adjust these sorting options as needed to locate the specific files you wish to recover.

Method 3: Restore Permanently Deleted Files from Backup

The simplicity of the methodCostDoes it recover permanently deleted files?
MediumFreeYes

Another way to recover permanently deleted files on Mac is to restore them from a backup. Your Mac has a built-in software for this called Time Machine. This app essentially stores data of all your files, regardless if they were permanently deleted or overwritten from your storage device.

A copied version of those files is saved in the program. You’ll just need to know how to access those in order to restore your deleted files.

Disclaimer: If you never used Time Machine before or have manually backed up a folder, you may not find a backup of the file you’re trying to restore. Time Machine only restores files that were actively backed up by you.

Here are the steps to recover deleted files on Mac using Time Machine:

  1. There are two ways to use Time Machine, but we’ll go through the convenient method first. Start by opening the folder where you deleted the file.
  2. Once you’re there, click on the Time Machine icon on your Menu bar and select Browse Time Machine Backups. If you can’t find the icon there, try checking System Preferences. Activating Time Machine will allow you to see your folders and how they used to be arranged and filled in the past.browse time machine backups
  3. Your screen should show the Time Machine interface. You can navigate through the interface using the arrows beside the folders or by browsing through the timeline on the right-hand side of your screen. You can even use the search field to look for your files.
  4. When you finally find the file you want to recover, simply click on it and select the Restore button below the folder interface. You might be asked for your Mac or admin password, so just type that in if prompted.restoring the file from file interface
  5. After you’ve restored the file, check the folder where it was originally located to ensure that it’s back in its place.

Voila! That’s the easiest way to use Time Machine to recover your deleted files from a previous backup. If you couldn’t find the Time Machine icon on your Menu bar, then here’s your fix:

  1. Open the Spotlight by pressing Command + Space and typing in “Time Machine.” Run the application from there to get started. You can also open Time Machine by opening System Preferences and running it from there.
  2. With that done, look for and check the box for Show Time Machine in the menu bar.
That should fix your issue about the Time Machine icon not showing up on your menu bar.

Method 4: Data Recovery Software

The simplicity of the methodCostDoes it recover permanently deleted files?
MediumFree + Paid versions availableYes

When your files are no longer in the Trash, it’s likely they have been permanently deleted. However, as mentioned earlier, permanently deleted files still reside on your hard drive, but you can’t access them through conventional means. To recover these files, we’ll turn to data recovery software tools. These powerful tools can scan your storage and identify files that were permanently deleted but are still present, as long as they haven’t been overwritten.

It’s important to note that the success of software data recovery depends on several factors, including how much data has been overwritten since the files were deleted. Therefore, it’s crucial to act swiftly to maximize your chances of recovering your important files.

For this demonstration, we will use Disk Drill, a widely recognized data recovery tool for Mac. We have long been users of Disk Drill, and we particularly like it for its ease of use and the wide range of supported file types including the Mac file systems APFS, HFS, Mac FAT32, and NTFS. Additionally, you can scan the drive for free to see which are the recoverable files before purchasing the software for as low as $89.

Follow these steps to recover permanently deleted files on Mac using Disk Drill:

  1. Go ahead and download Disk Drill onto your Mac. Just click on Free Download to get started.
  2. Double-click on Disk Drill once it’s downloaded to install the program. The entire installation process can take a couple of seconds up to several minutes, depending on the speed of your device. To complete the download process, a convenient interface will appear on your screen asking you to move Disk Drill into the Applications folder.install disk drill
  3. Now that it’s completely installed, simply launch Disk Drill and select the storage device you want to scan. Disk Drill works on the built-in hard drive or SSD of your Mac and even on external storage devices like hard drives and USBs.launching disk drill
  4. Click on Search for Lost Data on the right panel of the screen. This entire process can take from several minutes to maybe half an hour, depending on the size of your storage and the speed of your computer.
  5. When the scan is finished, you can review everything that Disk Drill found in your storage, listed as Pictures, Video, Audio, Documents, and Archives, and Others. Click on Review found items on the top-right corner of your screen to view the files that can be recovered.disk drill review found items
  6. Select a category or folder to review the recoverable files. You can filter the results by file size, date modified, and you can even see the recovery chances.select a category from a folder
  7. Finally, select the files you want to recover, click on Recover at the bottom-right corner of your screen, and select the destination folder to restore the files.select recovery location
Disk Drill will ask you for the destination folder. This is where your restored file will be sent to once it’s recovered.

Method 5: Professional Data Recovery Service

The simplicity of the methodCostDoes it recover permanently deleted files?
Depending on how quickly you can consult with an expertService charge of the data recovery  professionalYes

If none of the abovementioned methods worked, then the problem is more technical and requires professional attention. Professional data recovery services are equipped with the technical knowledge and tools to retrieve lost files from most extreme situations. Moreover, these professionals can also give you sound advice on using your Mac properly upon consulting with them.

Other Notable Methods to Recover Deleted Files on Mac

When it comes to recovering deleted files on your Mac, there are additional methods other than the ones discussed above. If you want to give them a shot, here they are:

Using Terminal:

The Mac Terminal is a command-line interface that allows users to access and manipulate files at a deeper level. It can be used to navigate to the Trash folder and recover deleted files. However, it’s important to note that Terminal is not user-friendly for the average Mac user and is best suited for individuals with advanced technical skills.

Additionally, Terminal carries a risk of data loss if not used correctly. For these reasons, it’s generally not recommended for file recovery, and there are safer and more user-friendly alternatives available.

Using iCloud:

iCloud is a convenient method for recovering recently deleted files on your Mac. It offers user-friendly features and is particularly useful for retrieving files that were recently deleted. iCloud syncs your data across your Apple devices, and it maintains a 30-day retention period for deleted files.

It’s a great option if you have enabled regular iCloud backups and need to recover files that were recently deleted. However, there are some limitations to consider. For older file recovery or specific file types, iCloud may be less effective.

The success of recovery via iCloud can also depend on synchronization settings, as files deleted on one device will be removed from all devices connected to the same iCloud account. For more complex recovery scenarios, users may need to explore alternative methods.

FAQs

Deleted items normally go to the Trash on a Mac. If you permanently delete your files through the Option + Command + Del shortcut, then it’ll immediately mark the files as ready for overwriting. These files are harder to recover, but they’re still physically stored in your storage device, just inaccessible through normal means. Permanently deleted files are ready to be overwritten with new data, but until they’re overwritten, they can still be recovered with data recovery programs like Disk Drill.
Yes, it is possible to recover deleted files on a Mac without using Time Machine. Although it isn’t a guarantee, there’s a huge chance that your deleted files are still in your hard drive just waiting to be overwritten. Data recovery programs like Disk Drill scan your entire hard drive for deleted files and then give you the option to recover them.
You can recover deleted files on a Mac without software by using the Undo command. However, this only works for files that weren’t permanently deleted. That being said, you can also use Time Machine and the Trash to recover files without having to install a third-party application.

There are several ways you can recover permanently deleted files on Mac for free.

  1. Use Mac’s Time Machine.
  2. Check the Trash to see if the file has been permanently deleted. If not, then you can restore it from there.
  3. Download free versions of data recovery software like Disk Drill.
  4. If you are a seasoned Mac user, you can try the Terminal to restore deleted files on Mac.

Conclusion

Deleting your files by accident can leave you with a heart attack. Thankfully, Apple has made it much easier for you to recover lost files on your Mac. With these five simple steps, you can restore your files through the Trash, a data recovery program, and even with a backup from Time Machine!

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.
Scroll to top