Mac Data Recovery
Last updated: September 2, 2022

How to Recover Disappeared Desktop Files on Mac

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The Desktop folder is one of the main folders on your Mac. It stores files that are either downloaded or transferred to the computer. However, some users have experienced losing files from the Desktop folder on Mac. Although there are many causes for disappearing files, one of the most common causes is users accidentally deleting data.

Regardless of how the files were lost, we’ll show you how to recover Desktop files on your Mac that have suddenly disappeared.

Read this guide to learn more.

Why Desktop Files Disappear on Mac

Suddenly losing files on the Desktop folder is a familiar issue among Mac users and can happen to anyone. Some users lose it due to human error, others due to technical errors.

Here are the most common reasons why your Desktop folders disappeared on Mac:

  • Forgetting to save the file
  • Accidentally deleting the file
  • Sudden power loss or computer crashes
  • Overwriting a file or misplacing it into another folder
  • Files disappeared after software update
  • Files disappearing after changing your password
  • Misplacing a file
  • 3rd-party security software accidentally deleting a file
  • You enabled the “Hide extensions for known file types” option
  • Malware
  • Problems with iCloud sync

Fortunately, Mac computers have recovery methods that can help you find files on Mac and restore lost files. Granted, 3rd-party data recovery solutions are more reliable and do a deep scan of your storage device, allow you to preview files, and ultimately recover deleted items more reliably.

Best Methods to Recover Disappeared Files from the Desktop on Mac

If you’ve experienced any of the cases above, here are some recovery methods that you can try. We have compiled different and effective how-to methods to recover disappeared desktop files on your Mac.

Most of these methods require you to access tools that are built into your device, so they are free to do and can be used by following specific steps. We have also provided the top data recovery software solutions as an alternative option to recover lost data on your Mac.

Read on and follow the steps carefully.

Method #1: Recover Deleted Files from the Trash

Deleted desktop files don’t immediately disappear from your system. Unless these desktop files are explicitly deleted permanently, they are temporarily moved to the Trash folder where you can still retrieve them.

To recover deleted files from the Trash, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Trash app by clicking its icon on the Dock. You can find the Trash app on the rightmost side of the Dock.
  2. Find your lost file. You can sort the files by Name, Date Modified, Size, and Kind. You can also search for your file using the Quick Search feature on the top-right part of the window.
  3. Right-click on the file you want (Control + left-click on a trackpad) and select Put Back.
  4. Open the folder where your file used to be. It should be back in its original location.restored file on desktop
If you’ve already emptied your trash folder, you can try our guide on how to recover accidentally emptied Mac Trash.

Method #2: Recover Desktop Files with a Data Recovery Software Tool

Another method that you can try is using a software tool for data recovery like Disk Drill. It’s a proven solution for data loss, including recovering disappeared desktop files. Disk Drill is available on the latest version of MacOS and M1-powered Macs and Windows OS. It can also recover over 300+ different file formats, so you should find whatever files you lost.

To use Disk Drill for recovering desktop files on Mac, follow the steps below:

  1. Download Disk Drill for Mac from their official website and install it on your device.
  2. Launch the app and select the Mac’s hard drive.
  3. Choose the recovery method that you want to use.
  4. Click Search for Lost Data. Disk Drill will now begin to search for deleted data that may be for lost data dd Mac
  5. Select Review found items to view the recovered files individually. They should be sorted according to their file category.Select Review found items
  6. Filter through the files by either using the file categories on the left pane, the Search feature, or the sort options below the Search bar.
  7. Make sure you found the right file and it has not been overwritten by using the Preview pane on the right to view your lost file.
  8. Select it if it’s the right one, and click Recover.
  9. Choose the file location that you want and select OK. Your file will now be available in your selected folder.
Note: To access all of Disk Drill’s features, you’ll need to subscribe to the PRO version. Learn more about Disk Drill pricing plan.

Method #3: Recover Disappeared Files With Time Machine

Time Machine is a utility app that’s designed to recover files that were overwritten or accidentally deleted. This app takes a snapshot of a specific folder at a particular time in order to create a temporary backup.

Take Note: This method is only available if you have duly set-up your Time Machine backup or if you regularly store backups in an external device, like a hard drive. Check out this guide on how to restore from a Time Machine backup to learn more.

To use Time Machine to recover disappeared files on Mac, do these steps:

  1. Use the Finder app to go to the Desktop folder.
  2. Click the Launchpad and go to Other (Utilities) > Time Machine. Alternatively, you can also click on the Time Machine icon at the menu bar and selecting Enter Time Machine. If you don’t have that enabled, simply open up the Apple menu, go to System Preferences, click Time Machine, then select “Show Time Machine in menu bar.”enter time machine button
  3. Use the arrow buttons to navigate through the snapshots of backups shown on the screen.
  4. Find the snapshot that contains the file.
  5. Select it and click the Restore button to confirm and recover the file.

Method #4: Check your iCloud Backup to Recover Lost Desktop Files

If your iCloud account has been set up, there’s a chance that you can find your lost file in your iCloud backup. The files may have been backed up before you deleted the file from your desktop.

Some of you may have disabled your iCloud drive sync due to full storage capacity, no internet connection, etc. If this is the case, skip this method and proceed to the fifth one.

However, if you have your iCloud working, you should immediately unsync your iCloud account. There is a chance that your file was uploaded to your iCloud Drive, if so, you can disable the iCloud sync and recover the file from there before your iCloud syncs and deletes the file like you did with your desktop.

Here’s how you can unsync your iCloud:

  1. Click on the Apple menu at the top-left corner of your screen and select System
  2. From there, navigate to Apple ID and select iCloud.
  3. On your right, there is a list of apps that are using iCloud. Look for and uncheck iCloud Drive.find-icloud

With your Mac unsynced from your iCloud account, here’s how you can check and possibly recover the lost files to your Desktop:

  1. Go to iCloud and log in to your iCloud account.
  2. Select iCloud Drive.
  3. Choose Recently Deleted found at the bottom-right corner of the page.
  4. Find the file that you want to recover. You can use the sorting options at the top-left corner of the page to help find your file faster.
  5. Select your lost file. Then, choose the Recover button. Your file will now be restored to its original file location.preview-and-select-files

If you can’t find the deleted file on the Recently Deleted folder, try finding the file on the Desktop folder on your iCloud drive. iCloud may have an old copy saved on the drive. You can copy-paste this file onto your desktop immediately to restore it.

Keep note though that the file may be old, so you could lose some progress if you were working on the file.

Method #5: Find Hidden & Missing Files

If you failed to find your lost file using the above options, here are some alternative ways to help search for it.

Use the Finder to Search for Disappeared Files

You can use the Finder app to view and search for your lost desktop files. It acts as a directory for all folders on your Mac. You can also search for the lost file using its Search function found at the top-right corner of the screen.

To use the finder to search for disappeared files, follow the steps below:

  1. Open the Finder by clicking on its icon at the Dock.
  2. Search through other folders on your Mac if you can’t find the right file in the Desktop folder.
  3. Access the Quick Search feature by pressing the Command + Space bar keys. Search for the file there.

Once found, your file should be displayed on the Finder screen.

Use Spotlight to Search for Disappeared Files

Another method that you can use to search for disappeared files is through Spotlight. It acts as a search feature where you can search for files, apps, images, and much more. To learn more, check out this Spotlight Search article by Apple.

To use the Spotlight app to search for your lost desktop file, proceed to the following steps:

  1. Click the Spotlight icon found on the menu bar or press the Command + Space bar keys on your keyboard to open Spotlight.
  2. Go to the search field.
  3. Type in the filename of your lost desktop file. It will appear at the top of the search results if it’s still saved on your Mac.
  4. Press the Tab key to see a preview of the file.
  5. Click on it to open and see its file

Unhide Missing Files Using Mac Terminal

The Mac Terminal or Terminal is the command line of macOS devices. It’s a built-in app that’s utilized for repairs and to take control of the operating system. You can also use it to show all hidden files on your Mac, in case your lost file is just hidden and not deleted.

To unhide missing files using the Terminal, follow the steps below:

  1. Open Mac Terminal by going to Launchpad > Others (Utilities) > Terminal.
  2. Type in this command: “defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE” and press Enter.
  3. Type in “killall Finder” and press Enter. All hidden files on your Mac will now be visible.make-hidden-file-visible-in-terminal
  4. Restart Your Mac
  5. Search for the hidden file by using either the Finder or Spotlight Search.

Recovering Disappeared Desktop Files on Mac—FAQs

Most times, Desktop files disappear from Mac because they were deleted accidentally or were not saved. Sudden power loss and crashes on your Mac device can also be the reason for lost Desktop files. Fortunately, they can be recovered using built-in apps on your Mac and by third-party data recovery software tools.
Software updates can temporarily delete items on your desktop, as well as certain third-party applications. However, you can still find these files using the Finder or Spotlight Search. Just use the Quick Search feature to locate the icon using its name.

Yes, you can recover your Desktop files. Given that they were lost a few weeks to a month ago, it’s still possible to recover them via a third-party data recovery software tool like Disk Drill. It’s a trusted tool that you can use to recover deleted files on your Mac.

Alternatively, you can use free, built-in, backup Mac apps like Time Machine and iCloud, but only if you were able to set them up prior to losing your Desktop files.

You can find and recover your Desktop files that disappeared using a variety of ways.

  1. Use a data recovery tool – Disk Drill is a secure, reliable way to recover deleted files on your Mac. Data recovery tools like this will scan your hard drive or SSD and recover most files as long as they were recently deleted and not overwritten.
  2. Check iCloud and Time Machine – If your Mac was configured to make automatic backups, you can use them to recover the files that disappeared.
  3. Search with Spotlight and Finder – Use these built-in features on your Mac to find files that you might have misplaced.
  4. Use Mac Terminal – For hidden files, use the Mac Terminal to unhide all files. Then, search for the one you lost by using Spotlight Search and the Finder.
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.
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