You are currently viewing How to Recover Deleted Files after Emptying Trash on Mac

How to Recover Deleted Files after Emptying Trash on Mac

Are you sure you want to delete “THIS IMPORTANT FILE”?

*Tap Delete*

Hold on! I say Cancel. I wanted to hit Cancel. I NEED THAT FILE.


It has happened to all of us. Delete a file unintentionally and regret it immediately. It annoys me a lot. Really. But it’s not the end of the world. There are several ways to recover your files. More specifically, there are tools, tips, and tricks to help you recover your files.

If you accidentally delete a file that you didn’t want to throw in the trash, don’t panic. It has happened to all of us. You spend all day working on a text document or spreadsheet and save it to your desktop to make it easier to find later. Then, at the end of the day, while sorting the desktop, you drag it to the Trash, and without thinking about it, you click Empty Trash. In an instant, the whole working day is gone.

If only you had started using Time Machine yesterday and not tomorrow. If only you had backed up before. If only…

What should you do if this happens?

Fortunately, all is not lost.

It is possible, even if you have not taken precautions – such as using Time Machine – to recover files, photos, audio, music, emails that you have dragged to the Trash and then emptied. The first thing you should do is do nothing! That’s right, don’t do anything else on your Mac. You need the file structure of the disk to remain exactly as it was when you emptied the Trash.

You may not realize it, but the files you delete from your computer don’t *disappear* until those bytes on your hard drive are overwritten with new data. So with your Mac’s built-in tools and utilities like Disk Drill and CleanMyMac, there is almost always a way to recover a mistakenly deleted file.

Setapp includes access to several crucial tools for file recovery, maintaining your Mac, and having it all backed up. The recovery program in particular — including DiskDrill for your Mac’s and external disk drives, and ForkLift for a quick search for deleted, matched, and modified files in active folders — offers great value, since it will be there when you need it, without having to spend money to buy a professional-quality program to fix the error.

How to Recover Accidentally Deleted Files on MAC

How to recover deleted files after emptying Trash? Here’s what you have to do when you realize you’ve just deleted a file that you didn’t want to delete.

1. See if the file has actually been deleted

You may have moved your file to the Trash, which is just a folder. The files are not completely deleted until they are emptied from the Trash. So check it out there by clicking the Trash icon in your Mac’s Dock. If your file is still there, simply drag it to the desktop or any other folder in the Finder.

It’s also a good idea to do a quick search with Spotlight to try and find your file — maybe you’ve moved it to iCloud unintentionally. Press Command-space and type the file name to see if your Mac can find it. If you see it in the results, click it to open it, or press Command while clicking the file to show where it’s located in the Finder.

You can also ask Siri on your Mac to show you the files you’ve worked on today, or this week, or all of your Pages documents, or do any other search that might show your file. I tell Siri “Show me the files I’ve worked on today” quite often, and it’s very helpful.

2. Recover deleted files with Time Machine

If you’re smart enough to use a Mac, you’re probably smart enough to have a Time Machine backup, right? (Right?) If so, even files that have been completely deleted from the Trash are still accessible in your Time Machine backup.

Time Machine backs up all your files and folders. You can save specific folders or the entire hard drive to a cloud storage folder or to an external hard drive. It activates very easily (connect the device first if you are using an external drive):

  1. Go to System Preferences > Time Machine.
  2. Click Select Backup Disk and choose the disk you would like to use for your backups.
  3. Check the Automatically back up box to enable automatic backups of your Mac to your chosen disk, cloud storage, or external hard drive.

Now, if you’ve done the unthinkable and deleted something you really need from the trash, here’s how you can recover it from Time Machine (if you have the backup on another hard drive, you’ll have to connect it to your Mac first):

  1. Go to System Preferences > Time Machine.
  2. Check the Show Time Machine box in the menu bar.
  3. Click the Time Machine icon, then click Enter Time Machine.
  4. Find the file or folder you want to recover, and then click Restore. Time Machine will copy the file or folder to its original location.

3. Recover deleted files from a backup

It’s always best to avoid having to recover a file you’ve sent to the Trash. The best way to do this is to back up your main disk regularly.

Time Machine is incredibly comfortable, but maybe you’ll back up your Mac with other programs. Backup tools like Get Backup Pro and ChronoSync Express, both part of the Setapp family, can back up so your files are always protected. Just mount the backup, find the file you deleted, and copy it back to your Mac.

A bootable backup, which you can create with Get Backup Pro, has an added bonus: if your Mac’s hard drive dies, it can boot your system from the backup drive and recover the files individually or copy the entire drive to a new or new Mac. Depending on how you deleted something and whether it was backed up before, some of the options mentioned may be open to you.

If you’re looking for a quick way to back up your iPhone, there’s a solution – an app called AnyTrans. It not only allows you to perform instant backups, according to your custom calendar but also to back up specific files and transfer data between devices.

To recover deleted data easily, use Disk Drill. This app is a very good file recovery tool for Mac. If a file exists somewhere on your hard drive, this app will find it. Disk Drill does all the hard work.

4. Restore deleted photos on Mac with the Photos app

How to recover deleted photos? When you delete a photo from the Photos app on your Mac, that photo doesn’t move to the usual Trash. Instead, it remains in a small trash can within the Photos app, called Recently Deleted. Photos remain in that folder for 30 days before they are automatically deleted.

So, if you deleted a photo less than 30 days ago, it’s probably still in Recently Deleted, which you’ll find in the Sidebar of the Photos app, under Albums. Find and select the photo there, and then click the Restore button to move it to its original location in your Photos library.

5. Recover Music in iTunes

When you delete a song from your iTunes library, you are asked if you simply want to delete it from your library or move the song to the Trash. If you tell iTunes not to throw the file in the trash, the song is deleted from your iTunes library, but the file remains where it has always been. This means that you can open a Finder window and navigate to ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media, where you will find all your music and videos perfectly organized.

Find the file you deleted from iTunes and simply drag it to the iTunes icon in the Dock to add it back to your library.

If you’ve told iTunes to move the file to the Trash, you can find it right there and drag it back to your Desktop to recover it. Then, open iTunes > Preferences > Advanced, and make sure that the box of “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library” is checked. Then, you can drag the recovered file from your desktop to the iTunes icon in the Dock, and the file will be added to your iTunes library and also copied to the iTunes Media folder.

If the original file was deleted from the Trash (either by accident or automatically, after 30 days), open your iTunes Media file in Time Machine and navigate back in time to the previous point of deleting it (as explained here), or recover it from another backup.

6. Restore previous versions of a document

Many Mac apps — such as Text Edit, Preview, iWork, and others — maintain older versions of the files you’ve been working on, using a version control feature built into macOS. This trick doesn’t work with a file you’ve deleted, but to restore a previous version of an existing file—for example, you changed something and saved the file again and then decided you want to undo all those changes.

  1. Open the file, and then on the menu bar, select File > Back to > Browse All Versions.
  2. You’ll see a Time Machine-like interface that displays all versions of that file, going back in time.
  3. You can return to the version you want and click Restore.

Pro Tip: If you hold down the Option key, the Restore button changes to Restore a copy, so you can have the old version and the new version.

7. How to Recover a File from Your Mac When You Don’t Have a Backup

If you didn’t back up your files and don’t use Time Machine, you can still recover deleted files if they haven’t been overscrited with new data. You simply need a recovery program.

Setapp includes a very good tool called Disk Drill, which scans your Mac’s hard drive for deleted files. If the file is still on your startup disk—and most likely is—Disk Drill will even walk you through the three options available to you to do this safely. You’ll need to temporarily disable macOS file system protection, create a recovery boot drive, or connect to another Mac, but this is all explained in detail.

Once your drive has been scanned, you’ll be able to easily sort the results to find your file, view it with Preview, and restore it to its previous location. Disk Drill can even extract items from a backup of an iOS device.

When you realize that you need a deleted file back, time is one of the essential things. After all, if you let a lot of time pass, the new data might overwrite the deleted file on your hard drive.

You can recover files from any storage device on your Mac safely and efficiently with a few clicks:

Step 1: Connect an external storage device

It doesn’t matter if it’s a flash drive, an external hard drive, or even an SD card. Anything will do, as long as you have enough free space to save the file you want to recover. The key point is that you should never try to recover a file on the same disk from which you deleted it.

Step 2: Launch the recovery app

With the external storage disk attached, start Disk Drill. Click your Mac’s hard drive (not the disk you just connected) and click Recover. Hold on. Depending on the size of your Mac’s bootable disk and how often you use it and delete files from it, scanning might take some time. The good news is, if your Mac’s disk isn’t corrupted, a Deep Scan shouldn’t be necessary.

Step 3: Review the results

When the scan is complete, you’ll see all the files Disk Drill found in the window with information including file name, type, and modification date. There may be a lot of files to review, so use the filter at the top of the window. Click the drop-down menu above the file path and select the file type – JPEG, TXT, etc. – you are looking for. This will make the search easier. If you still can’t find the file, use the other two filters to set the file size and the time it was deleted.

Step 4: Preview the file to be safe

When you find the file you mistakenly sent to the Trash, click the eye icon next to the file path to preview. If the file is a text document or spreadsheet, review it carefully to make sure it’s in good condition. If it’s a movie or music file, open or listens to the file to the end to make sure the entire file is intact. If all is well, press the Recover button.

Step 5: Recover file from Mac Trash

When you click Recover, you will be asked to choose where you want to save the recovered file. This is where the other disc comes in. Navigate to that disk and elege it as the destination location. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the recovery process. When it’s done, your file will be saved to your external drive. Now you can copy it back to your main hard drive and save it wherever you want (but not in the Trash!).

Prevention is better than cure

If you prefer not to use Time Machine or another backup program, Disk Drill has a feature that can help you in this. Guaranteed Recovery saves a copy of every file you put in the Trash so that if you accidentally delete a file, you still have a copy. Depending on the type of files you work with and how often you throw things in the Trash, they can take up a lot of disk space and waste it over time. Another option is Recovery Vault. This creates a “map” of your disk and stores only the metadata used to create the map. This uses much less storage space than Guaranteed Recovery, but it takes longer to restore the files and may not work in all cases.

Recover files from corrupted drives

If an external hard drive—or even your main drive—gets bugs or becomes corrupt, don’t panic. Your files may still be recoverable. Disk Drill, part of your Setapp subscription, can scan corrupted hard drives for any files it might find.

Connect the damaged external drive to your Mac and Disk Drill should be able to mount it. Disk Drill can also scan corrupted SD cards if you connect them to your Mac with a card reader or the built-in card slot on your Mac.

If you need to scan your bootable drive, Disk Drill will guide you through the necessary steps. You can create a bootable backup of your primary disk, boot from that backup, and then run Disk Drill from the backup to scan the main disk. Or you can connect the Mac with the damaged disk to another Mac and mount the damaged hard drive in the target disk mode. Your Setapp subscription joins on two Macs, so it’s not a problem to install Disk Drill on the second Mac and use it to recover files from the damaged hard drive on the other Mac.

How to activate Guaranteed Recovery

  1. Identify your startup disk. In the main Disk Drill window, find your startup disk; it will usually be called “Macintosh HD”, unless you have renamed it. Hover over the Recover button and click the gear icon next to it. Choose “Configure data protection”. Alternatively, if you just want to activate Guaranteed Recover and Recovery Vault, click on the shield icon to the left of “Recover”.
  2. Configure data protection. In the window that opens, click “Ok, let’s do it”. In the next window, set the slider next to “Guaranteed Recovery” to “On”. Click the arrow to the left of “Guaranteed Recovery” to reveal the options to configure it.
  3. Choose the options to save a copy of the files in the trash. At the bottom of the next window, choose how long you want to keep a copy of the files that have been moved to the Trash. You can also choose the maximum size of any individual file to be copied and the maximum total size of all copied files.
  4. Add another folder. Guaranteed Recovery can make a copy of any folder, not just the Trash. If you want to protect a folder with important documents, click “Add Folder” and navigate to the folder you want to protect. When you’re done, click the Back button to return to the Main Disk Drill screen.

How to Delete Files Safely

Setapp also includes CleanMyMac, which is packed with tools to find and delete old files, apps, and extensions, and keep your Mac’s hard drive in top shape. Its Smart Scan scans the entire Mac with a single click, finding system junk, duplicates, old Mail attachments, and large files that you forgot in the Trash or anywhere on your hard drive.

After scanning, you can go through each results section, preview any file to decide if you really want to delete it, and uncheck everything you want to keep. All files marked for deletion are safe—CleanMyMac even checks them against a security database to make sure it doesn’t delete anything your system needs to function properly.

How to Completely Delete a File from Mac

Finally, there are probably files that you have intentionally put in the Trash and that you do not want to recover.

In the event that you want to delete sensitive files _and_ overwrite them so that they can never be recovered, you can use the CleanMyMac Shredder, which destroys files completely and means they are deleted forever. This uses Mac’s Secure Erase settings and can also help you delete files that the Trash says cannot be deleted.

Professional file recovery, also known as the nuclear option

If all of these methods fail, you may need to turn to professionals. Professional file recovery companies like DriveSavers are specialists in recovering data when nothing else works. They can even recover files from computers that have been burned in a fire, sunk into a lake, or physically destroyed. It’s not a cheap option, but if you’ve missed something absolutely invaluable, these are the people you want to call.

Deleting a file unintentionally is scary, but there’s really nothing to worry about. If you back up regularly, you will always have a backup and most of the files will go directly to the Trash anyway, where you can easily restore them. Of course, let this serve as a lesson—have a backup, or better yet two backups, and you won’t find yourself in this situation. Setapp includes ChronoSync Express to help you synchronize crucial data with a remote server, for example. Get Backup Pro can automate four types of backups, including bootable backups that make an exact copy of your entire hard drive from where you can boot in the event of a disaster, and compressed backups that use less space. External drives and cloud storage are getting cheaper, so there’s no reason to leave your data unprotected. If something more serious happens and you can’t find a file, download Disk Drill from Setapp and make your documents, photos or music present again.

For a monthly payment, Setapp includes all the tools you need to keep your data safe. Plus, it has more than 200 other Mac apps that can also help you create data, from Tayasui Sketches to Swift Publisher, Ulysses, NotePlan, and MoneyWiz. The more you use Setapp, the more you’ll realize the value of having a huge collection of carefully curated, up-to-date, and always useful apps for your Mac.


Shubham, the editor of, sets the website editorial directions and guides our content quality while ensuring all other aspects of the website function the way they should. Shubham is an enthusiast and loves to cover Windows, MAC, iPhone, macOS, iOS, Software Updates, Jailbreaking, Hacking, and rumors.

Leave a Reply