How to Recover the Emptied Trash on your Mac without Much Effort

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Recover files from emptied trash on Mac

We have all been there before. We clean up our Mac and are trying to make our desktop space look as clean as possible to see our beautiful background. Maybe we just want to get rid of files that we haven’t used in a long time that we keep staring at every day.

Days go by and the next time that we come back to our Mac we need to find that one file or document but we can’t find it! Then, the thought “Did I accidentally delete that the other day when cleaning up my computer?” hits us. Don’t worry though, there are ways to recover our emptied trash and regain access back to our data.

What Happens After you Empty the Trash on Your Mac?

Emptying the trash tells our Mac to allow that data to be available for new data when it comes time for us to save something to our hard drive. Think of it as a car in a parking lot.

parking lot When we empty our trash, the car is still in the parking spot but we just can’t see it anymore. If a new car came to the parking lot though, it could take that spot. This is why we can sometimes gain access to data even though we have emptied the trash. It may have not been written over yet by new data that has been saved.

If we have accidentally emptied our Mac trash, we want to start the recovery process as soon as possible to ensure that new information doesn’t overwrite the data that we’re trying to recover.

How to Recover Emptied Trash on Mac with Software

When it comes to recovering deleted data on your Mac, there are many tools that you can use. The one that we’re going to look at in this article is Disk Drill which is easy-to-use and has a high chance of being able to restore our emptied trash.

No matter what software you choose to use to recover the data from your trash, keep in mind that downloading and installing an app could overwrite the data that we’re trying to save. It would be a good idea to run the app off of an external storage device as if we run it off of the hard drive that we’re trying to recover data from, it could overwrite that data.

Step 1. Download Disk Drill for Mac.

Step 2. Launch the application.

Step 3. Select the hard drive that you want to scan for your emptied trash.

Scan the drive with deleted files

Step 4. I need to recover some screenshots along with a Boosted Board Ride that I went on. During that ride, I took the most beautiful picture of the sunset. Searching only by “Pictures” will make it easier to find the photos that I need to recover. To do this, I can click on the “Pictures” tab.

I don’t have to wait for the entire scan to finish either if I see what I am after. I verified that these are the right ones by looking for “Screen Shot” and “Boosted Board ride” in their name. When looking at the “Path”, you can also see that it verifies the trash location.

Find deleted from trash files

Step 5. I ride my longboard a lot though and want to make sure that this is the specific sunset picture that I am looking for though. I can preview the file by clicking on the “view” option which will show me a thumbnail preview of the picture before recovering it from the trash.

Preview the file before recovery

Here is what the image looks like after I hit “View”. Beautiful picture and just the one that I was looking for!

recovered sunset picture from emptied trash

Step 6. Now that I have all of the pictures that I need, I can move onto recovering them. Click on the “checkboxes” that are located in the left-hand corner. Then click on the “Recover” button and that’s it!

Recover deleted files on Mac

Benefits of Using Data Recovery Software for Empty Trash Restoring

  • 🥼 You don’t have to be a computer technician to understand how the software works. With an easy to use interface, many data recovery software programs these days make it so that they’re easy to install and understand. You can recover files from your emptied trash with just a few steps.
  • 📱 You can scan your other devices using Disk Drill for deleted files. This includes Windows, iPhone, external hard drives, and thumb drives.
  • 🔒 If you accidentally delete a file, you know that you always have a backup plan just in case and you don’t have to worry as much when it comes to emptying your trash.

How to Protect Your Mac Trash

Protecting your Mac trash will make it so that anything you delete, can be recovered even weeks or months from now. We talked about how Disk Drill can recover deleted files, but that is mostly only a short-term solution. As more data is written to your hard drive, the chances of the deleted files being recoverable become smaller.

Time Machine comes installed on every Mac as it is part of macOS and will allow you to recover files even months from now. It creates backups of your Mac in hourly, weekly, and monthly increments. To set it up, all that you need to do is have an external hard drive. Setting up Time Machine is as easy as 4 steps! This will allow you to protect the data in your trash from here on out.

Step 1. Plugin an external hard drive into your Mac.

Step 2. Launch Time Machine which is preinstalled onto your computer.

Step 3. Once in Time Machine, select a backup disk and then your computer will back up to it anytime that it is plugged into your Mac following the schedule mentioned above.selecting a hard drive in time machine

Step 4. if you need to restore a file in the future, you can launch Time Machine. From there, choose the specific date you last remember having the file and click “Restore”.

restoring from a time machine backup

Why Was my Trash Emptied in the First Place?

If you press the key combination “Command+shift+delete” it will empty your trash when Finder is the active application on your Mac. If you don’t have macOS’s “double-check” future in place, it can cause your trash to be emptied without it prompting you to confirm that you wanted to empty it.

Having a “double-check” in place before we empty our trash will help prevent us from deleting something on accident and having to recover it again.

While making regular backups is a good idea, one of the best things you can do and is something that you can do right now, is go into Finder and change your settings to verify with us every time that we attempt to empty our trash. We also will want to turn off the option that automatically empties our trash after a certain amount of time.

Step 1. Make Finder the active app on your Mac and then choose “Preferences” from the “Finder” dropdown menu.

Step 2. From within this window, click on the “Advanced” tab.

Step 3. Uncheck “Remove items from the trash after 30 days”.

Step 4. Check “Show warning before emptying the Trash” so that you can’t empty it by accident.


Joel Lockard has had a love for technology his whole life. He works as a flight instructor and when not flying spends his time tinkering with technology especially Apple-related tech and Mac apps. He is always looking to make his Mac experience the most productive and unique.
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12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair.