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.

How to Find Trash on a Mac

By default, Trash is located at the end of the Dock on all Macs. The folder’s icon looks like a garbage can and might be a bit different depending on what macOS version your computer is using.

trash icon on dock

Trash can’t be removed from the Dock, but in some cases, when there are issues with your Mac, it might temporarily disappear. If you can’t find Trash on the Dock, try the following options.

Option #1: Finder

Here’s how to find Trash on your Mac via Finder:

Step 1. Launch Finder.

Step 2. Using the menu at the top, click “Go > Go to Folder” (or press Command + Shift + G).

go to folder

Step 3. Type ~/.Trash in the search field and click “Go”.


Option #2: Terminal

If you’re comfortable using applications with a text-based interface, then you can access the Trash folder on your Mac via Terminal. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Open Terminal (go to Launchpad and type Terminal in the search field).

Step 2. Copy-paste the following command into the Terminal window and hit the Return key: cd .Trash

trash terminal mac

Step 3. Then copy-paste this command and hit Return: ls -al ~/.Trash

trash files in terminal

You’ll see a list of the files that are currently located in Trash.

Option #3: Desktop Icon

Another way to access Trash on your Mac is to add a Trash folder to the desktop. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Open Terminal (go to Launchpad and type Terminal in the search field).

Step 2. Copy-paste the following command into the Terminal window and hit the Return key: ln -s ~/.Trash ~/Desktop/Trash

terminal create trash folder

Step 3. Go to your Mac’s desktop and look for a folder called “Trash” (it’ll look like a regular folder).

trash folder desktop

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.

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

How to Recover Emptied Trash without Software

If you’ve been regularly backing up your Mac, then you should be able to recover the emptied Trash without software. But the recovery results will, of course, depend on whether you’ve made a backup of your files before they were deleted or not.

Method 1: Recover Emptied Trash From a Time Machine Backup

Follow these steps to recover files from an emptied Trash via Time Machine:

Step 1. Connect the drive containing your Time Machine backups to your Mac (if you used an internal drive for the backups, skip this step).

Step 2. Using the menu bar at the top, click the Time Machine icon and choose “Enter Time Machine” from the drop-down menu.

enter time machine on mac

Step 3. Go to the folder where the needed files were located before deletion.

Step 4. Use the arrows or the timeline on the right to go to the backup version containing the files that you’re searching for.

Step 5. To preview a specific file, click it and press the Spacebar on your keyboard.

Step 6. Choose the files which you wish to recover and click the “Restore” button.

Method 2: Recover Emptied Trash From an iCloud Backup

Follow these steps to recover files from an emptied Trash via iCloud:

Step 1. Open a preferred browser and go to

Step 2. Log into your iCloud account using your Apple ID username and password.

Step 3. Click iCloud Drive.

icloud drive log in

Step 4. Choose the files you wish to recover.

Step 5. Click the Download button at the top.

recover files from icloud


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Romana Levko is a professional content writer with a strong interest in tech-related topics. Her main focus is on data recovery, Apple products, and cybersecurity. She spends her free time tinkering with her Mac and burning through her favorite music albums.
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12 years experience in software development, database administration and hardware repair.