Did you empty the Trash?

Did you empty the Trash?
Mac Tip #434, 28 April 2010

Trashed a bunch of files — perhaps from a thumb drive — but still short on space? Perhaps the files aren’t actually gone? If you haven’t emptied the Trash the files are actually still there.

Trashed, but not gone

A previous Tip showed how to Trash and Put Back files, both important things to know how to do. But a reader kindly reminded me of an important point:

It might be worth noting that when dealing with the trashing of files that the space on the drive from which you are trashing a file or files is not made available for further use until the trash is emptied.

This is easily overlooked when deleting a file from a thumb drive where memory space is limited and wondering why you still get the message that not sufficient space is available to save or transfer material.

Ross MxT

As Ross reminds us, putting a file in the Trash does not remove it from your computer, thumb drive or external drive. Trash is really only a name for a special folder.

You must empty the Trash to be sure the file is gone, and even then it may still in fact be there.

Click the Empty button in a Trash window.

Click the Empty button in a Trash window.

How to empty the Mac Trash

To empty the Trash for your Mac, do one of the following:

  • Choose Empty Trash… from the Finder menu.
  • Press Command Shift Delete (⌘ ⇧ ⌫).
  • Control Click (Right Click) on the Trash icon in the Dock (or just Click and hold) and choose Empty Trash from the menu that appears.
  • Double Click on the Trash icon in the Dock. The Trash window appears. Click on the Empty button in the top right corner of the window.

How to empty the Trash for a thumb drive or external drive

Each drive keeps its own Trash folder. If the drive is not mounted when you empty the main Trash, then the Trash for the external drive is unchanged. This may cause a thumb drive to appear empty but have no free space.

To empty the Trash for an external drive, such as a thumb drive, make sure the drive is attached to your Mac and shows up, then follow the steps above.

Secure Empty Trash.

Secure Empty Trash.

Obliterate files with Secure Empty Trash

Even when you Empty Trash the files still aren’t really gone. The computer has simply noted that the space where those files are is now available to be used for something else.

If you need to, you may still be able to get the ‘deleted’ files back, especially if the computer hasn’t yet made use of that now available space.

To really truly delete files you need to choose Secure Empty Trash….

Secure Empty Trash.

Secure Empty Trash.

When you choose Secure Empty Trash… the Mac doesn’t just mark the space as being available, it actually replaces the data already in the Trashed file with different data. The new data obliterates what was there before.

This takes a little longer than a plain Empty Trash command, but means your ‘trashed’ files can’t be recovered. Tip: if you use the Click and hold or Control Click on the Dock’s Trash icon method, hold down the Command (Apple) key at the same time to change the menu item to Secure Empty Trash…. My screenshot shows that option as I have to use the Command key to make the screenshot.

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  1. Bryce said:

    Nope, not for me. Emptying trash while a thumb drive is mounted doesn’t empty the thumb drive’s trash. Running 10.6. Can’t find a way to do it, short of going into Terminal and using rm.

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