How to Recover Trashed Files on MacBook Pro?

So you hit the “Empty Trash” option on your MacBook Pro, only to find that you had several important files got removed as well?

Or they are lost after you updated your machine to latest macOS Big Sur?

Those files could be the precious photos you’ve just synced from an iPhone/iPad, or some documents you’ve been working on for days…whatever they are, the question is – is it possible to recover files deleted from Mac Trash?

Quick answer: yes, though the chance is NOT a guaranteed 100%.

In this post, we’re going to explain the reasons why and show you the right step-by-step guide on how to recover those trashed files the best you can.

Are files deleted from Mac Trash still recoverable?

We all know that once you delete a file by dragging it to the Trash bin, it’s easy to undelete it. Simply go to the Trash, find the file, highlight it, right-click and select “Put Back”. Then you’ll find it immediately in its original location. You see, macOS doesn’t actually delete the file immediately.

But what if you also removed the file from the Trash? Does that mean it is gone for good?

Well, it depends.

If you are using a MacBook with a hard disk drive (HDD), the chance to recover the file is high.

Technically speaking, only the name of the file is removed from the disk directory of your Macintosh HD, and space the file originally takes is now marked as vacant, to be written over by new files generated by the user (you) or the system.

The disk directory we talk about here acts like a “chief-commander” to manage all the data writing activities that occur in a hard drive. It records everything, where every file lives, its size, etc. When you delete a file, only the “header” information of the file is removed while the real data remains intact.

So, as long as you don’t write anything new to the disk space, the file is usually recoverable. However, there is no way to tell when the released space will be reused.

If you are using a MacBook Pro with a solid-state drive (SSD), sadly it’s another story. When you erase the file, it’s usually beyond recovery unless you have a backup.

This is due to how the “Trim command” organizes a file in an SSD. When you delete a file from Trash, the TRIM system in Apple macOS also zeros out the actual data as part of its disk management, making the chances of salvaging the data slim.

Enough techy stuff, hope you get it 🙂 let’s move on.

How to Recover Trashed Files on Mac?

First things first — it is highly recommended that you stop using your Mac immediately. If your Mac has an HDD, try your best not to save or generate new files as they can possibly “over-write” the disk space. If your deleted files got overwritten, it’s extremely hard to retrieve them.

Step 1: Check if you have saved the files on another storage device.

Close your eyes for a few seconds, think about when you created the files.

For example, if they are photos, maybe they are still on your smartphone or on removable media (memory card, USB stick, external hard drive, etc.). Don’t forget the cloud storage services you might be using too.

Also, if they are project-based documents, maybe you’ve shared them with your co-workers, also check your email sent box to see if they are there.

Step 2: Restore from Time Machine backup.

If you have enabled Time Machine backup, you are in luck.

The files you trashed are probably in a previous Time Machine snapshot. Simply enter Time Machine and navigate to the folder where your erased items lie. This Apple support article is a detailed tutorial. If you prefer video tutorials, here’s a good one:

Step 3: Use a third-party Mac data recovery program.

If the above steps didn’t work out, your last option is to use a professional data recovery app.

We recommend Stellar Mac Data Recovery. The trial version is free and allows you to see if it is able to scan and locate the deleted files (with “Preview” functionality), you’ll need to purchase the software to fully recover the items though.Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery 7.0 Interface

Other good alternatives include DiskWarrior 5 and Remo Recover Mac, in case Stellar doesn’t work for you.

Final words: backup is king!

In the digital age, your data is irreplaceable. The best way to avoid data disaster on Mac is to make good backups, or backup of backups 🙂

Apple Time Capsule is my first recommendation as it’s made by Apple. If you’re looking for something more affordable, check our our list of the best external drives for MacBook Pro.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that online backup services like Dropbox, iCloud, and Google Drive are also great choices, and they have free plans to get started.

Personally, I prefer hardware storage devices because they are more reliable and secure than online storage services. But hey, it’s up to you 🙂

8 thoughts on “How to Recover Trashed Files on MacBook Pro?”

  1. hi I’m wondering if it possible to ask my local Apple Shop to help retrieve the only one important document I must have put in the trash and emptied. I don’t know how to find out if my macbook pro (2011) has SSD or Hard Drive

    Reply
    • No you cannot, and please do prove me wrong – all information covered on the web does not cover this in terms of the how to…

      Reply
  2. I submitted everything you asked for and now am receiving a msg that says that the system doesn’t recognize me. What is going on?

    Reply
  3. Soooo. I have a similar issue, but instead of deleting a specific file; the internal SSD itself was trashed. And now none of my libraries or SSD itself is viewable on the finder. Any advice or do I have to reinstall the SSD??

    Reply
  4. I have a MacBook Pro early 2011 with SSD 1T ( upgraded in 2017)
    I deleted some video work I just transferred from my camera memory card. Cleaning memory after transferring and being on the phone got me to delet booth . The ones just transferred and the ones in the memory card.
    I bought steller Mac data recover but:
    I recover a lot of the previous videos, too many and some from 2003!!! But didn’t get the ones I trashed and deleted just a few minutes ago…
    I mean, I could recovered the later ones I transferred from the same memory card and on its original size1080p, but the brand news I just deleted and trashed, the best I could recover have an inferior size like 720! Is there a reasonable explanation to this?
    Is there a reason to the program even recovered video files I simply didn’t trashed yet, just transferred from a different memory card but didn’t send to trash either in the memory card either in my MacBook Pro early 2011 with Sierra . Are they coming from deleted previous timemashine backups? Is that the explanation?
    Is there a time to wait before recovering deleted file trashed ?
    I have timemashine activated but last copy I made to the usual external time machine hhd timemashine disk was some weeks ago so it’s no help there right? For the deleted trashed files from today?
    Can you help? To get my original 1080p instead of just the 720p I could found ?
    Thank you

    Reply

Leave a Comment