Mac's Trash won't empty? Here's how to fix it

Deleting anything on your Mac is never risky — you can go back to the Trash and recover any document that you’ve removed. But, sometimes, you want some files trashed forever. Then, you can just empty the Trash and delete your data forever.

Fun fact: Since 2020 there is officially no Trash on Mac. On macOS Big Sur, the junk storage has been renamed into Bin.

What if Mac's Trash won't empty? Due to some system errors, the Trash folder may not empty itself. So, today I’m going to address this problem and help you clear Trash on Mac.

How to empty Trash on Mac?

Sometimes the first reason why some of the system applications don't run smoothly is an outdated OS. So, if you can’t empty Trash on Mac, make sure your macOS is up-to-date.

If your Mac’s running the latest version of the OS but Trash still misbehaves, try the following fixes.

1. Restart your Mac 

The reason why Trash won't empty on your Mac may be that something that's in Trash is still being used. It can be some file or part of the application. To fix it, you need to terminate every active process on your Mac. The simple restart of your MacBook should help you out.

  • Go to the Apple icon in the top menu.
  • Click Restart to reboot your Mac.

This way, it will force close any apps that are still running. Now try to empty the Trash. 

2. Clear Trash using CleanMyMac X 

There are a number of additional ways that involve a decent amount of Mac technical knowledge. To avoid that, and the time it takes to make some of them work, there is a quicker way: using a problem-fixer tool for Mac.

    Did you know:

    There is more than just one Trash folder on your Mac. Many apps also create their own "trashes" somewhere deep in system folders. Such trash bins may take up a significant amount of disk space.

    How to clear all your trash bins:

    1. Download CleanMyMac X (get a free version here)
    2. Select Trash Bins from the sidebar.

    Not only will this empty your main Trash, but it will also clear out all other invisible Trash bins on your Mac.

    3. Use Safe mode 

    Safe mode allows your Mac not to load specific software, such as login items, system extensions not required by macOS, during startup. Using Safe mode, you can check whether some app or software interferes with normal Trash functioning.

    • Go to the Apple icon in the top menu.
    • Click Restart.
    • As your Mac reboots, hold down the Shift key. 
    • Release the key when the Apple logo and progress bar appears. "Safe Boot" should appear in the upper-right corner of your screen.
    • Now you’ve entered your Mac in Safe Mode, which means that no third-party applications or startup items will load.
    • You should be able to empty Trash as you normally would and then Restart your Mac again to get back to the normal mode.

    4. Force empty Trash on Mac using Terminal

    With this option, you need to be careful. Entering the wrong command could clear out a lot more than the Trash on a Mac.

    1. Open Terminal — you should be able to find this using Spotlight Search or in Utilities > Terminal. 
    2. Once Terminal is open, type in sudo rm  followed by a space and don't hit Enter after (it's important).
    3. Now open Trash in the Dock and drag and drop files currently in the Trash into the Terminal window.
    4. Now press Enter.
    5. Enter your password to confirm and press Enter once again.
    6. Now hit the Enter button to empty the Trash. 

    And finally, another way to empty the Trash is to repair disk permissions. This could be why you aren't able to empty it in the first place.

    5. Use the Option key to empty the Trash

    In case you can’t open the Trash to delete all that’s inside, there is a way to do it from the Dock. Using the Option key, you can initiate options and clear the Trash without opening the folder.

    Here’s how to do that:

    1. Find the Trash icon in Dock.
    2. Hold the Option key (or Option-Shift) and double-click the Trash icon.
    3. Click Empty Bin.
    4. Confirm when the pop-up window appears.

    Hope that did help to empty the Trash. If not, let’s move on to the next solutions.

    6. Repair Disk Permissions

    As mentioned in this article, CleanMyMac X is an app that can work wonders for Macs. It comes with a whole suite of tools that solves Mac problems, such as Trash not emptying when it should. 

    For various reasons, certain permissions on your Mac may be broken. As a result, you lose the ability to do some basic tasks on your Mac, like emptying Trash. 

    1. Download CleanMyMac X (get a free version here)
    2. Select the Maintenance tab from the sidebar.
    3. Now tick "Repair Disk Permissions" and press Run.
    Repair disk permissions in Maintenance module CMMX

    It should be working again. CleanMyMac X can also remove piles of digital junk that can stay hidden for months, if not years. It’s a versatile tool that every Mac user would benefit from. So give it a try.

    Or use Shredder

    This app also has a Shredder tool, which is completely free, by the way. You can use it to completely erase any file or folder on your Mac. Just drag and drop any folder onto the Shredder pane, and it's gone for good.

    7. Remove files bypassing Trash

    Used to dragging files to Trash? Wait, this is not the only option. Here’s a shortcut to quickly delete unwanted files on Mac, bypassing Trash. 

    Command + Option + Delete

    Caution: there’s no way back! Use Command + Option + Delete if you want to completely remove a file. It won't go to Trash, so you won't be able to restore it later.

    Check if your files are locked

    If you can’t empty the Trash, or Bin, how it’s now called, maybe, it’s because your files are locked from deletion.

    The option to lock files on Mac is found under the Get info menu if you Control + click on any file.

    • So open the Bin and look for files that won’t be deleted. 
    • Control + click on the file and choose Get info
    • Now, uncheck the Lock checkbox.

    Try if the Trash empties this time.

    Now you are fully equipped with knowledge about Trash on Mac. Hope this article was helpful. Stay tuned for more tips & tricks!

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