All the existing ways to delete files on a Mac

Deleting files on a Mac. Sounds easy, right? It is! However, there are so many different ways to delete files, depending on the circumstances and how you like to use your Mac, that it’s worth covering them. Also, there are lots of different reasons you may want to delete files. For example, to free up space. In that case, how do you decide which files to delete in order to free up the most space? We’ll tell you. Finally, what happens if files just won’t delete? We’ve got that covered too.

Use Optimize storage menu

Most users rarely visit the built-in Optimize Storage pane. If only they knew it’s an easy way to find and delete files and even apps.
Go to Apple menu > About this Mac > Storage > Manage

Optimize storage menu

In the sidebar you can see your files broken down by categories. Pressing “Delete” sends a selected file to the Trash.

Tip

If your reason for deleting files is to free up space on your boot drive, one good place to start is with those that are taking up the most space and those that you no longer need regular access to. It’s a good idea to archive those large and old files and delete them from your boot drive.

Find even more large files

To find even more large files from different categories, you can use a popular Mac cleaning app, CleanMyMac X. It scans your disk and shows you which files are taking up the most space. You can even filter files by size, type, and the date you last accessed them. 

It has a free version you can download.
There, you’ll find the dedicated tool called “Large & Old Files”

One year ago information in LAOF module CMMX

I find it more helpful than the built-in Optimized Storage option because I can search more specifically for older files I might have completely forgotten about. You can right-click a file to reveal them in the Finder.

The way that everyone knows, and most people use, to delete files on a Mac is to drag them to the Trash and empty it. But even then, there are lots of options.

Delete files with Trash bin

  • Drag files one at a time to the Trash
  • Shift-click files that are next to each other in a folder to drag them all the Trash
  • Command-click files that are not next to each other to select them and drag them the Trash.

Life would be pretty boring if we did things the same way all the time, though. Right? And with that in mind, here are a few other ways to delete files on a Mac.

How to move files to Bin
  1. A great shortcut to delete files on the Mac is to right-click on the file in the Finder and choose Move to Trash. This also works when you have multiple files selected.
  2. Select the file, or files, in the Finder, click on the File menu and choose Move to Bin.
  3. Select the file in the Finder and press Command-Delete. You can also use Command-Option-Shift-Delete to empty the Trash without displaying the warning.
Tip

If you’re fed up seeing that warning box telling you that you are about to permanently erase items, you can turn it off. In the Finder, click on the Finder menu, then choose Preferences > Advanced. Uncheck the box labelled “Show warning before emptying the Trash.”


What to do if files won’t delete

If, for some reason, you can’t empty the Trash, there are a couple of keyboard shortcuts you can try. First of all, make sure that the files you are trying to delete aren’t in use by an application. If you get an error message telling you they are, quit the application.

Right-click or control-click on a file in the Trash and choose Delete Immediately.

How to delete files immediately

Hold down the Option key and empty the Trash in the normal way.

Use Terminal app

If the above methods don’t work, you can use a Terminal command instead. Here’s how to delete files in the Terminal on Mac.

  1. Go to Applications > Utilities and launch Terminal.
  2. Type the following, making sure there is a space after the ‘R’: sudo rm -R
  3. Don’t press Return, instead, click on the Trash to open it.
  4. Drag the files from the Trash onto the Terminal window.
  5. Press Return.
  6. Type in your administrator password.

Press Return and your file will be gone and deleted from the Trash.

How to uninstall applications on Mac

Uninstalling applications is a slightly different process from just deleting files. If you just delete the application binary in your Applications folder, you won’t uninstall the application completely, and there will still be lots of files scattered around your boot drive. The easiest way to uninstall an application completely is to use an uninstaller, such as the one on CleanMyMac X. Here’s how it works.

  1. Download the free edition of CleanMyMac X and install it, then launch it from your Applications folder.
  2. Choose the Uninstaller module from the sidebar.
  3. Search for the app you want to uninstall, or locate it in the list, or use the filters in the middle section.
  4. Check the box next to the application or applications you want to uninstall and press Uninstall.

And since we’ve touched on CleanMyMac X, it has another tool to delete files.

Delete files safely with Shredder

Shredding files works like a real world shredder: there’s no way to retrieve them. And CleanMyMac X has a free tool you can use to destroy your files any time.

If you have the app installed on your Mac, just find the Shredder tab in the sidebar. Drag and drop a file you want to delete.

Shredder module of CleanMyMacX

When “shredded” your file (or, rather, the space it occupied) is replaced with a random set of zeroes and ones. So be careful, and double-check the file you’re about to delete.

What about secure empty Trash?

In versions of macOS prior to El Capitan, holding down the Command key while clicking on the Trash would provide an option to securely empty the Trash. Choosing that option meant that instead of just removing the file from the index on the disk and making the space it occupies available to use, macOS overwrote the file with zeros, making it much more difficult to recover. However, because SSDs store files differently from hard disks, making it much more difficult to ensure a file has been overwritten. Unable to ensure the feature worked correctly, Apple decided to remove it.

What about hidden files?

In general, you shouldn’t touch hidden files. But if you know the file you want to delete is hidden, you can reveal it by navigating to its location in the Finder and pressing Command-Shift-period to reveal hidden files. Press the keyboard shortcut a second time to hide them again.

Tip

Command + Shift + Period reveals files hidden from view. Try it from your Documents or Applications.

There are many different ways to delete files on a Mac, and they all do the same thing — remove the file from the directory and make the space available to use. If you want to free up space, one easy way is to delete large and old files and the easiest way to identify them is to use the Large & Old Files module in CleanMyMac X. You can also use it to completely destroy files and uninstall applications easily.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.