[Solved] Cannot Empty the Trash on Mac

By Carrie Murray, Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Emptying the Trash on Mac is like the easiest task in the world, however, sometimes things could be tricky and you just cannot empty the trash somehow. Why can't I delete those files from my Mac's Trash? Here are the common reasons:

  • Some files are in use;

  • Some files are locked or corrupted and need to be repaired;

  • A file is named with a special character that makes your Mac think it's too important to be deleted;

  • Some items in the trash cannot be deleted because of system integrity protection.

So this piece is devoted to discuss what to do when you can't empty Trash on Mac and how to force empty Trash on Mac.


1. When Your Mac Says That the File is in Use

This is the most common reason why we can not empty the Trash. Sometimes, you thought you have closed all app that are possibly using the file while your Mac thought otherwise. How to fix this dilemma?

Restart your Mac

Firstly, restart your Mac and then try to empty the Trash again. Although you think that you have quit all apps that could possibly be using the file, maybe there is an app with one or more background processes that are still using the file. A restart can terminate the background processes.

Empty the Trash in Safe mode

The Mac will say that the files is in use when the file is using by a startup item or login item. Therefore, you'll need to start up the Mac in safe mode, which won't load any third-party hardware drivers or startup programs. To enter safe mode,

  • Hold down the Shift key when your Mac boots.

  • Release the key when you see the Apple logo with progress bar.

  • Then empty the Trash and restart your Mac to exit safe mode.

Mac in Safe Mode

Use MacMaster

If the above methods don't work, you may want to use the cleaner - MacMaster to clean the Trash in one click.

What's great about using MacMaster is that you can free up more space by performing a whole cleanup on your Mac, clearing caches data, logs, mail/photos junks, unneeded iTunes backups, apps, large and old files and more. To delete the trash with MacMaster:

Mac Version Download

MacMaster Empty Trash

  • Download and install MacMaster on your Mac.

  • Launch the program and choose Junk Files.

  • Click Scan and the program will scan out all junk files on your Mac in seconds.

  • Tick Trash bin and click Clean button.

  • The Trash will be emptied on your Mac.


2. When You Can't Empty Trash for Other Reasons

Unlock & Rename An File

If the Mac says that the operation could not be completed because the item is locked. Firstly, make sure the file or folder is not stuck. Then right-click on the file and choose "Get Info." If the locked option is checked. Uncheck the option and empty the Trash.

Files Locked on Mac

Also, if the file is named with weird characters, rename the file.

Repair Disk with Disk Utility

If the file is corrupted, you need extra effort to delete them permanently from the Trash.

  • Start up your Mac in Recovery mode: hold down Command + R keys when the Mac starts up;

  • When you see the Apple logo with progress bar, release the keys;

  • You will see the macOS Utilities window, select Disk Utility > Continue.

  • Choose the disk that contains the file that you want to delete. Then click First Aid to repair the disk.

macOS Utilities Window

After the repairing is done, quit Disk Utility and restart your Mac. You can empty the Trash now.


3. When You Cannot Empty Trash Because of System Integrity Protection

System Integrity Protection(SIP), also called rootless feature, was introduced to Mac since Mac 10.11 to prevent malicious software from modifying protected files and folders on your Mac. To remove files protected by SIP, you need to disable SIP temporally. To turn off System Integrity Protection in OS X El Capitan or Later:

  • Reboot your Mac in Recovery mode by pressing Command + R keys when the Mac reboots.

  • On macOS Utilities window, choose Terminal.

  • Enter the command into the terminal: csrutil disable; reboot.

  • Hit Enter button. A message will appear saying that System Integrity Protection has been disabled and the Mac needs to restart. Let the Mac reboot itself automatically.

Now the Mac boots up, empty the Trash. After you have done clearing the Trash, you're recommend to enable SIP again. You need to put the Mac into Recovery mode again, and this time use the command line: csrutil enable. Then reboot your Mac to make the command to take effect.


4. How to Force Empty Trash on Mac with Terminal on macOS Sierra

Using Terminal to perform command is very effective to force empty the Trash. However, you should follow the steps very carefully, otherwise, it will erase all your data. In Mac OS X, we used to use sudo rm -rf ~/.Trash/ command to force empty Trash. In macOS Sierra, we need to use the command: sudo rm –R . Here are the specific steps:

Mac Force Empty Trash

Step 1. Open Terminal and type: sudo rm –R followed by a space. DO NOT leave out the space. And DO NOT hit Enter in this step.

Step 2. Open Trash from the Dock, select all the files and folders from the Trash. Then Drag and drop them in Terminal window. The path of each file and folder will appear on the Terminal window.

Step 3. Now hit Enter button, the Mac will begin to empty the files and folders on the Trash.

I am sure that you can empty the Trash on your Mac now. If you have other question, leave your comment below.

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