How to Empty the Trash on a Mac

Empty the Trash on a Mac

Deleted a large number of temporary files? Looking to free up space fast in your Mac? Need to purge certain files immediately? Find out here how to empty the Trash on a Mac, how to immediately delete individual files, and how to delete bypassing the “Trash” altogether using Terminal.

First, Swimmers Strong Enough

In the ocean, you can decide on a direction and swim there. You can also decide to swim and not be master of your own direction.

Those swimmers that go with the oceans’ currents (willingly or otherwise) are called plankton. The swimmers strong enough to go their own way are known as nekton.

With that new term in my thesaurus, let me decide whether I want to pick the time for emptying the trash on my Mac or if I should go with what macOS does on its own. For both nekton and plankton are possible:

How to Empty the Trash on a Mac

Using the Dock

To empty the Trash on a Mac at any time with the Trash in the macOS Dock:

  1. Click on the Trash icon in the Dock with the right mouse button.
    Here’s where: The Trash is on the right or bottom edge of the Dock.
  2. Select Empty Trash from the menu that has appeared.
    Emptying the Trash from the Mac Dock
  3. Click Empty Trash to confirm if you are prompted.
    No prompt: You can disable the confirmation prompt in Finder settings; see below.
    Confirm emptying the Trash on a Mac

Using the macOS Menu

To purge items from a Mac’s trashcan using mouse and menu:

  1. Open or Switch to Finder on the Mac.
  2. Select Finder | Empty Trash… from the menu.
    Select “Empty Trash…“ to purge files on a Mac
  3. Confirm emptying if you are prompted.

Using the “Empty Trash” Keyboard Shortcut

To empty the Trash using the keyboard alone:

  1. Switch to Finder.
    Here’s how: Press Tab while you hod the Command key until Finder is highlighted, then release both.
  2. Press Command Shift Backspace.
  3. Confirm the purge if macOS prompts you.

How to Empty the Trash Automatically on a Mac

Time needed: 2 minutes

To have macOS delete files automatically after they have been in the Mac Trash for 30 days:

  1. Open Finder.

    Here’s how: Click Finder in the macOS Dock, for instance, or use a shortcut to open Finder.

  2. Select Finder | Settings… from the menu.

    macOS keyboard shortcut: In Finder, you can press Command , (comma) to open its settings.

  3. Go to the Advanced tab.

  4. Enable Remove items from the Trash after 30 days.

  5. Close the Finder Settings window.

Empty the Trash from Mac Terminal

To empty the Finder Trash from the Mac Terminal command line, you can use osascript to send the command to Finder:

  1. Type osascript -e 'tell app "Finder" to empty' on a Terminal prompt.
    Shortcut: You can add an alias to ~/.zshrc, of course, to shorten the command.
    Example: alias rmtr='osascript -e '\''tell app "Finder" to empty'\'''
  2. Press Enter.
  3. Click Allow if you are prompted whether Terminal can control Finder.

How to Empty Select Files from the Trash

To permanently delete only one document or a certain set of files from the Trash on a Mac:

  1. Open the Trash in Finder.
    Here’s how: Click the Trash icon in the Dock.
    Go to folder: You can also use the “Go to Folder…” keyboard shortcut in Finder, of course.
  2. Select all files you want to purge immediately.
    Here’s how: You an drag over a group of files to highlight them and press Command while you click on any file to add or remove it from the selection.
    Search: Use Command F to bring up search and focus on the files you want to delete immediately; in search results, you can press Command A to highlight all found files.
  3. Click on any highlighted item with the right mouse button.
  4. Select Delete Immediately… from the menu that has appeared.
    Immediately delete select files from the Mac Trash
  5. Click Delete to confirm.

How to Empty the Trash on a Mac: FAQ

Can I disable the “Are you sure…?” prompt?

Yes.

To prevent the Mac from asking you Are you sure you want to permanently erase the items in the Trash? when you empty the Trash:

  1. Open Finder settings (see above).
  2. Go to the Advanced tab.
  3. Turn off Show warning before emptying the Trash.
  4. Close the Finder’s settings window.

Will files recovered from the Trash be deleted automatically?

No.

Files you have recovered from the macOS Trash are safe, of course, from permanent and automatic deletion until you delete them again.

How can I delete files bypassing the Mac “Trash” altogether?

While you cannot delete files without using the Trash in Finder, you can remove files immediately in Terminal:

  1. Open Terminal and go to the folder that contains the files you want to delete.
    From Finder: You can open Terminal right from Finder (and in the current folder, too).
  2. Type rm -rf followed by the file or directory you want to delete.
    Important: This deletes all matching files and folders (including all subfolders and files in them) without further prompts.
    Here’s why: The -r option has the command remove directories as well as files recursively; the -f argument tries to force the action (ignoring file permissions) and skips confirmations.
    With confirmations: Replace -f with -i to have rm ask to confirm deleting each file.
    Dry run: Run the command ls -l with the same files before to see what will be deleted.
    Example: rm -f *ladedu*.txt immediately deletes all text files with “ladedu” in their name in the current directory.
  3. Press Enter.
    You can delete files and directories bypassing the Trash from Mac Terminal

(How to empty the Trash on a Mac tested with macOS Sonoma 14.2 and Ventura 13.4; first published August 2023, last updated February 2024)

Home » Mac Tips and Resources » How to Empty the Trash on a Mac