Mac Trash Won't Empty: Why and What To Do

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Robert Hunt

5 min read

The files in the Trash are not completely removed from your Mac, and they're still using your storage space. When you finally decide to empty the Trash, your Mac says that your operation couldn't be completed.

Wondering why the problem occurs and how to fix it? Keep reading this blog, and you will find all the answers you want.

Can't Empty Trash on Mac? Here's How to Fix It

Why Can't I Empty the Trash on Mac?

The reason why your Mac won't empty Trash varies. The most common ones are:

  • The file is in use.
  • Your disk is full.
  • The file is locked.
  • Disk permissions are corrupted.

How to Force Empty Trash via Terminal

It's frustrating to be unable to empty the Trash on Mac. Fortunately, there is a quick way to solve this problem: to use Terminal to force clear the Trash. But please note that this method will completely delete the files and cannot be recovered. You'd better recheck the files you want to get rid of before actually deleting them.

  1. Open Terminal via Spotlight or Launchpad.
  2. In the Terminal, type the command: sudo rm followed by a space, drag the files in the Trash to the Terminal, and press the Return key. (Replace sudo rm with sudo rm -rf if you want to delete folders.)
  3. Enter in your administrator password and press Return again. Force Empty Trash with Terminal

Forcibly emptying the Trash with the Terminal is risky. The best way to fix the problem of Trash not emptying is to better understand the causes and fix them accordingly. Let's take a look now.

How to Fix “Mac Trash Won't Empty Because File in Use”

If you failed to clear Trash because some of the files inside are in use, you should quit the applications or processes using the files you want to delete. Here's what you can do:

Restart your Mac

The most straightforward way is to restart your Mac. Restarting your Mac will close the applications occupying the files, which will help you empty the Trash.

Use Safe Mode

If you're still unable to empty the Trash, you can use Mac Safe Mode to fix the problem. Safe Mode can fix various problems with your Mac. When you start your Mac in Safe Mode, some unnecessary programs are blocked from launching. Also, cache files and temporary files are cleaned up in Safe Mode.

How to Boot Your Mac in Safe Mode:

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Start your Mac, press and hold the Shift key until you see the Login in window.
  3. Log in to your Mac. (You may be asked to log in again. You can see “Safe Boot” in the upper-right corner of your login window.)

Boot in Mac Safe Mode

  1. Right click the Trash icon in the Dock and choose Empty Trash.
  2. Restart your Mac normally.

Related Article: How to Completely Delete Files on Mac

How to Fix “Mac Trash Won't Empty Because Disk is Full”

Every task and action on your Mac needs space to perform. If you get the message that the disk is full, all your operations on your Mac may fail. Therefore, the key to successfully cleaning the Trash is to free up disk space.

Clear Disk Space

Indeed, you can move some unused files to an external drive to free up space. However, if you don't have an external drive nearby, you can use the shortcut Command + Option + Delete to delete files bypass the Trash.

Too time-consuming? Here's a handy tool, BuhoCleaner, for you. As one of the best Mac cleaning and optimization software, BuhoCleaner can clean and speed up your Mac with a few clicks. What it can do for you includes system junk cleaning, Trash emptying, app uninstallation, duplicate file and large file removal, startup items management, and more. Moreover, all its deletions bypass the Trash.

Quickly Clean up Disk with BuhoCleaner

Related Article: How to Free Up Disk Space on Mac

Repair Your Disk

Still can't empty the Trash even though there is free space? Then the reason may be that your disk has some issues. In this case, you can use the First Aid function in Disk Utility to run a test. However, if you want to repair disk issues, you need to restart your Mac in macOS Recovery Mode.

Here's How to Repair a Disk:

  1. Restart your Mac.
  2. Immediately press and hold the Command + R keys until the macOS Utilities window appears.
  3. In the macOS Utilities window, select Disk Utility, and then Continue. Open Disk Utility in macOS Recovery Mode
  4. Select the disk where you want to delete the files and click the First Aid tab > Run. If there is no Run button, click the Repair Disk button instead. Repair Disk in macOS Recovery Mode
  5. When all done, quit Disk Utility, restart your Mac and try to empty your Trash.

How to Fix “Mac Trash Won't Empty Because File is Locked”

As we mentioned earlier, a locked file may also prevent you from emptying the Trash. Follow the steps below to unlock the files you want to delete first.

  1. Locate the locked file you can't delete.
  2. Control-click it and choose Get Info.
  3. Uncheck the Locked box. Unlock Files on Mac
  4. Empty your Trash.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have successfully cleaned the Trash by using the above methods. If the problem still exists, you may need to format your disk and reinstall your operating system or have your hard drive checked for damage.

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