Recover Deleted Files on Mac

Jeff Cochin
Written by
N. Lankevitch for pandorarecovery
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recover deleted files on mac

If you have experienced data loss on your Mac, things may not be as hopeless as you might think. There are several ways to recover some or all of the data deleted from your computer. We are going to walk you through the various options that you can try to recover your valuable data. Sometimes, you can use native macOS functionality to recover your files. At other times, data recovery software may be required to restore your data. These instructions are applicable for all the latest versions of macOS including macOS Catalina.

Update Notice (January 2021)

We’ve received a lot of feedback since we first published this article (please keep it coming!), so we decided to update its content to answer even more of your video recovery-related questions.

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restore files from trash

#1 First Things First: Try to Recover Deleted Files From Trash

The first place to look for deleted files on your Mac is its Trash Bin. The macOS Trash Bin is a special folder that holds deleted files for a specified length of time before permanently deleting them. They can also be manually deleted by emptying the Trash Bin. You can undelete files from the Trash. As soon as you notice that files have been deleted, check the bin. If the data is there you can retrieve deleted files from the trash.

To recover deleted files from the Trash Bin you need to:

  1. Click on the Trash Bin icon to open the Trash folder.recover files from trash on mac
  2. Search for the files you wish to restore.
  3. Right-click on the items and select Put Back to restore files from the Trash.retrieve files deleted from trash
  4. Navigate to the file’s original location and use it with your applications.

What if I have already emptied my Trash Bin?

Once the bin has been emptied you can no longer recover files from the Trash on your Mac with this method. It does not mean that the data is gone forever. It simply means that you can’t recover it directly from the Trash Bin. There are multiple other methods you can try that may be successful in recovering your deleted files. Read on and we will look at some alternative means to recover your lost data.

how to restore from time machine

#2 Restore From Time Machine Backup

If you have been unsuccessful recovering your deleted files from the Trash Bin, the next option to consider is to restore from a Time Machine backup. Time Machine is the macOS backup and recovery utility that is bundled with your computer. You should be using it to create backup copies of your files and data regularly for just this kind of data loss situation. It offers a viable option for recovering deleted data no longer in the Trash Bin.

To restore Mac files from a time machine backup you need to:

  1. Locate the media that contains the Time Machine backups and connect it to your computer.restore from time machine backup
  2. On your Mac, open a Finder window of the folder that contained the file to be recovered. For example, open the Documents folder to restore a document.
  3. Launch Time Machine from Launchpad or the Time Machine icon on your Mac’s menu bar.restore mac from backup
  4. Use the arrows and timeline to navigate through local snapshots and backups.
  5. Select the items you want to recover and click to restore mac from backup

You need to regularly create backups for this method to work reliably. Your backup media needs to contain copies of the files if you want to use it to restore your data. Users who do not have Time Machine configured may need to resort to data recovery software such as Disk Drill to restore their data. Best practices recommend taking backups consistently to guard against a situation like this. If you are not backing up, it’s a good time to start.

Next, we will investigate how data recovery software can restore your data if these methods are not successful or if you do not have backups.

restore deleted files via Disk Drill

#3 Restore Deleted Files on Mac via Disk Drill

Data recovery software can recover deleted files from an emptied Trash Bin. It can also rescue you in situations where you don’t have a backup available. Data recovery works by taking advantage of the way macOS deletes files from your system. It does not physically remove the data, but simply restricts logical access and marks the space occupied by the data as available for reuse. Until the data is overwritten by other processes, recovery software can restore it.

To restore lost data on your Mac with Disk Drill, you need to:

  1. Download and install the application.

    We recommend that this be done on a bootable flash drive to avoid overwriting deleted files on your system disk.

  2. Launch the application and select the disk that contained the deleted data.recover deleted files on mac
  3. Click the Recover button to begin scanning the disk for deleted data.restore deleted files on mac
  4. Preview the files that can be recovered. Select the files you want to recover and designate a storage location where they will be restored.mac data recovery
  5. Click the Recover button to restore the files to your selected location.
free data recovery software Disk Drill for Windows & macOS Free Download

Disk Drill can successfully recover files even after they have been deleted from the Trash. It employs advanced scanning algorithms that can identify and recover data in over 400 different file formats. The program also includes data protection and management tools that help keep your data safe. It employs an intuitive and user-friendly interface which allows you to start recovering data in a few clicks. Basically, recovering deleted files on Mac is not as hard as it seems. Take a try right now and you will see it for yourself!

You can download Disk Drill for free and use it to preview the files that can be recovered before purchasing the full version of the software.

Here are some tips and tricks that will give you a better chance of success when using Disk Drill to recover your deleted data:

  • As soon as you discover that you have experienced a data loss scenario, put the disk that contained the files into read-only mode to avoid accidentally overwriting the files you wish to restore.
  • Perform scans on the whole disk, not an isolated partition. This will increase the probability of locating your lost files.
  • Files may be recovered with different names or extensions when using the Disk Drill’s Deep Scan. Look into the “Reconstructed labeled” group and you may find the requested files under different names.
  • If the file cannot be located in Guaranteed Recovery, Recovery Vault or quick scan it may still be found by running an “All recovery methods” Scan on the complete disk.
  • Guaranteed Recovery provides 100% successful data recovery for folders you protect with the tool. Always include your iCloud folder in your list of protected locations.
  • Attempt to change file extensions if your file will not open after recovery, such as from mp4 to avi.

Disk Drill provides the best way to recover deleted files from your Mac. It may be able to restore files that cannot be saved through any of the other methods discussed in this article. Its data protection features enable you to fully protect your important folders against data loss.

#4 Restore Photos, Emails, Notes & Multimedia Files on Mac Without Software

Some of the applications that you use to create items on your Mac have built-in facilities to perform limited data recovery. They may only be useful for recovering files that have been recently deleted. If you have lost files from these apps, it’s certainly worth the time to see if you can restore them by using the following methods.

photo recovery

#4.1 Recover Deleted Photos From the Photos App

Photo recovery is possible if the files have been recently deleted by using the Apple Photos App.

To recover deleted photos from the Photos App you need to:

  1. Open the Photos app and navigate to Recently Deleted. This opens the recently deleted folder where you can attempt image recovery.
  2. Select the photos or videos that you want to restore.
  3. Click the Recover button to restore the files to their original location.image recovery

The default for keeping photos in the recently deleted folder is 30 days. This time period may be reduced if you have deleted many photos or large files that exceed the storage allocated to the folder.

recover deleted emails on mac

#4.2 Recover Deleted Emails from the Mail App

If you accidentally deleted some emails that you realize you wanted to keep, you can try to get them back through the Mail app’s Trash mailbox. It holds deleted mail for a designated length of time for just this reason.

To recover deleted Emails from the Mail App, you need to:

  1. Open the Mail application.
  2. Locate the Trash mailbox in the panel on the left side of the window.
  3. Click on the Trash mailbox to open it.
  4. Drag the emails you want to recover from the Trash mailbox to the mailbox of your choice.recover deleted emails on mac

To be able to recover deleted emails from the Trash mailbox on your Mac, you need to have the mailboxes set up correctly. You can modify the mailbox behavior by not specifying a Trash mailbox. In this case, deleted items will remain in their original mailbox and may be retrieved by searching for deleted messages within the mailbox.

restore deleted files with itunes

#4.3 Recover Deleted Multimedia Files from iTunes

Your iTunes library may contain movies, books or music that you have purchased on your Mac. If these files are accidentally deleted, you can recover them by downloading them again from iTunes.

To recover deleted multimedia files from iTunes, you need to:

  1. Open iTunes and sign in with your Apple ID.
  2. From the menu bar at the top of the screen, select Account > Purchased.
  3. Click on the type of multimedia file you will be downloading in the top right corner of the window.
  4. Locate the item you want to restore and click the download icon.recover deleted files via itunes on mac

undelete notes on mac

#4.4 Recover Deleted Notes from the Notes App

The Notes app also provides a way to recover deleted notes on a Mac. In similar fashion to the Photos app, you can restore notes on a Mac by using the Note’s Recently Deleted folder.

To recover deleted notes from the Notes App, you need to:

  1. Open the Notes application.
  2. Click on the Recently Deleted folder in the right-hand panel.
  3. Drag the note to another folder in the sidebar.restore notes on mac

You can undelete notes on a Mac for around 30 days using this method. After that time the note will be permanently deleted from the app.



Data loss can have serious repercussions. The deleted files could be unique and may not be able to be recreated. The data may contain irreplaceable memories captured in photos and videos. One thing you shouldn’t do when faced with a data loss scenario is panic.

There are multiple methods that may be able to restore your data. The trick is to choose the one that will work best for your situation. The first place to look is in the Trash Bin and a Time Machine backup is another possible solution. You may be able to recover certain types of files from the apps that created them.

Data recovery software is the most versatile method for restoring deleted files on your Mac. It gives you the best chance of recovering your valuable data. Be sure to stop using the disk that continued the deleted files to preserve the data for recovery.

Jeff Cochin
Jeff Cochin is a data management and recovery professional, who has been with Pandorarecovery for nine years and has always been an essential part of the team. Jeff also works as a technical writer at Macgasm, being a first hand in testing, trying and writing about big and small tech software.
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Over 15 years strong experience in various fields and platform includes Disaster Recovery, Windows XP/7. System analysis, design, application (Inter/Intranet) development and testing. Provided technical supports on desktop and laptops on Win-XP and Macintosh for about 2000 employees.