How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac

There are several ways to remove deleted files on a Mac computer. We are going to show you some methods that make use of the native capabilities of macOS as well as how to recover your deleted data with Disk Drill data recovery software. Depending on your specific situation, you may find that one way to recover deleted files on Mac is better than another. However, the software solution is the most versatile and will succeed where other methods fail.
Recover deleted files on Mac

Steps on How to Recover Deleted Files on a Mac:

1. Download and Install Disk Drill for Mac



Download Disk Drill to your computer. If you are attempting to recover files from your machine’s system drive, perform the download and install in another disk partition or on another computer if possible. This will protect against accidentally overwriting your deleted files during installation of Disk Drill.

You will be prompted for your Administrator’s password during installation. Disk Drill needs that level of access to perform its data recovery tasks. For more information on how data recovery works, you can read tutorials such as How to Install Disk Drill and What is a Full Disk Access in our Knowledge Base.
  • 1Download Disk Drill
  • 2Install the app
  • 3Open Disk Drill for Mac

2. Attach any External Devices

If you are going to recover data from a peripheral device such as an external hard drive or smartphone, now is the time to attach it to your Mac.

3. Launch Disk Drill Data Recovery Software for the Mac

Start Disk Drill. You will be presented with its main window and a display of the hard drives, partitions, and storage devices that are currently accessible by the tool. Select the drive that you want to use for the restore.

How to recover deleted files on Mac

4. Scan Your Storage Device

Click the “Recover” button after selecting the drive you are using for the recovery. This initiates Disk Drill’s Quick Scan, which is the most rapid way to determine which files can be recovered. Files available for recovery will be displayed in Disk Drill’s window.
If you only have downloaded the freeware version of this file recovery software for the Mac, this is as far as you can go regarding an actual recovery of deleted data. The preview shows you what the Pro versions of Disk Drill can recover for you. If you want to recover those files, you should upgrade to the Pro version as soon as possible and continue with the next steps in the recovery.

Quick Scan recovers files on your Mac OS X

5. Select the Files for Recovery

When scanning is complete, or when you pause it, you can select the files that you wish to recover. You should also select a location where the tiles will be stored. It should be on a different disk or partition than the deleted files to avoid potential overwrites or corrupt files.

Once you are finished selecting the files, click the “Recover” button again. This time it will perform the recovery of the selected files and restore them to your selected location.

Restore deleted files on Mac

6. Preview Your Files

When Disk Drill is finished recovering your files it’s a good idea to navigate to the folder where the new files are stored. Check them out and make sure they are complete before proceeding with using their original disk again. You just want to verify that no further file recovery procedures may be necessary.

That’s it! A simple and straightforward way to restore deleted files using this file recovery software for Mac OS X.

Preview Your Files

Alternative Solutions: How to Recover Deleted Files on Mac Without Software

1. Try to Recover Files From Trash

The first thing a Mac user should do when they realize they have accidentally deleted a file is to see if it is in the Trash Bin. The Mac’s Trash is a special folder that stores recently deleted files for a predetermined length of time. Files residing in the Trash are easily recovered with a few simple steps.

To recover deleted files from Trash Bin on Mac:

  1. Open the Trash Bin by clicking on it.
  2. Locate the file or files you want to recover.
  3. Right-click on the selection.
  4. Select Put back to restore files from the Trash.

Recover Files From Trash
Can I recover deleted files on Mac after emptying the Trash?
You cannot simply undelete files once the Trash has been emptied. To retrieve files deleted from the Trash you need to use data recovery software or restore the data from a backup. Once the bin has been emptied, the contents are no longer available for a simple restoration. In this case, data recovery software is the most efficient way to recover files from the Trash on Mac. It might be worth your time to take a quick look at what is in there before emptying your Mac’s Trash Bin.

2. Restore From Time Machine Backup

Another way to get your deleted data back without data recovery software is to use Time Machine to restore it. Time Machine is the backup and recovery tool that is included as part of Mac’s operating system. It enables you to restore your Mac from a backup.

To restore files from a Time Machine backup:

  1. Connect the storage device which contains the Time Machine backup to your computer.
  2. Launch Time Machine by clicking the clock icon on the Mac’s menu bar.
  3. Search for the files or folders you want to recover.
  4. Click Restore to recover your data.

Of course, for you to be able to restore from a Time Machine backup, you need to have a backup copy of your data available. Take the time to regularly backup your system if you value the data that lives on your computer.

Restore From Time Machine Backup

3. Recover Deleted Files From Terminal on Mac

You can also recover deleted files on Mac using the Terminal application. It provides a command-line method of recovering deleted files from the Trash as long as it has not been emptied.

To use Mac terminal:

  1. Launch the Terminal application.
  2. Enter this command cd .Trash and hit Return to move to the Trash folder.
  3. Type this command with the name of the file you want to recover: mv xxx.xxx where xxx.xxx is the full filename and extension. Hit Return.
  4. Type Quit to exit the Terminal app.
  5. Open a Finder window and you should find the recovered file in its original location.

As with the GUI method of accessing your Mac’s Trash, you can only recover deleted files from the Terminal app if you have not emptied the Trash. If you have, data recovery software is your best bet to get your files back.

Recover Deleted Files From Terminal on Mac

Should I Go With Software to Restore My Lost Files on Mac?

Despite the availability of native macOS methods with which to recover your data, there are times when you will need to use data recovery software in an attempt to get your files back. In cases where the Trash has been emptied or you have no backup of the deleted data, recovery software may be your only hope.

Here is a quick comparison of a few data recovery products that run on the macOS platform.


Disk Drill vs Other Popular Mac Data Recovery Software
Comparison Table



Criteria Disk Drill EaseUS Stellar PhotoRec
Usability Excellent Good Good Limited
Preview recoverable data Yes No Yes No
Data protection tools Recovery Vault, Guaranteed Recovery,
and disk backup included for free
None None None
Free duplicate file finder Yes No No No
Catalina Support Yes Coming soon Coming soon Not guaranteed
Price $89 $89.95 $99.99 Freeware

Advanced Features of Disk Drill

Deep Scanning Technology


While Quick Scan will often be enough to recover your recently deleted files, if the deletion occurred further in the past you may need to employ more powerful scanning techniques. Disk Drill offers a Deep Scan option that goes through your disk sector-by-sector and scavenges for file fragments.

Possessing knowledge of over 350 file formats, Disk Drill’s Deep Scan can reconstruct files that you may have thought were long gone.

Deep Scan will basically rebuild the deleted files according to their digital footprint:

  • Photos like JPG, PNG and TIFF
  • Videos like AVI, DV and MP4
  • RAW camera images like CR2, NEF and DNG
  • Graphics files like AI, PSD, and INDD
  • Music files like AIF, MP3 and WAV
  • Documents like DOCX, PPTX and XLSX

Learn more about our scanning methods...

Advanced Data Protection Options

Disk Drill for Mac offers two options that work to further protect your data before there is a chance for accidental deletion. Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery are these two data protection features. In the case of Recovery Vault, a map of deleted files meta-data is created to allow for quick recovery.
Guaranteed Recovery creates invisible copies of files moved to your trash to guard against inadvertent permanent deletion.

Free Extra Tools to Help Manage Storage

Disk Drill comes with more than just cutting edge, powerful file recovery for Mac OS X. It also includes powerful extra Mac OS X tools for free which are compatible with most modern macOS versions. With all the data you store on your Mac, Disk Drill’s extra tools will give you the peace of mind to know that your files will always be safe.
Clean Up visualizes the space your files take up so you can manage or delete them as needed.

Duplicate Finder provides insight on how your disks' metadata so you can free up space and delete unnecessary duplicate files.

Bootable Recovery is an alternative Mac file recovery solution if your computer does not start or you cannot scan your system without overwriting the data.

Disk Backup backs up your important media, files, and documents into a byte-to-byte disk image (DMG) for later recovery if needed.

Disk Health Monitor offers S.M.A.R.T. monitoring and other disk health tools to check your internal and external disk drives free for hardware problems.

Duplicate Finde - delete unnecessary duplicate files

How Does Data Recovery Work?

When a file is deleted under Mac OS X it is not permanently removed from its storage media. It is simply logically marked as deleted and its space made available for future use by the operating system. The Trash Bin is where recently deleted files are logically stored when first deleted.

Deleted files remain in the Trash until the bin is emptied. At the point that the bin is emptied the OS can use it for other purposes. Until the actual sectors of the physical disk that held a logically deleted file are used to store a new file, it can be recovered. Disk Drill uses cutting-edge scanning technology to take advantage of this feature of the macOS.

The Main Reasons for Data Loss

Data loss can occur for a variety of reasons. Here are three of the most common causes that data is accidentally deleted or lost from computers and storage devices.
  • Human error

    The number one cause of data loss is human error. This can range from inadvertently formatting the wrong drive or partition to emptying the Trash Bin and permanently deleting its files. It is impossible to totally protect your data from accidental deletion by well-meaning users.
  • Malware infection

    Malicious software in the form of a virus or malware can result in data loss. In cases of ransomware, your only solution may be to resort to a backup version of your files.
  • Extreme conditions

    Exposing your computer or storage devices to high temperatures or levels of moisture can lead to corruption and data loss. Keep them in a temperature-controlled and dry environment to ensure the best performance and avoid data loss.

Tips on How to Prevent Data Loss

Here are some steps you can take to reduce the chances that you will experience a data loss scenario.
  • Make backups

    Make regular backups of your system. This is a basic best practice that should be followed by all computer users who value their data. Mac users can easily use Time Machine for this purpose. If you are not currently backing up, do yourself a favor and buy a removable USB drive and start creating backups today. It offers protection against data loss for your precious information.
  • Employ an antivirus

    Employing a professional-grade antivirus application can help keep your system free of malware and viruses. Other precautions include not opening suspicious email attachments and refraining from connecting strange devices to your machine. Malicious code can be introduced into your system through contact with other infected equipment.
  • Avoid risks

    Avoid taking unnecessary risks like using your laptop by the pool or leaving a removable hard drive in a parked car in the sun. Don’t expose your data to the elements as they may destroy it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on by Disk Drill Team

Disk Drill is safe to use. One point to remember is to recover deleted data to the new disk and storage location to avoid overwriting data during the recovery operation.

Yes, it does. Disk Drill’s developers make it a point to stay up to date with the latest Apple releases and Catalina is fully supported.

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.

You can use this procedure to undelete Notes on a Mac for around 30 days before they is permanently deleted from the app.

There are several ways that you can recover a lost Word document.

  1. Check the temporary file folder for unsaved Word documents.
  2. Use the Microsoft Office document recovery feature which opens after an unexpected crash of the Word application. 
  3. Try using Word’s AutoRecover tool to restore a lost document.
  4. Recover your Word documents from previously created backup media.
  5. Use data recovery software if the previous methods are unsuccessful.

Follow these steps to recover deleted emails on your Mac:

  1. Open the Mail application.
  2. Locate the Trash mailbox in the panel on the left side of the window.
  3. Open the Trash mailbox by clicking it.
  4. Drag the emails you want to recover from the Trash mailbox to another mailbox.

You can also try PhotoRec - a freeware, command-line tool that can be used for photo recovery on a Mac.

Yes, it is. Follow these steps:

  1. Connect the SD card to your Mac.
  2. Launch Disk Drill and choose the SD card from the disk list.
  3. Click Recover to scan the card for deleted files.
  4. Preview and select the files to be restored.
  5. Click Recover again to perform the data recovery.

Conclusion

You can recover lost data on a Mac through a variety of methods. The one you choose may be determined by the specific type of data loss that has occurred. If you are lucky, you can quickly recover your files by taking them out of the Trash Bin with the GUI or the command line. You may opt for a full recovery using previously created backups if you have them on hand.

You will find that data recovery software is the most versatile and effective method with which to recover lost data from your Mac. It has the ability to enact a data recovery when other methods cannot succeed. A viable data recovery software package is an indispensable tool to have at your disposal when faced with data loss. Disk Drill offers a comprehensive recovery program that includes additional data protection features designed to keep your important information safe.

No time to waste!

Disk Drill 3
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For File Recovery on Mac OS X
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