Deleted file recovery: how to recover deleted files on Mac with/without software?

This tutorial is going to show you handful methods to recover recently and permanently deleted photos, videos, documents, emails and music files from Mac computers, external hard drives, SD memory cards, USB flash drives and so on. You will also read how to effectively recover deleted files with free deleted file recovery software - iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery.

By Katrina | Posted to Mac Data Recovery, updated on July 3rd, 2019 |

Most of you have experienced the horrible stomach-churning pang of dread when you accidentally delete an important file that you don't mean to delete.

Wondering how to recover deleted files on Mac? You are landing the right page.

No worries! The good news is that, no matter how you deleted a file, it's pretty easy to recover deleted files, particularly if you realize your mistake quickly.

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn about how to recover deleted files with and without software.

Table of contents
1. How did you delete files on Mac?
2. Can I recover deleted files on Mac?
3. How to recover deleted files from Mac Trash?
4. How to restore recently deleted files from Time Machine backups?
5. How to recover deleted photos on Mac?
6. How to recover deleted music files in iTunes?
7. How to recover deleted documents on Mac?
8. How to recover deleted contacts on Mac?
9. How to recover deleted emails on Mac?
10. How to recover deleted download folder?
11. How to restore files from a deleted user account?
12. How to recover deleted files with free Mac data recovery software?
13. Conclusion

OOPS! I accidentally deleted my photos, how do I retrieve them?

This morning, I plugged my 4 GB SanDisk SD card in my MacBook Pro, intending to transfer my two-week holiday photos to the computer for editing. After editing these photos, I saved the edited photos in a new folder. Then I deleted the original photo folder and emptied Mac Trash. But then I realized that I deleted the wrong folder which contains the edited photos.

I tried with Recuva first as many people are talking about this data recovery program on the internet. However, I finally realized that this program couldn't work to recover my deleted photos on the SD card, as it only detected several exist photos from the SD card.

I had spent four hours editing all the photos, so I didn't want to lose them. Is it possible to recover deleted files on Mac? Is there any great free deleted photo recovery software?

This is a user query from Tom's guide. If you are fed up with the similar situation, I'm glad to tell you that whether it's a family picture, important word document or video, the deleted file could be restored through some ways.

Let's start with the possible scenarios and tips of deleted files recovery.

Recover deleted files on Mac

How did you delete files on Mac?

It's possible that you deleted your files on Mac in various ways. What matters is, whether you can restore the deleted files is largely dependent on the way you deleted them. Still have no idea? Now let's check them out.

  1. Delete files in an ordinary way. When you select a file by left-clicking on it and press "Command+Delete" button on the keyboard or right-click on the selected file and select "Move to Trash", such a temporary deleted file won't be permanently removed from your hard disk. Instead, it will be only moved to the Mac Trash. So if you have deleted files by mistake and you need to have them back, you can easily restore them from the Mac Trash.
  2. Use "Delete Immediately" or "Empty Trash" option to delete files instantly. By pressing these two buttons, you agree to remove the deleted files permanently, so there is no way you can undo "Empty Trash" without the help of a backup copy or Mac data recovery software.
  3. Delete files by pressing the keyboards combinations "Command+Shift+Delete". File deleted in this way will be permanently deleted from the disk without placing them into the Mac Trash.
  4. Delete files from external drives, including external hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards and more. These files will skip being sent to the Trash but move to a hidden folder called "Trashes".
  5. Lose files due to virus attack. Some high-risk viruses not only actually cause serious problems to your computer system but also delete important files from the computer hard drive.

As you can see, deleting a file is as easy as a pie. Thus, there is no surprise that accidental deletion happens to everyone at any time. Don't blame yourself too much!

"Can I recover deleted files on Mac?" you may ask. Go ahead!

Can I recover deleted files on Mac?

When you first delete files on a Mac computer, they will be moved to the computer's Trash. At this time, the files are not marked as deleted, and they will be recovered with ease.

However, if you emptied them from the Trash, you can't discover it anywhere on the Mac computer or hard drive. Where do these deleted files go? Actually, these files still remain in the same place. In this situation, the operating system will only remove the reference or file header to the files, so that the computer can no longer see the files and the space the files took up is available for any new file. Therefore, these deleted files are still on the hard drive until another file or part of another file is saved to the same location.

Here are some tips which can help you increase the chance of recovering deleted files on Mac:

  • To avoid data overwriting, you should stop using the hard drive from which you have deleted files, including saving new files and editing existing files. Because the chances for successful data recovery depend greatly on the remainder of the data which has not overwritten yet. If the deleted files are entirely overwritten, even the professional deleted data recovery software or specialized data recovery labs are unable to restore them. So, what is worth noting that if you deleted files on the disk' system partition, you should shut down your Mac computer as soon as possible.
  • Perform Mac file recovery right now. If you have no backup of your hard drive or backup has itself corrupted, the most reliable way is to download and install an advanced data recovery application to recover deleted files on Mac. With the read-only operational mode, all of them guarantee the security of the recovery process.

Now, let's dive right into the solutions to recover deleted files.

How to recover deleted files from Mac Trash?

Macintosh computers have a Trash area to hold deleted files. If you recently deleted photos on Mac, you should first check if the file is gone. Follow the steps below to undelete files on Mac:

Step 1: Click on the Trash icon in the Dock and inspect the Finder window that opens.

Step 2: Find the deleted file you need, drag it out the Trash on the Desktop or right-click the file and select "Put Back".

Recover deleted files from Mac Trash

Video tutorial: how to recover deleted files/photos emptied from Mac Trash

You can watch this video to learn how to recover deleted files, including photos, videos, etc.

Didn't see deleted files in Mac Trash? Here are scenarios that you can't find deleted items in Trash:

  1. You have right-clicked deleted files in Trash and choose Delete Immediately.
  2. You have emptied the Trash after deleting files.
  3. You pressed Option + Command + Delete or Command + Delete shortcut to delete files.
  4. You have set the Trash to automatically removes files after 30 days. For that reason, if you deleted the file a long time ago you may find the item has been removed from the Trash.

Tips: Under this circumstance, you may also wonder if there is a command line that can recover deleted files via Terminal. Yes, there is a command line to recover deleted files, but only from Trash. If the deleted files are emptied from Trash, you can't use Terminal to find them.

How to restore recently deleted files from Time Machine backups?

Time Machine is a built-in backup tool which can automatically back up all of your files. If you have emptied the Trash or can't find the deleted file you need in the Trash, you can restore deleted files from Time Machine Backups if you enabled it.

Step 1: Connect the backup drive to the Mac computer.

Step 2: Open the folder that once contained your deleted files.

Step 3: Click the Time Machine icon in the top left menu bar and select Enter Time Machine.

Tips: Did you know how to show Time Machine icon on the menu bar?

  1. Click Apple icon at the top-right corner.
  2. Select System Preferences… and then click on Time Machine.
  3. Check Show Time Machine in the bottom menu bar.

Step 4: Browse the items in the backup folder by using on-screen up/down arrows or using the timeline at the edge of the screen. If you want to find files of the older version, using timeline to navigate the files is faster. You will be able to see a lot of snapshots of this whole folder and how the folder changes.

Step 5: Select an item and press Space bar or double-click it to preview it.

Step 6: Select the file you want to restore, and then click Restore.

Restore deleted files from Time Machine Backups

How to recover recently deleted photos on Mac?

When you delete a photo in the Photos app, you can change your mind before the 30 days have elapsed. You can go into the Recently Deleted album and recover the deleted photos.

  1. Step 1: Open Photos and select Album from the column on the left and double-click "Recently Deleted" (in older versions of Photos you'll find Recently Deleted along the top).
  2. Step 2: You'll see thumbnails of photos and videos you've deleted. Click on the photo you're looking for and press "Recover". It will then be moved back to your main Library.

Recover deleted photos in Photos

How to recover deleted music files in iTunes?

When you deleted your songs or music playlist in iTunes, you will be asked if you want to move the file to the Trash.

If you choose the option "Keep File", you have likely removed the music file from the iTunes media library list. But the music file still exists inside the iTunes Media folder. The following shows how you can find the deleted music file on your Mac.

  1. Step 1: On the desktop of your Mac, you can click on the Go menu at the top and select the option that says "Go to Folder". Then type in the following path in the box and hit "Enter". (Replace the username with your own username):
  2. /Users/username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Music/
  3. Step 2: When the path opens, you will see your entire iTunes music library. You will find your deleted music file here in this folder. Then you can drag it on the top of the iTunes icon or an iTunes window to re-import it back into iTunes.

If you said yes and has sent the audio file to the Trash, then you might be able to find it in your Trash folder. Follow these steps to get it back into iTunes:

  1. Step 1: Open iTunes and click on iTunes > Preferences.
  2. Step 2: Click Advanced and make sure there is a tick in the box marked "Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library".
  3. Step 3: Drag the music file out of the Trash to the Desktop and then drag it onto iTunes' icon in the Dock. You have re-import the file into iTunes.
  4. Step 4: Finally, move the duplicate file from the desktop back to the Trash.

Recover deleted music files in iTunes

How to recover documents on Mac?

Have you ever closed your Word document without saving it? Have you deleted your saved Word documents by accident? Wondering how to recover unsaved word documents? Calm down! No matter what you are using for text editing, such as Text Edit, Preview, iWork or other third-party tools, it will automatically save copies of previous versions so you can revert them if you need. Here is how you can recover Word documents:

  1. Step 1: Open the file and click on the File menu and choose "Revert" to Browse all versions. You'll see that the screen changes which looks a bit like Time Machine.
  2. Step 2: Click the up and down arrow on the right of the screen to find the version you want to revert to.
  3. Step 3: You'll see the date of each version displayed below its preview. If the document preview doesn't display automatically, you can click "Load Version" to download it from iCloud.
  4. Step 4: When you find the version you want to revert to, click "Restore".

Recover deleted word documents on Mac

How to recover deleted contacts on Mac?

If you've deleted the entry from the Contacts app in macOS then you can tap on Edit > Undo Delete Card. You have to do this before making any other edits in Contacts, or you'll lose the card.

How to recover deleted emails on Mac?

If you deleted an important email using the Apple Mail app, just like many other mail clients, Apple Mail has a Trash folder that stores the recently deleted emails. Here are steps to recover deleted email files from Trash:

  1. Step 1: Open Apple Mail and click "View" from the menu bar and choose "Show Deleted Messages".
  2. Step 2: Click the "Trash" button in the sidebar and then you will see the list of all your deleted emails.
  3. Step 3: Right-click the email you want to recover, then choose "Undelete" to restore your deleted email to your inbox.

How to recover deleted Download folder?

The Download Folder is essential in Mac because it contains important data that you have downloaded over the internet. But it's possible to accidentally delete the Download folder and remove all its downloaded files.

In this situation, you should first look for your deleted Download folder from the Trash. Secondly, if you have created a backup of your Download folder using Time Machine backup utility, then you can use this backup to restore the accidentally deleted Download folders. Last but not least, if these two techniques do not work, then you can go for a software solution.

How to restore files from a deleted user account?

Mac user account disappeared? Accidentally deleted your user account? Can't log in to access your data stored on the account? Have no fear, we've got the data-saving solution you need.

The easiest way to recover files from a deleted user account is using data recovery software. First of all, if you have only one user account (namely the one has been deleted), you should create a new account before performing deleted file recovery. To create a new account, yon need to go to System Preference, select Users and Groups, Click Padlock, Click + button to create a new user, input account name and password. While if you have other accounts, you can skip to the next solution.

How to recover deleted files with free Mac data recovery software?

There are a few free data recovery software, such as Recuva and iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery. But Recuva is only available for Windows version. So, iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery is an ideal choice to recover your deleted files on mac. With the advanced algorithms, it is able to search and recover recently deleted files, undelete files on APFS drives, recover deleted files from encrypted mac hard drives, even files deleted from the Trash. The software can be used to get back deleted pictures and recover Word documents, music files, videos, contacts as well as retrieve email files.

Furthermore, you can try this file Recovery software to recover data from formatted, corrupted, inaccessible hard drives, external hard drives (such as WD, Seagate, Toshiba external hard drives), SD cards, memory cards, etc. Even if your Mac computer won't boot, iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery can get lost data back safely and efficiently.

Step 1: Download, install and launch iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery on your Mac computer.

install iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery

Step 2: You will see all connected drives listed on the home window. Select the drive where you deleted files and click "Next" to scan for all data on this drive.

Recover deleted files on Mac

Step 3: Double-click to preview the scanning result and choose files you want to get back.

Step 4: Click "Recover" to restore these deleted files.

Recover deleted files on Mac


To sum up, when you press the "Delete" key, you can find it in the Trash. Even emptying the Trash doesn't get rid of it completely. There are many ways to get them back. If none of the solutions above work but the deleted files are very important, the last resort is to take your hard drive to a specialist recovery company. However, the best way of avoiding data loss is to make regular backups of your important data using the built-in Time Machine.

If you already lost data from hard drives, you can count on iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery. Even when you find yourself in a situation that seems hopeless, this software will still do its best to save the day.


Katrina is a data recovery expert @iBoysoft who loves to help readers solve various data recovery problems.

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