If you’re familiar with the Windows 10 Recycle Bin for deleting files and you just switched to Mac, you might wonder where the equivalent is on a Mac. It’s called “Trash,” and it’s located in the Dock. Here’s how to use it.

The Recycle Bin Is “Trash” or “Bin” on a Mac

Since 1984, all versions of the Mac desktop operating system have included a trash can (waste bin), which is formally called “Trash” in the United States and “Bin” in some territories. The concept originated on the Apple Lisa, where it was called “Wastebasket.”

The Trash icon as seen in Mac System 1 from 1984.

Like the Recycle Bin on Windows, when you delete a file or drag it to Trash, it stays there unless you “empty” it by using the “Empty Trash” command in Finder. That way, you have a second chance to “undelete” a file by dragging it out of the Trash before it’s lost forever.

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How to Delete Files with Trash

To delete a file or folder using Trash, click and drag the item onto the Trash icon in the Dock, and then release your mouse or trackpad button.

If the Trash was previously empty before you dragged an item into it, the Trash icon itself will change, showing crumpled papers inside of it.

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The Trash icon with crumpled papers lets you know that there are files in Trash. By default, items put into the Trash will stay there forever unless you remove them, empty the Trash, or schedule the Trash to remove items automatically after a period of time (see below).

You can also move files to Trash without using the Trash can icon on the Dock. In Finder, simply select a file and choose File > Move to Trash in the menu bar, or right-click the item and select “Move to Trash.”

How to Remove Items from the Trash

Trash works a lot like a special folder. If you’ve moved a file to Trash by mistake and you want to get it back, click the Trash icon on your Dock, and the “Trash” window will open in Finder.

From there, you can either drag the items out of the Trash window and onto the desktop (or another folder), or you can right-click them and select “Put Back” in the menu.

In the Trash folder, right click an item and select "Put Back."

You can also select items in the Trash and choose File > Put Back in the menu bar, and they will return to their original locations before you moved them to the trash.

How to Empty the Trash

To empty the Trash—which will permanently delete all of the files you’ve placed in the trash can—right-click the Trash icon and select “Empty Trash” from the menu that appears.

Warning: Once you empty the trash, you won’t be able to get the deleted files back without relying on a backup or using third-party tools (that aren’t guaranteed to work). Make sure that you have full backups with Time Machine before deleting anything.

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Or, with Finder in the foreground, you can choose Finder > Empty Trash in the menu bar at the top of the screen.

Select Finder > Empty Trash in the menu bar.

As with most things on the Mac, there’s a keyboard shortcut alternative: Press Shift+Command+Delete on your keyboard to empty Trash with no clicks necessary.

RELATED: How to Back Up Your Mac and Restore Files With Time Machine

How to Empty the Trash on a Schedule

If you’d like to automatically empty items from your trash after 30 days, Finder provides an option for that. To turn it on, focus on Finder by clicking it in the Dock.

Next, select Finder > Preferences in the menu bar, or press Command+Comma on your keyboard. In Finder Preferences, click the “Advanced” tab, and then place a check mark beside “Remove items from the Trash after 30 days.”

In Finder Preferences, click "Advanced," then check "Remove items from the Trash after 30 days."

Close Finder Preferences. Thirty days after you move an item to the Trash, it will be permanently emptied from Trash and deleted.

RELATED: How to Automatically Empty Your Trash on a Mac

How to Bypass the Trash (and Delete a File Instantly)

If you’d like to instantly delete a file or folder without sending it to Trash, you have a couple of options. In Finder (or on the Desktop), select the item, and then hold down the Option key on your keyboard and select File > Delete Immediately in the menu bar.

While holding down the Option key, select File > Delete Immediately.

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Or, you can select the item and press Option+Command+Delete on your keyboard. You’ll see a warning message telling you that you’re about to permanently delete the items and that there’s no going back. If you’re ready, click the “Delete” button.

Warning: If you click “Delete” here, you will never be able to recover the item or items unless you have a backup!

Select "Delete."

After that, the file will be permanently deleted.

How to Recover Deleted Files on the Mac

If you’ve permanently deleted something by accident, it might be possible to get it back if you’ve previously enabled Time Machine or via a third-party tool. Be careful out there, and good luck!

RELATED: How to Recover Deleted Files on Your Mac

Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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