3 Ways to Delete Problem Items from the Trash

Problem Trash Header

Sometimes it feels like no matter what you do some items in the Trash bin on your Mac just won’t delete, no matter how many times you try to click empty trash the system never actually gets rid of everything and you’re let with a full trash icon sitting on your desktop.

When this happens it’s normally because one or more of three different things are occurring. The items in your Mac may be locked, in which case you’re going to have to use a keyboard command to force your Mac to delete them. The stuff in your trash might be another users and your account may not have permission to delete these files, in which case you’ll need to change these permissions. Or the offending item might be being used by another program.

Regardless of what the problem may be if you follow these three solutions you should be able to finally get rid of that pesky trash.

1. Item is locked

If you’ve got locked items in your trash you’re going to need to delete them using the force delete command. Just hold down the command (Command key icon) key and the ctrl (control) key and click the bin. You’ll notice option to empty trash now actually reads secure empty trash. Click it and see if the locked files are now deleted.

2. You don’t have permission to delete the file

Open up the trash and select the items you don’t have permission to delete. Control-Click them and select Get Info for them and then scroll down the window that opens to the section headed “Sharing and Permissions”. In this menu make sure that the user you’re currently signed in as has permission to read and write these files. If you don’t have Read & Write privileges select the option from the drop-down menu and be ready to input your administrator password to enact this change.

3. A program is still using the file

It may be that the real issue is that you’ve got a program opened that is still using one of the files you’re trying to delete. Try closing down any apps that are unessential and then try delete the file again. If this still doesn’t do the trick as a last resort try logging out of your Mac and logging back in again, then close down any unessential programs and then securely delete the contents of your trash using the steps outlined above.

Before you go

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About the author


I've been a passionate evangelist for Apple and the Macintosh throughout my working life, my first love was a Quadra 605 working with a small creative agency in the south of Norfolk UK in the mid 1990's, I later progressed to other roles in other Macintosh dominated industries, first as a Senior graphic designer at a small printing company and then a production manager at Guardian Media Group. As the publishing and printing sector wained I moved into Internet Marketing and in 2006 co-founded blurtit.com which grew to become one the top 200 visited sites in the US (according to Quantcast), at its peak receiving over 15 million visits per month. For the last ten years I have worked as an Affiliate and Consultant to many different business and start ups, my key skill set being online marketing, on page monetisation, landing page optimisation and traffic generation, if you would like to hire me or discuss your current project please reach out to me here.

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  • OMG, I have spent the last 5 hours trying to delete my Mac trash….trash that I deleted from my USB drive and that disappears when I remove my USB drive but reappears once I insert the USB. I tried to delete it by emptying the trash securely and it keeps telling me files are locked and connect be deleted. I have spent the last 5 hours reading all kinds of nonsense on the internet with solutions and only yours worked…thanks a million.