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Force Empty Trash In OSX

Have you ever moved a file to the trash in OSX and it just would not delete? Perhaps it was supposedly in use?  Well, here are a few tips and tricks to help remove those pesky files with relative ease.

One thing I have found to always work is to simply Log out (or even reboot) and log back in then attempt to empty the Trash.  This should usually work.  However, if you would prefer to stay logged in and/or not have to reboot, check out the solutions below.

How to force the Trash to empty using the Option key

This technique uses a hidden feature of Mac OS X to force the Trash to empty. It is important you follow these steps very carefully.

1. Press and hold the mouse button (or if you have a two button mouse – right click) on the Trash icon in the Dock. The context menu for Trash will display.
2. Press and hold the Option key.
3. Select Empty Trash from the context menu for Trash.
4. Release the Option key.

How to force the Trash to empty using Terminal

This technique uses a Terminal command to fore the Trash to empty. It is important that you follow these steps very carefully.

1. Launch Terminal, located in the Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities folder or search Spotlight for Terminal

2. At the Terminal prompt, type the following command exactly as written:

sudo rm -rf ~/.Trash/*

Important Notes:

* There is a single space after each of the terms sudo, rm, and -rf in the command.
* Double check you have typed the command exactly as it written above: incorrectly typing the command can result in serious system issues, including erasing your hard drive.

3. Press Return/Enter
4. Now type your Admin password when prompted, then press Return/Enter. The files in the Trash are now deleted.

Another possibility is to download and try this free application called Trash It! which is an AppleScript that force-empties your Trash and/or removes stubborn items.

How has this worked for you? Leave a comment!

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— Jeff Weisbein

Jeff is the founder & CEO of BestTechie. He has over 10 years of experience working with technology and building businesses. He loves to travel and listen to music.

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  1. thanks, the alt/option method worked great! especially since I’ve read 10 different ways in using the terminal to remove annoying files in the trash.

  2. Thanks but I would not be reading this page if I had not explored all these different options, there are still items in my trash (old windows system files).

  3. Henryette Melg says:

    I will just point out for those who got confused, that the * at the end of “sudo rm -rf ~/.Trash/*” is supposed to be there, at is not a note reference even though both notes are highlighted with a * as well.

    Maybe the way the article highlights notes should be changed to avoid confusion.

  4. trash it worked well!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you u saved my day

  6. Hi, it worked perfectly!! Do you know any way to make the problem go away? I keep having to go through the entire process whenever I want to clear out the trash items…

  7. Thank you.. it worked.

  8. aaronsng says:


  9. great tip! thanks

  10. Jeff Weisbein says:

    You’re welcome! :)

  11. sudo rm -rf  ~/.Trash/*    <- Worked great! In your description you forgot to put *space* between -rf and ~/.Trash/* Cheers!

  12. yep. thanks for the alt key method. Before I even rebooted and still wasn’t able to empty the trash. this way it worked well.

  13. Scooter471 says:

    did not work…   71 gigabytes to remove so I can re-start my backup

  14. thank you very much :)))

  15. Steve Knepp says:

    None of the above worked for me. These are Time Machine backups that just wil not delete.

  16. Did not work, tried several times – OSX Mountain Lion

  17. Option key trick worked, thanks so much, I’m a newbie to Apple and u r great!

  18. yeah – the Option-Key seems to work :)
    Thank you so much.
    (I moved some old TimeMashine-Files into the trash)

    • boogy again says:

      hm – almost: I had over 200k files. 50k resisted :(

      I found:
      -> Terminal:

      sudo rm -r
      (be sure to have a space after the “r”)
      then drag the content of the thrash onto the terminal
      hit ENTER and type the admin-password
      – sometimes overriding has to be confirmed with “y” – (?)

  19. Thanks a lot. The Terminal command worked like a charm.

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