How to Empty the Recycle Bin on Windows and macOS: An In-Depth Guide

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 Empty The Recycle Bin

The recycle bin on your desktop is where deleted files go to wait until you either restore or permanently remove them. Over time, it can fill up and take up valuable storage space. Learning how to properly empty the recycle bin is an essential skill for any Windows or macOS user.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about emptying the recycle bin, from basic steps to advanced tips. You’ll learn when and why to empty it, how to restore deleted files, and best practices for maintaining optimal system performance.

Why Empty the Recycle Bin?

Here are some key reasons to empty your recycle bin regularly:

  • Frees up disk space: Deleted files in your recycle bin still take up space on your hard drive. Emptying it removes these files to free up storage room.
  • Improves system performance: A bloated recycle bin causes extra strain on your OS. Deleting its contents allows your computer to run faster.
  • Increases security: The recycle bin can contain sensitive temporary or cached files. Emptying it reduces the risk of others accessing private data.
  • Makes finding files easier: When you delete new files, old ones get pushed down. An overflowing recycle bin becomes disorganized.
  • Prevents automatic deletions: Once the recycle bin hits maximum capacity, your OS will start permanently deleting older files when you add new ones.

Regularly emptying the recycle bin ensures you have adequate free space, a smoothly running system, and total control over file deletions.

When Should You Empty the Recycle Bin?

How often you empty the recycle bin depends on your storage needs and personal preferences. Here are some general guidelines:

  • When it’s close to full: Don’t wait until it reaches maximum capacity. Empty it once storage is low to avoid automatic deletions.
  • After permanently deleting files: Right after you ensure files are no longer needed, empty the bin to immediately free up space.
  • During routine computer maintenance: Make it part of your regular system upkeep, like disk cleanups and defrags.
  • Before a system update or reinstallation: Empty it prior as a good pre-upgrade or reinstall practice.
  • When security is compromised: After a malware attack or if unauthorized access is suspected, empty it to erase potentially compromised files.
  • Before sharing or disposing of a computer: Empty the bin to wipe all your personal deleted files before passing a computer on to someone else.

Setting a reminder to check and empty your recycle bin weekly or monthly is recommended. But always verify you don’t need any files before emptying.

How to Empty the Recycle Bin on Windows

Emptying the recycle bin in Windows is simple. Here are the step-by-step instructions:

Recycle Bin
  1. Open the recycle bin – Double-click the recycle bin icon on your desktop or open it from the start menu.
  2. Check contents – Review files inside and ensure there are none you want to keep.
  3. Right click recycle bin – Select the arrow menu, then choose Empty Recycle Bin.
  4. Confirm deletion – A pop-up will warn files will be permanently deleted. Click Yes to confirm.
  5. Wait – It may take a few minutes for the process to fully finish. The bin will appear empty once completed.
  6. Check disk space – Go to Settings > System > Storage to verify you reclaimed disk space.

That’s all it takes! Windows provides a safety net by asking you to confirm before permanently deleting files.

Alternative Ways to Empty the Recycle Bin

Here are a couple other quick ways to empty the recycle bin in Windows:

  • Keyboard shortcut: While the recycle bin is open, press CTRL + A to select all items, then SHIFT + DEL to delete. Confirm by pressing Yes.
  • File Explorer: Open File Explorer, go to the recycle bin folder, right click it, and select Empty Recycle Bin.
  • Command prompt: Type DEL %SystemDrive%\$Recycle.Bin then press enter. Type Y and enter to confirm.

How to Restore Deleted Files from the Recycle Bin

If you realize you deleted a file that’s needed, you can easily restore it from the recycle bin:

  1. Open the recycle bin and look for the file.
  2. Right click on the file and choose Restore.
  3. Select where to restore the file to. The default is its original location. Click Restore to complete.

As long as you haven’t emptied the recycle bin, deleted files remain in their original state. But it’s best to restore them right away before permanently erasing the bin.

How to Empty Trash on Mac

The steps to empty the Trash on a Mac are very similar to Windows:

  1. Click the trash icon in the Dock to open it.
  2. Review contents to confirm there’s nothing you need.
  3. Choose Empty Trash from the Finder menu or press Command + Shift + Delete.
  4. A prompt will ask “Are you sure you want to permanently erase the items in the Trash?” Click Empty Trash to confirm.
  5. Wait for the process to complete. The trash will appear empty when finished.
  6. Check storage levels under Apple Menu > About This Mac > Storage to verify space was freed up.

Mac has built-in protections against accidentally deleting files. But it’s still wise to carefully check the Trash before emptying.

Alternative Ways to Empty the Trash on Mac

Here are some other easy methods to empty the Trash on a Mac:

  • Dock icon: Hold down the Option key while clicking the Trash icon in your Dock to instantly empty it.
  • Finder sidebar: Right click the Trash in the Finder sidebar and select Empty Trash.
  • Terminal command: Type sudo rm -rf ~/.Trash then press Return. Type your admin password and press Return again to confirm.

How to Restore Deleted Files from Trash on Mac

If you need to retrieve an item from the Trash on your Mac:

  1. Double click to open the Trash.
  2. Drag the file you want to keep back to its original location or the desktop.
  3. Alternatively, you can right click the file and select Put Back to restore it.

Remember that emptying the Trash permanently deletes all items inside. So act quickly if you notice an important file was removed.

Tips for Maintaining the Recycle Bin or Trash

Here are some best practices for keeping your computer’s recycle bin or Trash optimized:

  • Always check contents before emptying – Take time to verify it doesn’t contain any files you still need.
  • Empty it regularly – Set a reminder to empty it monthly or biweekly to maintain free space.
  • Use Disk Cleanup on Windows – This tool frees up space by permanently deleting unnecessary system files.
  • Enable Trash size warning on Mac – Get notified when Trash reaches a certain GB size under Finder preferences.
  • Delete old system logs – These can accumulate over time and should be periodically cleared out.
  • Remove unneeded duplicates – If you have many redundant copies of files, delete the extras.
  • Clear the bin before shutting down – Make it part of your shutdown routine to do a final check and empty it.
  • Restore items immediately if deleted by accident – Don’t wait or else they may get permanently erased.
  • Use a larger third-party recycle bin – Apps like Recycle Bin Editor allow setting a custom maximum size.
  • Install a file recovery app – For another layer of protection if you empty files you end up needing.

FAQ About Emptying the Recycle Bin

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about deleting files from the recycle bin or Trash:

Is it safe to empty the recycle bin?

Yes, it’s safe as long as you’ve checked the contents and are sure you don’t need any of the files. Emptying the recycle bin permanently deletes files, so be cautious before taking this action.

How often should I empty the recycle bin or trash?

It depends on your personal preference and computer usage habits. Some users prefer daily, while others do so weekly or monthly. Regularly emptying it helps maintain optimal system performance.

Can I recover files after emptying the recycle bin?

Yes, you can recover files using data recovery software. But the chances decrease the longer you wait, so try to restore items immediately.

Does emptying the recycle bin free up space?

Yes, it frees up disk space by permanently removing files that were temporarily stored there after deletion.

What happens when the recycle bin gets full?

On Windows, it will stop accepting new files until emptied. On Mac, once full, the Trash starts automatically deleting the oldest files when you add new ones.

Is there a maximum size for the recycle bin?

The default is around 10% of your total disk space. But you can configure the size on Windows by right clicking the bin and going to Properties > Size.

Can you recover files without using the recycle bin?

Yes, data recovery software can restore deleted files even if you didn’t send them to the recycle bin first. But files may be overwritten if not in the protected bin.

Does formatting a drive empty the recycle bin?

Yes, formatting a disk drive erases all its content, including the recycle bin. Files would need to be recovered using data recovery tools.

Where are deleted files stored?

On Windows, deleted files go to a folder called Recycler under drives. On Mac, they’re stored in a hidden .Trashes folder on each drive.

PS: here are the ways to empty trash on Android devices  and hide Recycle Bin for your reference.

Key Takeaways on Emptying the Recycle Bin

To recap, here are the core tips to remember:

  • Check contents before emptying to avoid losing needed files.
  • Empty the recycle bin regularly as part of routine PC maintenance.
  • Restore accidentally deleted files immediately if possible.
  • Free up additional disk space using Disk Cleanup or deleting unneeded files.
  • Set size limits and enable warnings if your recycle bin fills frequently.
  • On Mac, hold Option while clicking the Trash to quickly empty it.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts like Shift + Delete to empty the bin without the prompt.
  • Formatting or upgrading your system will automatically erase the recycle bin contents.
  • Data recovery software can retrieve deleted files even after emptying the recycle bin.

Learning how to properly manage your computer’s recycle bin or Trash is an essential skill. Follow these tips and best practices to maintain optimal storage space, system performance, security and ensure accidental file deletions are minimized.


Skilled software testing specialist with expertise in comparisons and research, passionate about blogging, reviews, and creating video tutorials.

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