Secure Empty Trash

Did you know that there are actually two ways to empty the trash on your Mac? Perhaps you’ve seen both options before, but never gave it much thought. Just what is the deal with Empty Trash versus Secure Empty Trash? Which one should you use? By knowing what each empty trash command is capable of doing, you’ll be able to make more informed future decisions with regard to handling your Mac’s sanitation needs.

Unsurprisingly, one method of deletion is more secure than the other method of deletion. Performing a standard Empty Trash command will simply mark the deleted files as being available to be overwritten should the need for space occur. The actual file is still there on your hard drive. You can’t see it, but it is there until another file uses the data once designated to it, and therefore it’s easily recoverable by using recovery software.

Empty Trash

The second, more secure method of deletion—Secure Empty Trash—actually overwrites the deleted file using a single pass erase. So not only are these blocks freed up to accommodate other data, but they’re actually overwritten, and, in theory, less susceptible to recovery. With this in mind, it takes a longer time to Secure Empty Trash since an actual overwrite is being performed.

Secure Empty Trash Dialogue

So which deletion method should you use? I’d say for every day things, it’s safe to continue using the standard Empty Trash command. In contrast, if you’re working with data that has some sort of sensitive element to it, it may be wise to use the Secure Empty Trash command instead.

At any rate, here’s what Apple has to say about the whole thing:

Users can also initiate sanitization while deleting files using the Secure Empty Trash command in the Finder. This command overwrites files as they are deleted using a single-pass erase

Now you’re much better equipped to know which type of delete you should use in the future. But keep in mind that even a Secure Empty Trash would likely leave elements of files lingering around, making them recoverable using forensic software. Drop me a line down in the comments with any further thought you may have on the topic.

  • Awesome tip. I honestly wasn’t aware of that.

  • afogs

    Do you recommend a certain type of recovery software to use?

    • I haven’t used any personally, but a friend of mine is really big into that (it’s his job) so I’ll have to ask him.

  • Manuel Molina

    I kind of had an idea that secure trash deleted things differently, but I wasn’t sure it was where you’re files would be harder to recover or would really be deleted as explained.

    Thanks for the tip. Now guys will be deleting all their bad videos before letting their girls use their computers. 🙂

  • Lakh Jhajj

    Hey Jeff, liked the article and got some more knowledge about Trash.

    Just curious what’s the progress on making How To Root videos on Amazin Fire TV ? I am visiting your other site and been waiting for 3 months or more now. Are you gonna make them or its dead ?

    Thx a lot!
    Thumbs up to all your work. Always happy to watch your videos on iOS and curious to see you on the Android side too sooner rather than later.

  • mike

    Does Microsoft have a system that’s analogous to this? I was unaware of the first, (less secure), protocol used.

  • andyr354

    I wonder if this is really the case on an SSD drive. The way an SSD handles data is different. At work for our drives we now have to destroy old SSDs, where a spin drive we could do a secure erase.

  • Eikast

    Secure deletion takes forever. Make sure to use it only if you need it.

  • Chris

    I’ve used this in the past but stopped because of how long it takes to delete say 100 MBs, normally minutes compared to a second or two, I also had issues where Finder would lock up and run the CPU at 100%.

  • Bugs Bunnay

    The difference is one of them has the word secure in it. Pretty obvious.

  • glynn sergeant

    I have also found that some locked files that won’t erase, will erase properly with Secure Delete.

  • glynn sergeant

    Secure Delete also can trash locked files that won’t go away with normal Trash.

  • Marcus

    I’ve been using Secure Empty Trash for years. The only problem is how much longer it takes to delete files. Sometimes I’ll have 40k+ things in my trash and I’ll delete them, but it takes forever. I’ll let it go throughout the night while I’m sleeping (8 hours?) and it won’t even be close to finishing in the morning. It would be nice if Apple figured out how to speed this up.

  • Sumaiya Patel

    Hi, Thank you for the clarification. However, I would like to know which is better in the sense that I want to make more room on my computer. I take lots of pictures and even though I back them up time to time and delete pictures from the computer, I want to know if “secure empty” would help me in the long run if I permanently delete it instead of just delete by using “empty trash”. I like to first organize my pictures on my Mac then delete unwanted and back them up to external drive. Even though I cut past instead of copy to transfer, they come back in my iPhoto folder which I then delete. I hate the idea of it taking up too much space.

  • jabohn

    Secure empty trash no longer exists in El Capitan. Apparently Apple could no longer guarantee that files would actually securely delete due to changes in hard drives and the move to SSD so they removed it. This article is a bit out of date if you keep up with OS upgrades. Looks like it was a repost from a year ago.