4 Useful Trash Keyboard Shortcuts Every Mac User Should Know

Nov 13, 2012 - 11 Comments

Trash is one of those overlooked aspects of OS X that you probably don’t think much about, most of us just drag a file into it, empty the Trash to delete a document and free up disk space, and that’s about it. That’s fine, but there are also a handful of genuinely useful keyboard shortcuts that pertain to Trash on the Mac, and if you spend any time in the file system they’re worth learning.

Trash Shortcuts in Mac OS X

These keystrokes must have something in Finder selected in order to work, whether that’s a single file, a folder, or a whole group of documents.

Send an Item to Trash Instantly

  • Command+Delete with any file or folder selected will send it instantly to the Trash in OS X

Return Items from Trash to Original Location

  • Command+Delete with anything currently in the Trash selected returns it to the original location in the file system. You can also access this by right-clicking an item and choosing “Put Back”

Empty Trash

  • Shift+Command+Delete will immediately empty the Trash. This is the safer approach since it brings up the warning dialog telling you the action is permanent.

Force Empty Trash – Without Warning

  • Shift+Option+Command+Delete will immediately force empty the Trash with no warnings, regardless of what’s in the Trash.

Bonus Tips for the Trash

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Big WARNING here.
    I´ve had users erased wrong folders using theses commands. OSX can in certain circumstances be “vague” when it comes to the selected folder. The user may have marked a folder in a window that´s not active. When thinking they should delete the folder in the window out of focus, they delete the “unintintially” marked folder in the frontmost window.
    Yes, it was a user that was VERY used to computers… so…

    • Todd Praker says:


      Some people do not pay attention to what they’re doing.

      Yes, I am VERY used to doing math….so….


    • Smith says:

      Gigantic WARNING close by:

      “used to computers”

      Saying you’re very used to computers is like saying you’re very used to buckets.. or clocks. Computers are just tools, they don’t impose their presence on you. If you wanted to illustrate how creepy something about a computer was you might say “and I’m very used to computers” to illustrate that you feel it was particularly creepy.

      Anyways the key thing here is that the amount you’re “used to computers” is no indication of how well you understand them. The computer doesn’t know what you’re thinking, the people who made the computer tried to guess and give you some easily understandable ways to interact with it, some of which are the commands on this page.

      Also, I’m sorry, but i gotta say it, if you’re talking about command delete, your item is safe and sound in the trash. if you’re talking about the command to empty the trash, the way to empty the trash and receive a confirmation prompt first is explained. I guess what you’re describing is probably both command delete followed by emptying the trash with or without a prompt. But you know, thats literally why the trash exists, so you can effectively remove something but still have the option of reinstating it.

      Il admit the selected folder can be ambiguous. But i don’t think id ever do what you described anyways- and I’m not exactly sure why. I THINK its because of this: in any given finder window, there has to be a selected item (except perhaps the first directory with your HD). If nothing is visibly selected, the highlighted item is the enclosing folder of whatever it is you’re looking at. Being inside a folder is essentially the equivalent of clicking on the folder in terms of it being highlighted/selected. So thats probably what happened to you.

      It also might just be because after all my experience with computers I’ve come to realize that what a certain aspect of a computer appears to do, and what it actually does are often very different things. In this case they’re not even very different, though.

      Still- right off the bat you can’t select things in two different windows and delete all of them. And you can’t highlight something in one finder window then delete it when another is focused. I assume you can’t do that in windows either but i might be wrong. But even if you can do it in another operating system, you gotta realize more people would have problems resulting from highlighting something and then opening another finder window that obscured the first. Now if they hit the delete command they’re going to delete the file in the window they forgot about too. So really its a feature and a smart one at that.

      And i am VERY used to computers… so…

      – Nunya

  2. Matthew Chu says:

    Is there anyway to delete from inside the Trash an individual file like in a Windows system. I use Parallels to run Windows 7 as a virtual machine and I can delete files individually in the Recycle Bin in Windows which contains the same files as in the Mac. Can it be done on the Mac without having to go into Windows. Thanks for any help on this.

    • Hayo Baan says:

      Yes, you can and it’s something I do frequently. Simply use Terminal, type “rm ” followed by return.

      Instead of typing the full path to the file, simply drag the file from the trash onto the terminal window and the full path will be entered for you.

      If you’re trying to remove a folder (or e.g., an application) this way, add -r to the rm command. If you don’t have enough rights to remove a file, you may need to use sudo rm instead.

      Hope this helps,

  3. Stan says:

    You mean cmd+backspace, shift+option+cmd+backspace etc right?

  4. Mike says:

    I’ve recently noticed that I dont get the sound effect when I use cmd + del to send an item to the trash. Not sure when I lost it? Lion update? One of those things im in danger of wasting a load of time on – any ideas? (I have checked sound in prefferences and all seems ok there) Thanks in advance.

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