How to Recover Deleted Files on a Mac

Introduction

macOS has a number of safeguards and features built-in to save you from potentially having to re-create documents and lose precious pictures. This guide will help you check Trash, Time Machine, iCloud, and other locations to retrieve your data.
macOS

1 Spotlight Search

Spotlight Search allows you to search file names, as well as inside files for text you may have entered.

  1. Select the magnifying glass in the top-right corner.
    Mac Menu with Spotlight Search highlighted.
  2. Spotlight search will open in the center of your screen.
    Spotlight Search
  3. Type in something that has to do with the file you're searching for. You can try a line of text from a document, a bit of the file name, or any other information you may recall.
  4. A search window will appear below, giving you a list of options that may be related. Selecting a document will give you a preview of the file on the right.
    Spotlight Search with document highlighted
    You can open the file right away by double-clicking on it.

? Were you able to locate the file you are missing?

  1. Yes, I found my missing files
  2. No, Try finding them in Trash

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macOS has a number of safeguards and features built-in to save you from potentially having to re-create documents and lose precious pictures. This guide will help you check Trash, Time Machine, iCloud, and other locations to retrieve your data.
macOS

Spotlight Search allows you to search file names, as well as inside files for text you may have entered.

  1. Select the magnifying glass in the top-right corner.
    Mac Menu with Spotlight Search highlighted.
  2. Spotlight search will open in the center of your screen.
    Spotlight Search
  3. Type in something that has to do with the file you're searching for. You can try a line of text from a document, a bit of the file name, or any other information you may recall.
  4. A search window will appear below, giving you a list of options that may be related. Selecting a document will give you a preview of the file on the right.
    Spotlight Search with document highlighted
    You can open the file right away by double-clicking on it.

When a file is deleted from your Mac, it first goes to the Trash. If left long enough, it will eventually be removed permanently from your computer, but this provides an excellent buffer for simple mistakes.

  1. Select the Trash icon at the end of your Dock.
    macOS Trash
  2. A window showing the items in your Trash will open.
  3. If you see the file you want in the Trash, it's best to put it back where it belongs.
    1. Click-and-Hold, Control-Click, or Right Click the file for the menu to open. Select Put Back.
      Mouse with Right Mouse Button highlighted.
      Trashed item with context menu open with Put Back highlighted.
    2. The file will be put back where it came from, and the Finder window showing that folder will open.
      Finder with file highlighted.

Time Machine is a backup system included with your Mac.

There are two places to check if you have Time Machine setup on your Mac.

Menu Bar

Look on the top-right next to the clock for the Time Machine icon.
macOS Menu Bar with Time Machine highlighted

Preferences

  1. Open the Apple menu, and select System Preferences.
    macOS Mojave Apple Menu with System Preferences highlighted.
  2. Select Time Machine.
    Time Machine Preferences
  3. Time Machine will show a disk selected and backing up your files.
    Time Machine Preferences showing Time Machine setup
  1. Open the Folder where your file should be.
    Folder open showing only 1 file.
  2. Open the Time Machine menu, and select Enter Time Machine.
    Time Machine Menu with Enter Time Machine highlighted.
    If You Don't See The Time Machine Icon
    1. Open the Apple menu, and select System Preferences.
      macOS Mojave Apple Menu with System Preferences highlighted.
    2. Select Time Machine.
      Time Machine Preferences
    3. Place a check next to Show Time Machine in menu bar.
      Time Machine Preferences with Show Time Machine in menu bar highlighted.
  3. Use the Up and Down arrows on the left to go back and forward till you find the most recent time when the file was still where it belongs.
    Time Machine with Up and Down arrows highlighted.
  4. Highlight the file, and select Restore.
    Time Machine with file and Restore highlighted.
  5. Your file will be restored from backup, and placed in the proper location.
    Finder with second file highlighted.

If the file you are looking for was stored in an iCloud-backed folder, you can restore them through the iCloud web interface.

  1. Open your preferred web browser, and type icloud.com in the address bar. Then press Return.
    Safari browser with address entered and highlighted.
  2. Sign in with your Apple ID and password.
    Apple ID sign in prompt.
  3. Select Settings.
    iCloud web dashboard with Settings highlighted.
  4. Select Restore Files under Advanced at the bottom.
    iCloud settings with Restore Files highlighted.
  5. Look through the list of files. If you see your missing file, place a check mark next to it, then select Restore File.
    File restore with file checked and Restore File highlighted.

It can take a few moments for your computer to download and restore the file. Please be patient.

Some people use an online file storage or backup solution, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Carbonite, or their own custom services.

If your computer is part of a work network, it is possible that the Systems Administrator at work has setup a custom backup solution for computers on their network.

If you do not currently use or remember setting up such a service, choose No.

Using your backup software, check if your file is available and restore it.

If you are unsure how to use your custom backup software, please contact the creator of the software for assistance in using it.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the missing files in question are able to be recovered using traditional means. At this time, the only option for recovering your lost files involves contacting a data recovery firm.

Professional data recovery firms can salvage and repair data that has been otherwise lost forever. Of course, in some situations, data recovery won’t always be possible. Sometimes a system can be too corrupted or damaged to retrieve missing data. The methods used to recover lost data depend on how the data was lost in the first place. One of the major factors involved in data recovery is cost. Costs involved for data recovery services can carry a tremendous range (hundreds to thousands of dollars) and will vary based on a large number of factors involved with your data loss case.

Contacting a data recovery firm is completely optional. Some find that data recovery services are not the best fit based upon what information was lost. That being said, only you can know what your data is worth to you. Reaching out to a data recovery firm in your area to determine whether or not your data can be saved and what it may cost to do so will help determine if this option is a good fit for you.

If you intend to pursue professional data recovery services, it is extremely important you stop using your device. Shut it down and do not turn it back on until you have spoken with the professional data recovery service you have chosen.

Continuing to use your device in any way can destroy the data permanently, without any chance or hope of recovery.

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