Where is Recycle Bin on external hard drive Mac?

The Recycle Bin on an external hard drive allows users to recover files that were accidentally deleted from the drive. Having a Recycle Bin for external drives is important because it provides a safety net for restoring files, similar to the Recycle Bin on your main hard drive.

When files are deleted from an external drive, they are not immediately erased. Instead, they are moved to a hidden Recycle Bin folder on the drive. This gives you a chance to restore deleted files if you change your mind or realize you deleted something important by accident. The Recycle Bin serves as a temporary holding place before files are permanently removed from the drive.

Knowing where the Recycle Bin is located and how to access it on an external drive is useful in case you need to recover an accidentally deleted file. This guide will cover everything you need to know about using the Recycle Bin on an external hard drive on a Mac.

Locating the Recycle Bin

The Recycle Bin on an external hard drive for Mac is hidden by default. It is located in the root directory of the external drive and is named “$RECYCLE.BIN” (without the quotes). You will not see it appear in the Finder window like the main Recycle Bin.

To view the external drive’s Recycle Bin in Finder, you will need to enable hidden files first. Here are the steps:

  1. Open Finder and select the external hard drive from the sidebar.
  2. Press Command+Shift+. (period) to toggle viewing hidden files on and off.
  3. You should now see a folder named $RECYCLE.BIN in the root of your external drive.

This $RECYCLE.BIN folder contains all the deleted files from that specific external hard drive, just like how the main Recycle Bin contains deleted files from your main internal drive. Anything you delete from the external drive will be moved here.

To hide the $RECYCLE.BIN folder again, simply press Command+Shift+. again to toggle hidden files off. The external Recycle Bin will remain hidden but still retain any deleted files.

You can also access the external drive’s Recycle Bin directly in Terminal using the path /Volumes/[DriveName]/$RECYCLE.BIN/ (replace [DriveName] with the actual name of your drive). This allows you to view and manage deleted files without needing to unhide folders in Finder.

Emptying the External Recycle Bin

When files are deleted from an external drive on a Mac, they are moved to a hidden .Trash folder on the external drive rather than the main Trash bin. To permanently erase files from an external drive, you need to empty the .Trash folder on that drive. Here are the steps:

  1. Connect the external drive to your Mac if it is not already connected.
  2. Open the Finder and navigate to the external drive.
  3. Go to the top of the Finder window and click Finder > Empty Trash.
  4. A prompt will appear asking if you want to permanently erase the files. Click Empty Trash to confirm.
  5. This will empty the .Trash folder on the external drive, permanently deleting any files stored there.

Alternatively, you can empty the external Trash via Terminal using the command sudo rm -rf /Volumes/ExternalDriveName/.Trashes (replace ExternalDriveName with the actual name of your drive). This will force empty the .Trash folder without a prompt.1

Once the external Trash is emptied, any deleted files will be permanently erased from the drive and the space freed up.

Recovering Deleted Files

When you delete a file from an external hard drive on a Mac, it gets moved to the external drive’s Trash folder. To recover deleted files from an external drive on Mac:

  1. Make sure the external drive is connected to your Mac.
  2. Open the Trash folder on your Mac – you should see an entry for the external drive’s Trash.
  3. Search for the deleted files you want to restore in the external drive’s Trash.
  4. Select the files and click “Restore” to move them back to their original location.

If you can’t find the deleted files in the external Trash, they may have been permanently deleted if the Trash was emptied. In that case, you can use data recovery software like Disk Drill or Recuva to scan the external drive and recover deleted files. These tools can recover data even if it has been overwritten, as long as the sectors haven’t been reallocated.

However, it’s best to avoid writing new data to the external drive, as this makes it harder to recover deleted files. Also, remember to recover the files to another drive and not back to the same external drive they were deleted from.

Mac Trash Preferences

On a Mac, you can customize Trash preferences which affect how Trash handles files on external drives. To access Trash preferences, go to Finder > Preferences > Advanced. There are a few key settings:

Remove items from the Trash after 30 days – This will automatically delete any files that have been in the Trash for over 30 days, even if they are on an external drive that is not connected. You’ll want to disable this if you store files long-term on external drives.

Empty Trash securely – This will do a multi-pass erase of files instead of just deleting references. This takes longer but ensures files are fully erased. Enable this if you have sensitive files on external drives.

Warn before emptying – This will prompt you to confirm before emptying the Trash. Useful to avoid accidentally deleting files on external drives.

Don’t move files to the Trash when removing them – This will permanently delete files instead of moving them to the Trash first. Only enable this if you are certain you understand the risks.

With customized Trash preferences, you can better control how your Mac handles external drive files. Just be cautious when emptying the Trash if you store important files on external drives.

Using Terminal

You can use the Terminal app on your Mac to permanently delete files or folders without sending them to the Recycle Bin first. Here are some useful Terminal commands:

To permanently delete a file:

rm /path/to/file

For example:

rm /Users/yourname/Documents/file.txt

To recursively delete a folder and all its contents:

rm -rf /path/to/folder

For example:

rm -rf /Users/yourname/Documents/foldername

To skip the Trash and immediately delete a file or folder in Finder:

Command + Option + Shift + Delete

You can also add a “Delete Immediately” option in Finder by holding down the Option key when right clicking on a file or folder. This will bypass the Trash when deleting the selected item.

Using Terminal to delete files can be dangerous if you accidentally specify the wrong path. Always double check the path before permanently deleting anything with the rm command.

Alternative File Recovery Tools

If the built-in Recycle Bin and Time Machine backups don’t help you recover deleted files on your Mac’s external hard drive, third-party data recovery software is another option to try. Some popular Mac file recovery programs include:

These tools dig deep to recover lost files from external drives by scanning the drive and rebuilding parts of the file system. Some are easier to use than others, so reading reviews can help choose the best one for your situation.

Avoiding Accidental Deletion

Accidentally deleting important files from an external hard drive on Mac is a common issue many users face. Here are some tips to help prevent important file deletion on external drives:

Enable file recovery in Mac’s System Preferences. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Security & Privacy, then under the Advanced tab tick “Show recoverable files and folders” option. This will send deleted files to the Trash before permanently erasing them (Source: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT210584).

Create a dedicated “Archive” folder on the external drive. Move important files you want to lock or protect to this folder. You can password protect this folder or restrict edit access to prevent accidental deletion.

Eject the external drive when not in use. This will prevent you from mistakenly deleting files on the external storage. Use the Safely Remove Hardware option to properly eject the drive.

Use Time Machine or backup software to create regular backups of your external drive. This provides file versioning and allows restoring deleted files from a backup.

Enable read-only access to lock files. In Finder, right-click on the file/folder and select Get Info > General. Tick the Locked checkbox to prevent edits or deletion.

Recycle Bin FAQs

Here are some common questions about the external Recycle Bin on Mac:

How do I access the Recycle Bin on my external hard drive?

The external Recycle Bin is normally located in the root folder of the external drive. It is a hidden folder named “$RECYCLE.BIN”. To view it, you need to enable viewing hidden files and folders in Finder. Go to Finder > Preferences > Advanced and check “Show all filename extensions” and “Show hidden files”.

Why can’t I see the Recycle Bin on my external drive?

If you don’t see the $RECYCLE.BIN folder, it’s likely because it doesn’t exist yet. The Recycle Bin folder is created when you first delete files on that drive.[1] Try deleting a file on the external drive and the Recycle Bin should appear.

How do I permanently delete files from my external Recycle Bin?

To empty the Recycle Bin on an external drive, right-click on the $RECYCLE.BIN folder and select “Empty Bin”. Or in Finder, navigate to the external drive, select $RECYCLE.BIN and hit Command + Delete.

Can I recover deleted files from the external Recycle Bin?

Yes, as long as the files have not been permanently erased, you can access and restore them from the Recycle Bin on your external drive. Simply open the $RECYCLE.BIN folder to view contents.[2]

Why can’t I empty the Recycle Bin on my external drive?

This is usually a permissions issue. To fix, unlock the drive if it’s locked. Then in Finder, Get Info on the $RECYCLE.BIN folder and ensure “Ignore ownership on this volume” is checked under Sharing & Permissions.[3]


In summary, the Recycle Bin on an external hard drive for Mac is located at /Volumes//.Trashes on the drive itself. You can view and manage external drive Trash contents in Finder just like on your main hard drive. Remember to empty the Trash before disconnecting an external drive to avoid data loss.

When deleting files from an external drive, it’s always a good idea to have a backup in case you need to recover anything later. Make use of Time Machine or a dedicated backup drive to protect your data. You can also use third-party utilities like Disk Drill for more advanced file recovery capabilities if needed.

As a final recommendation, be very careful when permanently deleting files using Terminal, and avoid using commands like sudo rm on external drives unless absolutely necessary. The standard Finder Trash should suffice for most external drive cleanup tasks.