Dragging files onto the Trash icon in the Dock doesn’t remove deleted files from the system. Just like with a regular trash can, you need to ‘empty’ it for the contents to get removed, so right-click on the Trash icon and select “Empty Trash”. While this process should be seamless, there are situations where clearing the trash becomes very slow or even becomes stuck, and in some cases macOS will display an error message to explain the reason.
Emptying Trash Slow
The first thing you might want to check if the trash is slow to empty is whether the “Secure Empty Trash” feature is active. This is a built-in macOS feature that overwrites the data that was stored so the files cannot be recovered once deleted. While it is secure and specially designed for hard disk technology, it is a much slower process compared to a regular file removal. It’s worth noting that this is something most users won’t need unless it is highly sensitive information.
To check if this option is active, go to Finder > Preferences > Advanced and untick “Empty Trash Securely”. Remember, this will only appear for Mac users running macOS 10.10 or earlier, since Apple removed this feature starting with macOS 10.11 El Capitan.
Emptying Trash Becomes Stuck
We have all encountered the situation where emptying the trash simply doesn’t work or gets stuck. This happens because a file could still be in use or locked. To address that, start by quitting all the apps that are using the file you want to erase, and only then hit “Empty Trash”.
If that doesn’t work, there might be one or more background processes using the file. In this case it is recommended to restart your Mac and then empty the trash.
If that doesn't solve the issue, you might have a startup or login item using the file. You can temporarily prevent such processes from opening it automatically by rebooting your Mac in safe mode by holding down the Shift key during startup. Then you can empty the trash and restart your computer normally.
Emptying Trash Using Terminal Commands
If you aren’t afraid of controlling your Mac using Terminal commands, it is possible to empty the trash using the following command:
rm -rf ~/.Trash/*
Emptying the trash with Terminal seems faster than using macOS’s graphical user interface. If you get an error message, you will need to use the sudo command, which will prompt you for your administrator password:
sudo rm -rf ~/.Trash/*
Emptying Trash Using Mac Optimization Software
The fact is using Terminal commands is not everyone’s favorite method of cleansing your Trash, and in these cases third party Mac optimization apps can help. OnyX (free), for example, has such a feature included in the cleaning section under the “Trash” tab. Simply selecting “Delete” will empty all items from Trash.
The process is even easier with CleanMyMac using its trash bins feature, too: this will remove the contents of not only the desktop trash, but also other trash bins.