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How to manage deleted files on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS

Marital infidelity aside, the safety net that’s put in place for deleted files can help you recover data you’ve erased in error however, it can also leave your data exposed to other people (if you’re selling a device, for example). It’s important to know where your deleted files are and how to get them back or erase them permanently.

Checking sync status

iCloud settings page showing which apps are using iCloud. Screenshot: Apple
Before you try to delete any files, you should check your iCloud syncing status.

By default, all of the Apple devices you’re signed in to with your Apple ID should be syncing files through iCloud, but it’s worth double-checking otherwise, you can be leaving files you thought you’d deleted.

On an iPhone or iPad:

On a macOS device:

Deleting files on iOS and iPadOS

iPhone screen with list of features; at bottom, under Utilities, there is a Recently Deleted entry. Screenshot: Apple
The Photos app has its own Recently Deleted folder (under Utilities).

Recently Deleted folder from iPhone Photo app. Screenshot: Apple
Photos and videos can be recovered or permanently erased.

Any file you delete from your iPhone or iPad goes to the Recently Deleted folder for 30 days before being permanently wiped. To find the folder, open up the Files app, then tap Browse and Recently Deleted.
  • Tap and hold on any item to bring up the options for Delete Now (erase it forever) and Recover (restore it to its previous place).
  • To select multiple files, tap the three dots (top right), then Select. As you make your choice, Recover and Delete options show up below.

If you’ve deleted a photo or video through the Photos app, it has its own Recently Deleted folder that’s separate, though the same 30-day window applies.
  • Open Photos on your iPhone or iPad, then scroll down to and tap Utilities > Recently Deleted (iOS) or just Recently Deleted from the left-hand navigation pane (iPadOS).
  • Tap on any photo or video to bring up options to Recover the file (put it back where it was) or Delete the file (permanently erase it).
  • To select multiple items, tap the Select button (top right), then tap the three dots on the lower right corner to bring up the Recover and Delete options.

If you are syncing everything through iCloud, all of these changes will be applied on your other devices, too, including permanent deletions and file recoveries.

Deleting files on macOS

Finder Settings pop-up window showing a variety of features, including “Remove items from the Bin after 30 days.” Screenshot: Apple
You can opt to have the macOS Trash auto-empty after 30 days.

When you delete a file on your Mac, it goes to the Trash folder.
  • You can open Trash from the dock or from Finder (choose Go > Go to Folder, then search for “trash”).
  • If you’d rather permanently delete a file the first time around, highlight the file or files in the Finder, use the Option+Cmd+Delete keyboard shortcut, and confirm your choice when the dialog box pops up.

Files usually stay in the Trash until you manually empty them.
  • To delete one or more files in Finder, Ctrl+click on them and pick Delete Immediately.
  • To empty everything out of the Trash at once, click Empty (top right).
  • You can also click and hold (or right-click) on the Trash icon in the dock, and then pick Empty Trash.

If you prefer, you can have macOS automatically clean up files after they’ve been in the Trash for a month.
  • Open the Finder menu and select Settings.
  • Under Advanced, check the Remove items from the Trash after 30 days.

As on iPhones and iPads, the Photos app has its own Trash folder, called Recently Deleted. Deleted photos and videos stay here for 30 days before being fully erased.
  • From the macOS Photos app, click Recently Deleted on the left. (Note: if you don’t have any recently deleted photos, you won’t see the folder.)
  • Choose Delete All to permanently wipe everything in the folder.
  • To bring back or wipe individual files, select them as needed, and the Recover and Delete buttons will become active in the top-right corner.

Again, all of these changes will be synced to other devices via iCloud, if you’ve enabled it. The only exceptions would be file changes in folders on your Mac that iCloud doesn’t cover (head back to the instructions in the first section to check).

Finding deleted files and apps in iCloud

Web page showing recently deleted files on a Mac. Screenshot: Apple
iCloud on the web gives you another place to find deleted files.

If you go to iCloud on the web, you won’t find anything different from what you can already see on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac in terms of deleted files. However, you might find it easier to check up on them from here.
  • Click Drive > Recently Deleted to see files that have been recently deleted across your devices, as well as how long is left before they’re permanently erased. Use the Recover and Delete buttons underneath to restore or wipe them.
  • Click Photos and then Recently Deleted to see photos and videos that have been deleted in the last 30 days. Here, the Recover and Delete buttons are in the top right corner.

Finally, bear in mind that other apps across the Apple ecosystem have their own folders of recently deleted items, usually with the same 30-day time limit. Apple Mail and Apple Notes, for example, have their own trash folders where you can view deleted items, restore them, or erase them forever.

Published: 2024-06-29T10:00:00

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