Ever Fill Your Mac Trash Too Full To Empty?

I did something a bit crazy some months ago and spent the better part of three days trying to reclaim my Mac without resorting to “drastic measures.”

In the event, like me, you’ve somehow and quite unexpectedly overfilled your Mac Trash Can with too much for it to handle here’s what did and did not work for me:

ZERO third party software worked. No app, no script, nothing worked. I had over 130,000 pdfs and gifs and jpegs lodged in my Trash and they wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried.

Terminal to the Rescue

Open Terminal (located in your Applications > Utilities directory)

You’re going to need to execute a couple of simple commands at this point. At the prompt type:

sudo su

You’re going to be asked for an admin password on your Mac. Chances are pretty good that’s the same password as what you have in your user profile (the same one you use to wake your machine from sleep or login with at startup if you have those settings turned on). If you don’t know what this is… STOP HERE! You’re likely to do more damage than good if you DO manage to figure out your password. Once you’re logged in though you want to change directories…


Then type…

/sbin/mount -wu /

I don’t remember what that previous bit does. It’s critical though. Don’t skip it. My problem was ALL of my pdf’s and graphics were loose in the trash can (not nested in directories). I’m totally guessing here… But, it seems to me OS X has a problem emptying the trash when too many files are present. I vaguely remember one of the 3rd party tools providing at least THAT much feedback. Something along “Too many files to process.” But, having like kind files grouped together actually made the doing a little easier. In my case, all I had to do was:

rm -f *.PDF

And, all my PDFs were wiped clear. The -f flag instructs only files be deleted. Then I could do same with *.jpg, *.jpeg and *.gif. But, what if I had entire directories to deal with?The -f flag kind of goofs me up. No problem…


That will do the trick if all you want to do is whack a specific directory and it’s contents out of your trash in this example.

Hope that helps someone out there. I sure could have used 2.5 of my days back at the time.

Explore posts in the same categories: Apple, Apple/OS X, terminal, Tiger OSX

2 Comments on “Ever Fill Your Mac Trash Too Full To Empty?”

  1. There are a number of points in this that are inaccurate and potentially harmfully so. For instance, the “-f” flag for the rm command *forces* the removing of files and has nothing to do with whether they’re files or directories. I’d advise anyone to research these steps before using them.

  2. gwhiz Says:

    By all means *DO* research the steps! I’m absolutely no guru at the terminal. So, more info can be had by performing

    man rm

    at the terminal. And, Justin, if there’s a better way to have accomplished my goal… wiping out all the .pdf files in my trash… I’d love to know a better way. Always game to learn something new.

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