Recovering Files in Trash with Time Machine?


macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 24, 2014
Hey guys,

So I have some files that I desperately need to recover that I put in my trash a while ago. I am certain they were still in there when I recently backed up my Macbook Pro to Time Machine, but then a week later I accidentally emptied the trash, forgetting I'd left valuable files in there.

I've since tried to search through my time machine backup, but however cannot find a folder that contains the files anywhere. I tried making hidden files, but still can't find a folder that would contain the files that were in my trash.

Is there any way to recover files that were in the trash in a time machine backup?
Further details (may not all be necessary, just in case):
Computer: MacBook Pro (13-inch, mid 2012)
OSX: Was running Mavericks at time of aforementioned events, now running Yosemite
Type of Files Trying To Find: Videos

Any suggestions?


Staff member
Aug 9, 2009
Where were the files located before you put them into Trash? Go to that folder, and enter Time Machine there. Then go back to the point in time before you put the files into Trash.

If you don't know where the files were, then you're probably out of luck.

If Time Machine didn't get a chance to back them up when they were in their original non-Trash folder, then you're definitely out of luck.

By default, Time Machine runs every hour. If you make changes to where files are located more often than that, i.e. between TM backups, then TM has no way of knowing what those changes were.

Basically, Time Machine make snapshots at discrete points in time; it's not a continously variable way of stepping back and forth through every action ever taken.

The painful lesson is: "The Trash is not a storage container." Don't put anything into Trash unless you're immediately willing to delete it.

Instead, make a separate folder (I call mine "Killable") and put things there if you think you might want them later. If you get too low on disk space, go into "Killable" and choose what you want to trash. If the files have been in Killable for at least an hour, then TM will have a backup.

Another rule of thumb: Never edit anything in "Killable". If you want it back, move it out.


Staff member
Jan 23, 2005
Is there any way to recover files that were in the trash in a time machine backup?
If you have TM on, any files you delete and empty from the trash go into a hidden /.Mobilebackups folder and they can be recovered in the Time Machine interface like chown33 described. They will be under the grey tabs along the right. Ignore the purple tabs. It does not matter if you have backed up recently because these files are not on the backup disk, they are on the local, internal disk in that hidden folder.

If you can't find them that way because you don't remember the folder they were in, there is a work around.

Do not turn TM off when doing this as the hidden files will immediately be deleted.

Open Terminal and run the command below to show hidden files in Finder.

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE;killall Finder
Now make a folder on your desktop called temp.

Now run this command in Terminal. You will prompted for your admin password.

sudo mv /.Mobilebackups ~/Desktop/temp
Now open that temp folder and you will see the /.Mobilebackups folder there, but it will have a red dash saying you cannot access. Select the folder then hit command-i and you will see the get info box.

Click the little lock at the lower right and enter your admin password. Then select where is says custom next to everyone and change that to read & write.

Now you will be able to open that /.Mobilebackups folder and go through by date and find your files and drag them wherever you want.

When you finish just delete the whole temp folder and empty trash.

Then run the command below to hide hidden files in Finder.

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE;killall Finder
Lastly, go into Time Machine prefs and turn TM off then back on. That will create a new, empty /.Mobilebackups folder.
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