I'm trying to free up space on an external drive, and after deleting a bunch of stuff, it's still showing very little actual free space. I went to the trash can, but can't seem to delete the files there other than by emptying the entire trash.

Am I missing something? What's the point of having a "staging area" for stuff you (probably) want to delete, if you can't get rid of the files in it individually? The drive will be used on an embedded system, so just "putting files in the trash" doesn't actually make space on the drive, as far as the consuming device is concerned.

  • 5
    You can use the rm command to remove things one by one. You could also use a second folder to hold your "I may trash" these files, but you lose the ability to restore a file from the trash to it's original place in the filesystem.
    – bmike
    Commented Sep 3, 2011 at 23:59

8 Answers 8


This seems to work on El Capitan. Control-select the file, then Delete Immediately from pop-up menu and confirm.

  • 2
    I'm not sure what version added this option but it's far and away the best one. Thanks for (eventually) seeing sense, Apple.
    – James B
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 13:06
  • How to do this using only keyboard?
    – Louis Yang
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 23:02
  • @LouisYang see my answer for the keyboard shortcut. Also note that control-select = two-finger-click (aka right-click).
    – shlgug
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 10:04
  • @JamesB - I think it was added in El Capitan.
    – shlgug
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 21:44

The Trash isn't intended for files you may want to delete later but rather as a safety net if you delete the wrong files. If you want to mark files for later deletion, either use a dedicated folder (as already mentioned in another comment) or mark them with a specific label/color.

To delete individual files from the Trash

  1. Open the trash in the Finder
  2. Open Terminal.app
  3. Type rm -rf and then one space character at the end
  4. Drag one or more files to be deleted into the Terminal window ('til you see the green + sign)
  5. Press Enter in Terminal.app
  6. Puff, files are gone!

If you need this very often, I would recommend writing a service using Automator or getting more familiar with Terminal.app/bash.

  • 11
    I wish I could upvote you, and downvote Apple because this is amazingly stupid.
    – James B
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 22:19
  • 6
    To be honest, I think your use case (trash as staging area for files which may get deleted in the future) isn't exactly the use Apple had in mind when they added this functionality. As already mentioned above, you would be better of with either a specific pre-trash folder or an appropriate label/flag.
    – nohillside
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 13:02
  • 3
    Whether or not the Trash is intended as a "staging area" for files, I've never understood why you can't just select a file in the Trash and hit command-Delete to delete it. Seems like an oversight.
    – daGUY
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 1:24
  • Thank you...i'm not an apple user but I use mac ib tge office... And I already used ur way of deleting! Thanks! Amazingly brilliant
    – user90109
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 7:12
  • Came back to look at a new answer and realized I'd never really addressed the comments about my use case. The reason I like the "recycle bin" analogy in Windows is that you get the benefits of Trash (one-click restore) plus the ability to quickly make space on a drive by deleting a few big files on-demand, without having to carefully sift through the rest of the folder to make sure that yes, you really don't need everything.
    – James B
    Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 10:27

You could create an Automator service like this one

for f in "$@" 
    rm -rf "$f"


to then be able to delete individual selected files with a command from the services menu.

  • 4
    Automated rm -rf in a for each file loop can be dangerous when using it wrong. Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 22:49

The keyboard shortcut ⌘ command + ⌥ option + delete removes the file permanently. This works from anywhere in Finder (including the Trash) on El Capitan and higher, but not on previous versions of OS X.

  • 2
    As far as I can tell this is identical to right clicking and selecting Delete Immediately, but bonus points for finding a keyboard shortcut that doesn't seem to be documented anywhere.
    – James B
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 13:05

What I do is right click (secondary click) on the items that I don't want to delete and then from the menu I get I tick the checkbox says "Locked" under "General" and it locks the item that you don't want to delete.

tick the checkbox says "Locked"!

After doing it for all the items that I don't want to delete then I click "Empty Trash" after which it asks whether to delete all or to delete only the unlocked items (which are the items you didn't lock and you want to be deleted) so choose "Remove Unlocked Items".

choose "Remove Unlocked Items"!

  1. Open the Trash
  2. Right-click on the item you wish to delete.
  3. Select 'Delete Immediately"
  4. On the Warning dialog, click 'Delete'

You can also select a range of files by clicking on the first one, pressing 'Shift' and then on the last file of the range. Then right-click on any of the selected files and choose 'Delete Immediately' as described above.

Finally, you can select multiple files by clicking on the first one, then pressing 'Command' and clicking on a second one, then a third one, etc. Then right-click on one of the selected files and choose 'Delete Immediately' as described above.


I tried the Terminal approach- it works as a good alternative to what I do!

I am a Parallels Windows7 user (I'm not really "ashamed" - dunno why I should be- maybe I'm just a Po'ol' Third-Worlder who does not share the exotic tastes & prejudices of the first world haha!)

Anyway, what I do is I open my Windows7 desktop through Parallels and just drag stuff from my Mac (any folder, FTM) right into the Windows7 RecycleBin and, Voila- Selective, safe, effective deletion!

Best of both worlds, I say.


If you restart your Mac, you can delete it from Trash.

When I move an app to Trash, some plist file the app used will be moved to Trash too, if you empty the Trash now, you will get a warning like "xxx.plist is using , you can not delete it", but if you restart your mac, you can delete it, restart system may unlock some plist from system, so you can delete it, also, you can delete it in Terminal described before.


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