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I have deleted ~25,000 photos and videos from iPhone. They're now in 'Recently Deleted', and I want them permanently gone so I can transfer the remaining contents of the iPhone to a new iPhone.

When I click 'Empty' from settings, it takes some time, but the photos don't go anywhere, and the storage level of the iPhone doesn't indicate deletion.

How can I be sure 'Recently Deleted' is emptied properly?

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  • I have experienced that this deletion process takes quite some time. Sometimes a restart also helps.
    – X_841
    Mar 11, 2021 at 7:48

2 Answers 2

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Here's what I did

Go into Photos -> Recently Deleted

Click 'Select' (top right)

Slide your finger from the photo at the very bottom of the screen up to the top of screen (without lifting your finger), this should select everything on the screen, and now hold your finger at the top of the screen until all the photos in Recently Deleted have been selected, then press 'Delete'

Tip: if you have a lot of photos to delete, before doing the above, press on the three dots (...) on the top right and zoom out, that will allow you to select more photos per minute.

Note: for 25000 items, this took approximately 9 minutes.

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  • You can click on "Select" in the Recently Deleted album and at the bottom-left-corner, there should be a button "Delete All". It should take about 1 minute to delete 25k photos.
    – Thinkr
    Apr 2, 2023 at 8:58
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If you have iCloud Photos, I would always use the web app to perform a large delete since the code runs from the data center adjacent to the storage of the photos. (As opposed to running code on the device that interfaces with the cloud library to sync everything.)

Doing this on the device for that many items will likely be order of magnitude or worse slower since your photos client needs to make calls over the internet to the storage API.

Once you’re signed in, go to the album and select the delete all and maybe open a second browser and watch some short video or an episode of something entertaining to be sure the computer doesn’t sleep while the deletion happens. Then validate on the device by selecting another album in photos and then checking for recently deleted album. Lastly confirm it’s empty from the web app before starting your data transfer.

If you don’t use iCloud Photos, of course this answer won’t help unless it’s to reconsider that past decision to eschew the service. Note, selecting tips can help with speeding large selections on iOS.

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  • Thanks for the info. I don't use iCloud (just had lots of photos on the iPhone itself), so I don't think this would work in those cases where the user doesn't use iCloud. I've deleted large numbers of photos a couple of times since and one way I was able to tell if it was working or not (since the UI/photos don't change for some time), was to feel the phone: if the photos are being deleted, the device will likely get warm/hot to touch within about 10-15 seconds
    – stevec
    Nov 27, 2023 at 3:25
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    Aah - well then you certainly can’t take advantage of that leverage if they aren’t stored off device as the master copy. I’ll edit the post so others know when it might apply and when it can’t without having to read the comments. Thanks!
    – bmike
    Nov 27, 2023 at 18:48

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