Archived - Mac OS: Troubleshooting a File that Won't Go Away

This article discusses steps to erase a file that cannot be emptied from the Trash.
This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.
Symptom
A message says that a file cannot be emptied from the Trash. If a file cannot be emptied from the Trash it may be that the file is locked, or a sign of serious directory damage.

Solution
Try these steps to empty the Trash:
  • Hold down the Option key while emptying the Trash.
  • Start up the computer with extensions off and empty the Trash.
  • Start up the computer from the Mac OS disc and empty the Trash.
  • Verify and repair the disk with Disk First Aid or other appropriate repair utility.

If the file is locked, hold down the Option key while choosing Empty Trash from the Special menu. If it is a hard disk error, it is important to repair the issue since it may become worse and other files may be damaged or lost.

To repair the hard disk's directory structure, start up the computer from the Mac OS disc and verify or repair the hard disk with Disk First Aid. If Disk First Aid finds an error but is unable to repair it, consider backing up the hard disk and reinitializing it with Drive Setup or other appropriate utility.

There is one more technique you can try, but depending on the cause of the issue, it may not work. If the following steps don't help, or if the issue reappears, you should initialize the hard disk to completely correct the issue.

The following file and folder names are not important, just the concept.
    1. Create a folder on the desktop called Test.
    2. Drag the file in question from the Trash to the Test folder.
    3. Open the application program used to create the file. (If you do not have the original application, use SimpleText.)
    4. Create a new file, and save it to the desktop with the same name as the problematic file.
    5. Drag the file you just saved from the desktop to the Test folder. You are prompted to replace the file. Replace it. This should eliminate the file.

If this technique does not work, and emptying the Trash still does not erase the file, back up hard disk and reinitialize it using Drive Setup or other appropriate disk formatting utility.
Last Modified: Feb 19, 2012
  • Last Modified: Feb 19, 2012
  • Article: TA26953
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