Mac OS X: Deleting a Former User‘s Home Directory (Folder)

Mac OS X 10.2 and later make it easier to remove the files of a deleted user account. This document describes steps for doing so in Mac OS X 10.0 to 10.1.5.
This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

After deleting a user in the Users pane of System Preferences, that former user's Home directory remains on the hard disk and cannot be deleted by dragging it to the Trash. The word "Deleted" is added to the name of the former user's Home directory. If you try to drag this folder to the Trash, an alert box appears with the message:
    "The item '<user name> Deleted' cannot be moved to the Trash because it cannot be deleted."

Note: Hierarchical directories on a disk appear on screen as folders. The terms "directory" and "folder" are interchangeable in the context of Mac OS X. Users of UNIX-like operating systems expect the term "home directory."

For related information, please see:

Article 106167: "Mac OS X: Using Your Home Directory"


With Mac OS X 10.2 or later, deleted users' folders are handled differently. The contents of the deleted folder are compressed on to a disk image, named "<deleted_username>.img". This disk image is placed in the Deleted Users folder located in the Users folder of the startup disk (/Users/Deleted Users/). Admin users may leave them for reference or simply drag them to the Trash, as desired. The steps below are not necessary.

In Mac OS X 10.0 to 10.1.5, the Home directory of a deleted user reverts to the ownership of the Admin user(s). This allows the Admin user to examine, move, or back up the contents of the former user's Home directory before disposing of it. Once you are certain that you have moved or backed up anything that you wish to keep from the former user's Home, you may follow these steps to delete the "Deleted" folder:
    1. Log in to Mac OS X as an Admin user.
    2. Open the Terminal utility.
    3. Type: sudo rm -rf /Users/shortname\\ deleted 
    Important: Where the example says "shortname," you would insert the former user's short name, which is the name (preceding "Deleted") on the Home directory you wish to delete. This step does not work if you have not already deleted the user in the Users pane of System Preferences.
    Warning: Type carefully. Specifying the wrong directory path can result in data loss, including to system files.
    4. Press Return.
    5. Type your Admin user password.
    6. Press return.

The former user's Home directory is now deleted. The Finder may not display this change immediately.

Note: Deleting a former user's folder is an optional aesthetic action. Without following these steps, an Admin user may still reduce a former user's Home directory to a negligible amount of disk space by simply dragging all of its contents to the Trash. In the event that you cannot do this, it may be because the former user's Home directory was assigned to "System Administrator" (which is different from an Admin user). For more information on this scenario, see technical document 106840, "Mac OS X: Unable to Access Delete/Former User's Files or Folders".
Published Date: Oct 7, 2016