Can’t Empty Trash Because Disk is Full/Item in Use

Home > HowTos > Troubleshooting Tips Updated by William on May 11, 2024 | Approved by Jennifer Allen

What does empty trash mean on a Mac? You empty trash on Mac when you want to permanently delete files from your system. To do this, you have to navigate to the trash icon and select the files you do not want, and click on ‘Delete’. This will remove the files from your Mac. Although the files will still hang around until they are overwritten but you would not have to see them again. There are many reasons why you need to empty trash on Mac and some of them are as follow:

However, sometimes you might face issues while emptying trash on Mac. Here in the following, let’s learn the solutions for cannot empty trash on Mac.

Part 1. How to Fix ‘Trash Won’t Empty Item is in Use
Part 2. How to Fix ‘Mac Won’t Let me Empty Trash Because Disk is full’

Part 1. How to Fix ‘Trash Won’t Empty Item is in Use

Usually, the process of emptying the Trash folder on Mac is easy and fast. However, you may experience a case of ‘Mac trash cannot be emptied item in use’ and there are different reasons that may be responsible for this. When some files are in use or an app is running, you will be unable to empty the Trash folder. To fix the issue of ‘Mac OS X Trash won’t empty item is in use’, explore the two solutions highlighted in this section.

Solution 1: Perform Advanced File Usage Troubleshooting

When trash won’t empty Mac, different reasons may be responsible for it. For instance, if a login or startup item is using the file you are trying to empty, you will encounter an error. To resolve this issue, you can start your Mac PC in Safe Mode. With this, you can stop some software from automatically booting up. To start your Mac system in Safe Mode and empty the Trash folder, follow the steps below:

  1. Shut down the Mac system and turn it on immediately by holding down the ‘Shift’ key.
  2. When the system has booted in Safe Mode, navigate to the Trash icon and click to open it.
  3. Click on the ‘Empty’ button at the top right corner of the system.

This will automatically delete the file even if a login or startup app was using it. If this does not work, check the second solution.

Solution Two: Use Terminal to Force Empty Trash on your Mac

You should be careful when using this option because you can clear out more than the Trash folder if you enter the wrong command. Here is how to use Terminal to force empty the Trash folder on Mac.

  1. Open Terminal by opening ‘Utilities’ and then ‘Terminal’. You can also use Spotlight Search to find it.
  2. Type ‘sudo rm' followed by a space. Do not click on ‘Enter’ after typing this. Instead, open the Trash folder in the Dock and drag the files in the Trash into the opened Terminal window. Next, click on ‘Enter’.
  3. Enter your Mac password to confirm the action and click on ‘Enter’ again. This will empty the Trash folder and you will be able to resolve the issue of ‘can’t empty my trash Mac’.

Part 2. How to Fix ‘Mac Won’t Let me Empty Trash Because Disk is full’

Another issue that you may encounter with your Mac is a full Disk. When this happens, the macOS slows down and you may be faced with the question – why does my Mac trash take so long to empty?’ A full or almost full disk will make your system perform slowly. The good news is that it is possible to fix the issue. Here is how to resolve the issue of why is emptying trash so slow on Mac.

Solution 1: Remove Time Machine Backups

Time Machine helps to create important backups but when your macOS start functioning below its capacity because of limited disk space, you have to make the sacrifice and remove the old Time Machine stored on your Mac. To do this, follow the simple steps below:

  1. Open the ‘System Preference’ menu and click to open ‘Time Machine’.
  2. Next, uncheck the box beside ‘Back-Up Automatically’.
  3. Wait for a few minutes to allow the local Time Machine to be deleted. This will free up space on your Mac system and can delete unwanted files as normal.

Solution 2: Delete Browser Cache

The internet browser creates caches each time you visit a new website. These caches add up so fast and take up precious memory space on your device. It may also be the reason why Mac trash not emptying. To resolve this issue, you need to decongest your PC and remove the caches. Here are the steps to do this:

  1. Click to open your browser.
  2. Navigate to the history bar and click ‘Clear Browsing’.
  3. Choose the specific files you want to remove, including cache files and images, site data, and cookies.
  4. Select the timeframe that you would want the data to be deleted from and click the ‘Clear Browsing Data’ button. This will free up storage space and resolve the issue of ‘can’t empty trash Mac because the disk is full’.

Part 3. How to Keep Mac Clean and Tidy

Keeping your Mac clean and tidy is a sure way to optimize the performance of your system. To keep it tidy, follow the simple tips below:

  1. Regularly delete unneeded files.
  2. Backup Mac with an external hard drive and remove files from your system.
  3. Do not leave apps or data running when they are not in use.
  4. Regularly clear your browser caches and cookies.

To keep your Mac clean, we recommend that you use iBeesoft iCleaner as the most trusted software to get the job done. It is an effective and efficient tool for removing junk files from Mac, clean up the hard drives, and boost performance. It is undoubtedly the most powerful cleaning tool for Mac.

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Step-by-step Guide for How to Clean up Mac with iBeesoft iCleaner

Step 1: Download and install the software on your Mac. When the program launches, click the ‘Start Analyze’ button.

Step 2: Review the junk file details and types, and select the files you want to clean up.

Step 3: Click the ‘Clean Junk’ button to delete the junk files you have selected.


In this post, we have looked at the solutions to the problems of ‘Mac won’t let me empty trash because the disk is full’. We have also provided recommendations on how to keep your Mac clean and tidy always. Follow these tips to optimize the performance of your system.