How to Fix “Unable to Empty Trash and Delete Time Machine Backups”

If you’re a Time Machine user, you may encounter a frustrating issue where you’re unable to empty the trash or delete Time Machine backups. This problem typically occurs when the recycle bin gets stuck in a loop while trying to delete the backups. Don’t worry, we’ve got a solution for you.

First, let’s understand the cause of this issue. It usually happens when you manually delete backups to free up storage space or when an old backup gets corrupted during Time Machine housekeeping. This problem has been observed in various versions of Mac OS X, including Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Sierra, and El Capitan.

To fix this “Unable to Empty Trash and Delete Time Machine Backups” problem, you can follow these steps:

Manually empty the Recycle Bin when Time Machine backup files are stuck

If you’re comfortable using the terminal and have some technical knowledge, you can try this method:

  • Connect your Time Machine drive to your Mac and temporarily pause all existing Time Machine backups.
  • Open Terminal by going to Applications > Utilities.
  • Type the following command to change the active directory to your Time Machine backup drive:
    cd /Volumes/BackupDriveName/.Trashes/501/
    (Replace “BackupDriveName” with the name of your backup drive)
  • Confirm that you’re in the right place by listing the contents of the .Trashes/501/ folder.
    sudo ls 501/
  • Use the following command to delete the contents of the .Trashes/501/ folder:
    sudo rm -rf 501/Backups.backupdb/
    (Enter the administrator password when prompted)
  • Allow the terminal to complete the deletion process. This may take a few minutes.
  • Finally, confirm that the Recycle Bin is working again by emptying it through Mac OS X Finder.

Simplified command for advanced users

If you’re comfortable with advanced commands, you can try this shorter syntax:
sudo rm -rf /Volumes/BackupDriveName/.Trashes/*

Using Tmutil to delete stuck backups via Terminal

Alternatively, you can use the ‘tmutil’ command line tool to delete the stuck backups. Follow these steps:

  • Open Terminal.
  • Type the following command, replacing “DRIVENAME” with the name of your Time Machine drive and “BACKUPTODELETE” with the specific backup you want to remove:
    sudo tmutil remove /Volumes/DRIVENAME/Backups.backupdb/BACKUPTODELETE
  • Enter the administrator password when prompted.

These methods should help you resolve the issue of being unable to empty the trash and delete Time Machine backups. Remember to exercise caution when using terminal commands to avoid mistakenly deleting important files.


Q: What devices are supported for fixing this issue?

A: These methods are applicable to Apple devices only.

Q: What operating systems are supported?

A: This guide is for macOS and iOS.

If you still have any questions or need further assistance, please feel free to reach out to us through the comment section or our contact page. We’re here to help!

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
The Bollyinside editorial staff is made up of tech experts with more than 10 years of experience Led by Sumit Chauhan. We started in 2014 and now Bollyinside is a leading tech resource, offering everything from product reviews and tech guides to marketing tips. Think of us as your go-to tech encyclopedia!


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