[howto] Empty Time Machine Folders From Your Trash Bin


Please note, I am running "EL CAPITAN" and it is January 2017. I saw a lot of information on "how to's" from 2009, 2011, etc., but to be clear, this is the solution I found for this point in time. This worked for me, but I'm no expert. I just took everyone's experiences and mashed them up.

Here's what happened to me. Time M was doing a backup and we had a power outage. Caused an issue with "didn't disconnect external properly." Also, got the message "there was no room on the External (1TB and need 540gb). I dragged THREE folders from the T.M. (not knowing any better) to empty trash. Sent a note to Western Digital. Rep said I needed a new External. Two hours later, it "fixed" itself. But now I had three folders and an in.progress stuck in the Trash. When I attempted to empty trash it would count up to 50,000, 100,000 it got up to 240,000 and crashed.

So, going on line I learned TO NEVER DRAG T.M. FOLDERS INTO THE TRASH! Well, too late. From the "What I didn't know" department. But I knew I needed to somehow get it straightened out.

Everything I read online on Apple, other support sites mentioned Terminal, Option Keys, Alt-Keys, reformatting the disk, etc. I called Apple Support and was told I would probably have to totally reformat my computer using one of my backups, but that was tricky because the reformat using a backup would probably put the trash back on. Ugh, didn't like that answer. So, I thanked him and said I'd give it a try. But before I went down that road, I took a look at all I'd learned from other people's experiences.

First things first:
I learned a couple things to help: Each time you click on Empty trash and things don't seem to be going right, hold down command>option>shift>escape and it will refresh and you can start over. That's the first thing I had to find because this was all trial and error.

After speaking with the Apple Rep, the first thing I did was launch in SAFE MODE. Reboot with SHIFT held down until you see the Apple. According to him, this frees up RAM, which you will need to get some space for the erasing procedure. Made sense. Next, make sure TIME MACHINE is off. You don't want it attempting to backup during this procedure. And third, set your Energy Savings Mode to "NEVER" so the computer doesn't go to sleep. Continuing:

1) In El Capitan, when you double click on your Trash bin, and it opens, if you place your cursor over an item and right click you will "Empty Trash" or "Delete Immediately." Ah.... maybe I can individually remove some of these thousands of files? So, first I got rid of anything that had NOTHING to do with these T.M. backup folders.

2) Then I opened Terminal. (Applications>Utilities>Terminal). I read where one person's answer was if you were using El Capitan to open terminal, Highlight everything, drag to trash and empty. But that didn't work. It started counting all the files. STOP: command>option>control>escape

3) So, opened Terminal again, did the Command-A, then double clicked on the Trash bin and dragged the folders to the Terminal. Now, all the folders are sitting in the Terminal, (well there's code indicating this), but I also see them still sitting in the Trash bin ... Only this time:

3) What if I opened the folder of one of the backups (remember the Trash bin is still open) and started deleting individual files? You can do this in El Capitan, remember? So, working in the TRASH BIN, I started with things I knew were not huge and manageable, a little at a time. Occasionally I'd choose something that was big (not being able to see size, but as soon as the count would start, I'd get out - remember how? (see above). Now, this was a little annoying because of the popup admin, each time I wanted to delete something ... but it was fairly quick. Remember, I have backups for 540gb ... but, I was able to choose them and delete.

4) After awhile, (takes awhile because of the admin popup but don't bother to try and change that, or keep it from popping up because that will take you down another time rabbit hole ... the learning curve for me was too great. Just hunker down and go for it. I think I did it in 30 minutes.) I had removed from all three folders, all the smaller folders, leaving System, Users, applications, for example.

5) Now, I went for it. I'd gotten rid of about everything I could think of that wasn't going to start the big countdown ... So, I clicked "Empty Trash." And just let it do it's thing. After about 90 minutes, I came in and checked on the computer. I had stopped the computer before at 110,000 files and 340,176. This time, letting it go there were now 741,482 items to be trashed. Only this time I didn't get the error message, or a crash, or a hang... I got the "are you sure?" Sure thing.

6) And ever so slowly the number was going down this time .... and they vanished. Then, I tackled the in.progress and because everything else was now gone, I simply chose the OPTION EMPTY TRASH and it was gone.

Rebooted a couple times, turned Time Machine back on and waited. It took quite a while to get down with "preparing backup" (as it had to redo the progress and such), but about an hour or so later, the backup was complete. This was 9pm last night and the trash is empty and the backups are backing up. No reformatting... or reinstalling OS... just do a "go back in time" check, found a file and restored it, no problem. It appears everything is back to working ... but it took putting together a bunch of information from a lot of sites.

So, I want to thank everyone for their hard work in solving the problem in various ways. Using the "Delete immediately" on individual files in the Trash Bin, allowing to free up space other than the huge system files, running in safe mode, using the Terminal judiciously, and turning off Time Machine in the beginning all helped to create an environment that worked for me. Hopefully, by putting all this information in one place, it will help someone else. Just make sure you have a backup first as you may have to reformat if this doesn't work.