Table of Contents

Quick Navigation:

Do you know how frustrating it is to try to free up room by deleting files from an external hard drive, but your Mac won't let you? It's a common problem that can make even tech-savvy people scratch their heads. You're not the only one having this problem; there are ways to solve this digital puzzle.

This guide will examine why your Mac won't empty files from the external hard drive and show you how to fix the problem. We can help you whether you're an experienced Mac user or a beginner trying to find your way around the digital world. We'll learn how to fix problems and regain that valuable storage space on your external HDD or SSD!

Why Can't You Delete/Empty Files from External Drive on Mac?

Before looking for solutions, it's important to know why your Mac might not want to let go of files saved on an external hard drive.

  • File Permission Issues: Many of the time, files on external drives may not be able to be deleted because they have limited rights. These files may appear on your Mac as "read-only," which means you can't delete them.
  • Corrupted File System: If the file system on the external hard drive is damaged, it can stop file processes from working normally. When you try to remove or move files, this could go wrong.
  • In-use Files: Files that are being used by programs or background processes may not be able to be deleted. The operating system on a Mac keeps current files safe so that you don't lose data or have problems with the system.
  • Drive Format Compatibility: NTFS, exFAT, FAT32, and Mac's native file system (APFS) are just a few file systems that can be used on portable hard drives. Problems with compatibility can make it hard to delete something.
  • Third-party Software Interference: If you install third-party programs or tools, they might get in the way of normal file management, making it impossible to delete files.

Fix Can't Empty Files from External Hard Drive on Mac

Methods for Fixing Can’t Empty Files from External Hard Drive on Mac

#1 Checking and Adjusting File Permissions:

Find the folder or file you want to delete, right-click it, and choose "Get Info." The "Sharing & Permissions" part in the "Info" window needs to be bigger. Make sure that "Read & Write" rights are granted to your user account. If not, click the lock button, type in your password, and make the necessary changes.

Fix Can't Empty Files from External Hard Drive on Mac

#2 Verifying and Repairing Disk Utility:

You can find Disk Utility in Applications > Utilities. Open it, pick out your portable hard drive, and click "First Aid." This tool will find and fix anything wrong with the file system. If the problems don't disappear, you should back up your files and format the drive.

Fix Can't Empty Files from External Hard Drive on Mac

Note: If you lose important files after repairing or erasing the external hard drive, just use a data recovery app to help you get lost files back.

Recover Lost Data from Erased Drive on Mac

Recover Lost Data from Erased Drive on Mac

Find out the best way to recover lost data after repairing external hard drive or erasing external hard drive using Disk Utility.

#3 Identifying and Closing In-Use Files:

Open Applications and go to Utilities to find the "Activity Monitor." It will help you determine which processes are linked to the files you want to delete. Once the files have been found, close any programs or tasks that are linked to them and try to delete them again.

#4 Ensuring Drive Format Compatibility:

Make sure that the type of your external hard drive works with your Mac. If not, consider using Disk Utility to reset the drive. Be careful because reformatting deletes all the data on the drive. Make sure you have a backup before you start.

If the external hard drive is a NTFS drive, there are two solutions for you to fix the read-only issue:

Solution 1. Use NTFS for Mac tool

Step 1. Download and install DoYourData NTFS for Mac on your Mac, make sure the external hard drive is connected to your Mac.

Step 2. Open DoYourData NTFS for Mac, find the external hard drive, select it, then click on Enable Writable button.

fix can’t empty files from external hard drive on Mac

After adding NTFS read-write support on Mac, you can empty or delete files from the NTFS external hard drive on your Mac without any limitation.

Solution 2. Reformat the drive

Step 1. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac, then open Disk Utility.

Step 2. Select the external hard drive, choose Erase.

Step 3. Select a Mac-compatible file system such as APFS, Mac OS Extended or ExFAT, then click on Erase button.

Fix Can't Empty Files from External Hard Drive on Mac

Once the process gets finished, click on Done button.

#5 Safe Mode Operation:

Hold down the Shift key during startup to restart your Mac in Safe Mode. When you switch to Safe Mode, some system caches and third-party extensions are turned off. It might fix issues that make it impossible to delete files.

For an Intel-based Mac:

  • Navigate to the Apple menu item.
  • Press "Restart."
  • When your Mac starts up again, hold down the Shift key.
  • Remove the key when you see the Apple sign and a progress bar.
  • In the top right corner of your screen, "Safe Boot" should show up.

For a Mac with Apple silicon:

  • Shut down your Mac and wait for 10 seconds.
  • Hold down the power button until the window with the startup choices appears.
  • Select a startup disk.
  • Click Continue while holding down the Shift key in Safe Mode.
  • Put down the Shift key.

Fix Can't Empty Files from External Hard Drive on Mac


Don't worry about deleting files from an external hard drive on your Mac. You can fix these issues if you know what to do. This guide should help you regain control of your external storage by changing rights, using Disk Utility, or using third-party tools. Always be careful, especially when using erasing tools, and back up your important data so you don't lose it forever. By following these steps, you can fix the problem of not deleting files from your external hard drive on your Mac.

If your Mac won’t empty files from an external hard drive which has been formatted to NTFS, you can use a NTFS for Mac tool to help you add NTFS read-write support, then you can write data to the NTFS drive or modify contents stored on it without any limitation.

DoYourData Author

Written & Updated by Nancy

Nancy works as a tech columnist at DoYourData. She is familiar with macOS and Windows OS and writes computer solution, data recovery, disk clone, data erasure articles for DoYourData. She is a big fan of Mac products and is fond of testing utilities software (such as cleaner, recovery, eraser, NTFS for Mac, video editor, etc) on Mac.

Read full bio