Why does your Mac say you can't empty the trash because an item is in use when you know it's not? Because... sigh, reasons!

I empty the trash bin on my Mac at the end of every day. Every once in a while, I'll get a message that reads, "Operation can't be completed because the item [file name] is in use." How is that possible? I know it's not in use because I'm not using it. I deleted it. I threw it in the trash! I'm the boss of this process!

Operation can't be completed

There are a few reasons that your Mac might think an item is in use when you know that it isn't, including the possibility that the program it was opened with thinks you are still using it.

Apple used to have this handy tool called "Secure Empty Trash" that coincidentally also trashed files that were still in use, but that was removed in El Capitan.

Don't worry, though. There is still an easy way to remove those mischievous files from your computer when emptying the trash bin doesn't seem to work.

How to delete an item in your Mac's Trash that claims it's still in use

  1. Double-click on your Mac's Trash bin in the app dock.
  2. Select the item you want to delete.

    Opening Trash bin on Mac

  3. Right-click on the item.
  4. Select Delete Immediately from the dropdown menu.
  5. Click Delete to confirm that you want to delete the item. You can't undo this action.

    Delete Immediately on Mac

You can now empty the trash like a proper grown-up.

Any questions?

Are you still having trouble emptying your Mac's trash bin? Let me know in the comments and I'll help you out!