External Hard Drive Recovery on Mac Essential Techniques and Tips

[Sponsored] - Sometimes you did something stupid like deleting your file and actually emptied the trash can. Here are some of the ways you can recover that data. Posted by erwinkarim on 9:50 PM, August 11, 2023 Last updated on 10:43 AM, August 19, 2023 Filed in: recovery, macos, external hard drive, external storage, hdd, sdd,

Table of Contents

Mac users like Windows PC users also use external hard drives for various reasons. While others use them to expand their Mac storage, some users need them when transferring files or creating external backups of their data.

Also, depending on the situations within which your Mac is used, data loss can result from various causes. Besides, external hard drives are more exposed to data loss than internal drives. This is one reason why you need to have knowledge of more ways to recover files.

You also need to understand that a drive should not be put under active use when data has been lost from it. That is, if you intend to recover the files. This is because using the drive increases your chances of losing the files forever due to file overwrite. You do not need to worry, that is why we have prepared this guide on recovering data from an external hard drive on Mac. File overwrite happens when the space that was initially marked by macOS as “Available” is allocated for use by new files.

It is therefore important to stop using the external hard drive as soon as you lose data from it by whatever means. In the next section, we will show you some of the essential techniques and tips to recover external hard drives on Mac.

Recover External Hard Drive on Mac with Mac Trash

Mac Trash temporarily holds deleted data making them available for external hard drive recovery for some days. This depends on how you have set up your trash which includes temporary storage until the bin is manually emptied.

Do not think that the trash recovery on the external hard drive will not be possible. The external hard drive has a hidden trash folder for storing deleted files. When it is connected, the trash bin is displayed together with that of your Mac. As a result, you will always be able to see files deleted from the Mac and those deleted from the external drive showing up in the same trash folder. Follow the steps below to recover lost external hard drive files from trash.

  • Step 1: Connect the external drive to the Mac.
  • Step 2: Open trash by tapping on its icon.
  • Step 3: Search for the lost files.
  • Step 4: When you have found the files you are looking for, right-click on them and tap “Put Back” to restore them. This action sends your files back to their original folder.

Restore External Hard Drive on Mac with Time Machine

Other than Mac Trash, Time Machine automatically backs up your files on Mac and can be easily recovered if recovery from the trash folder fails. The drive must however be mountable to the Mac. Otherwise, see this guide on what to do when your mac won’t mount the external hard drive. Note that you can also configure the Time Machine to back up files on the main drive on your Mac together with an external drive.

You should have at least two ports to connect two external drives where one stores your files while the other backs them up.

During data recovery, the two drives should be connected to the Mac the same way. To make this backup available, you must activate it on your mac. Follow the procedure below.

  • Connect the drive to be backed up to your Mac
  • Tap the Time Machine icon to open it and choose Time Machine preferences
  • Tap “Options” in the lower right of the window and remove the external drive from the list of excluded drives

Of course, this procedure will not allow you to recover files deleted before you performed the procedure. This should have been performed before your data was lost. Otherwise, you will not be able to recover data with Time machine.

If Time Machine backup was initially activated, then proceed to recover data from the external hard drive on Mac with the steps below.

  • Step 1: Link the external drive containing your backed up files to the Mac.
  • Step 2: Launch Finder in the folder that stored the lost files on the external hard drive.
  • Step 3: Hit the Time Machine icon to launch it.
  • Step 4: Search for the available backups, choose the files you need to recover, the tap “Restore.”

Restore External Hard Drive on Mac with Data Recovery Software

If you are not in a position to recover lost files with trash and Time Machine, there are more chances the trash was emptied.

Data recovery software can however get you out of this situation. This will remain so as long as your files have not been overwritten by new ones.

We have tested several data recovery software in an attempt to recover data from external hard drives on Mac and Windows. Of all these, Disk Drill by CleverFiles recorded extraordinary results. This is why we will show you how to use it to fix this kind of situation.

Other than an intuitive and user-friendly interface, the software is easy to use. Besides, it is built for general computer users requiring no technical skills. It also supports several file formats and works on Mac and Windows devices among many other storage devices.

Follow the steps below to recover files from an external hard drive on Mac.

  • Step 1: If you do not have the software preinstalled, download it from the official website and install it on your Mac. Be sure not to install it on the external hard drive where your files have been lost.
  • Step 2: Link the external hard drive to your mac.
  • Step 3: Launch Disk Drill, choose external hard drive, then press “Search for lost data” to start scanning for lost files.
  • Step 4: Preview the files found from the scan to establish if they are among the files you are looking for.
  • Step 5: Choose the files and select a new location to restore lost data. Do not send them back to the affected drive.
  • Step 6: Press “Recover” to complete the process.


Follow this guide to recover your lost files on mac. However, when choosing a technique for external recovery, consider the scenarios underlying the loss of your files to increase your chances.


Support this free website by visiting my Amazon affiliate links. Any purchase you make will give me a cut without any extra cost to you

Base Pro
iPhones iPhone 15 / iPhone 15 Plus (Renewed) - (Amazon) iPhone 15 Pro / iPhone 15 Pro Max (Renewed) - (Amazon)
Watch Apple Watch SE (Amazon) / Apple Watch Series 9 (Amazon) Apple Watch Ultra 2 (Amazon)
AirPods AirPods 3 (Amazon) AirPods Pro 2 (Amazon) / AirPods Max (Amazon)
iPad iPad 9 (Amazon) / iPad Mini (Amazon) iPad Air (Amazon) / iPad Pro M2 (Amazon)
Laptops MacBook Air (Amazon) MacBook Pro M3
Desktop Mac Mini (Amazon) / iMac (Amazon) Mac Studio / Mac Pro
Displays Studio Display (Amazon) Pro Display XDR (Amazon)

Other Ecosystem Items

Share this article:


Cloning Your External Drive in macOS

A small guide on how to clone your external storage to another storage and expand the volume on the new storage to use all the capacity of the new storage.

Restoring Your Macs Emptied Trash Files

[Sponsored] - Say you emptied your trash can in macOS. And you just realized that you need that file back. It's gone forever right? There's actually someway to recover your data even when you emptied your trash can.

Mac Mini 2024 Setup Guide

The Mac Mini remains Apple's best product. Here is a guide to make the Mac Mini uniquely yours.
Tags: recovery, macos, external hard drive, external storage, hdd, sdd,