Have you encountered the issue The operation can’t be completed because the item is in use” when you delete a file? Sometimes your Mac gets hyper-apprehensive if you attempt any action that would corrupt the software in use. This prevents emptying the Trash folder and permanent deletion of certain files. You can override the error quickly and easily but you have to know its root.

This guide exhaustively explores proven solutions to these issues. It sheds light on how to check locked or active files in the background process. We’ll also dissect disk-related issues and how to fix it. For advanced Mac users, we’ll walk you through Terminal to nuke the Trash contents.

Contents: Part 1. Can I Force Empty the Trash with Files in Use?Part 2. [Fixed] The Operation Can’t be Completed because the Item is in UsePart 3. Other Ways to Force Delete the Trash with Files in Use

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Part 1. Can I Force Empty the Trash with Files in Use?

Trash Can

Why my Mac says "the operation can not be completed"?

Mostly, Trash won’t empty if you have files still under use. Another app or background process might be using files. A pop-up will appear as follows “The operation can’t be completed because the item is in use”. This means you’ll have to close these files before you can remove permanently.

Often, infected files hide their location and you may not know where it’s open. In these cases, it may not appear in the background processes. To clear up doubts, reboot your Mac and then try emptying the file again. If it was in the background processes, you should successfully delete the file now.

Still stuck? You may have a startup or login item using the file. To briefly prevent errant items from launching automatically, reboot in safe mode by latching on the Shift key while the machine starts up. Then offload the Trash and start up your Mac normally.

Suggestion: How do I get rid of the files that won't delete?

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If You Can’t Delete the File because of Unknown Reasons

We also have a quick guide for you if you want to fix "The Operation Can’t Be Completed Because Item Is in Use" issue:

  1. Start up from Mac Recovery Mode by latching on Command-R while your machine boots.
  2. Once the Mac Utilities window pops up, click Disk Utility and hit Continue.
  3. In Disk Utility, choose the disk that has the file that you wish to delete. Repair the disk with the First Aid feature in the Disk Utility.
  4. Close Disk Utility, then reboot your computer and unload the Trash.

Part 2. [Fixed] The Operation Can’t be Completed because the Item is in Use

Solution 1. How to Force the Trash to Nuke

Force-empty Trash if you want to delete a locked file by pressing the Option key. Latch on Option and click on the Empty button. By pressing Option, you will override any locks on data. It comes in handy when Mac forbids unlocking files.

Alternatively, invoke a Terminal Command to force-empty Trash. This bypasses ay locks on your items and deletes files which may be in use. It also circumvents any errors that thwart emptying.

To permanently delete files, follow the steps below:

  1. Hold Cmd + Space to launch Spotlight.
  2. Enter Terminal and hold Return to open it.
  3. Fill in sudo rm -r filePath. The "filePath" should be replaced with the path of files you want to delete forever.
  4. Go to Trash and yank the files you want to remove to the Terminal window.
  5. Hold down Return.
  6. Type your administrator password to authenticate the command. This doesn’t hide as you type it because it’s a security step.
  7. Hit Return to authorize and launch the command.

Solution 2. Use Terminal to Check Locked Files

To delete a file that macOS says is in use, you can first use Terminal to check the locked file:

  1. Open the Trash folder.
  2. Hold down Cmd + Space to open Spotlight.
  3. Enter Terminal and hold Return.
  4. Enter Isof and hit Space. This command gives you a glimpse of a list of files in use in the background processes.
  5. Open Trash and yank the file you want to force-delete to the Terminal.
  6. Hit Return to launch the command.

Empty Trash Mac

Part 3. Other Ways to Force Delete the Trash with Files in Use

Method 1. Check if they are Locked Files

For locked files, go to Trash and free them up by doing the following:

  1. Click on Trash.
  2. Right-click the target file.
  3. Select Get Info.
  4. Select the Locked checkbox.
  5. This should unlock the file and make it amenable.
  6. Alternatively, click the Empty key or right-click the file and select Delete Immediately.

Method 2. Use the "Delete Immediately" Feature

For El Capitan, you can use immediately delete to annihilate a file contained in your Trash. Choose the file, press the Option key, click the file and then hit Delete Immediately to discard the file. It lets you skip many steps.

Delete Immediately only comes up in the Trash app. So click it and click the files you want to purge. Confirm the files have petered out.

Method 3. Unauthorized Actions

Often, a user may not have the authority to remove a file. Occasionally, this is a necessary evil. You need an Administrator to discard the file or get Read & Write permissions from Sharing & Permissions. If you cannot resolve the issue, we recommend you talk to Apple or an authorized Service Provider.

Sometimes, you can’t empty the Trash while a file or application is in use or other reasons. One of the methods highlighted above should get the file-trash stubbornness if you get hit by this "The operation can’t be completed because the item is in use" error.

As noted above, you can resort to a Mac dedicated tool like PowerMyMac to remove unwanted apps along with their remnants. It’s pretty helpful for errant files or apps that won’t just go away.

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We hope you applied the tips in this article to trace the evasive file and successfully removed it. Please get in touch if you have any queries using comments below!