Fixing an “Item can’t be moved to Trash because item can’t be deleted” Error in Mac OS X

Deleting files and folders from the Mac is usually as simple as dragging the item to remove into the Trash can, but on rare occasions things don’t quite go as planned. One of the more peculiar errors when trying to remove a file appears in the form of the following message when attempting to send something to the Trash; “The item “filename.ext” can’t be moved to the Trash because it can’t be deleted.”

That error message is not exactly descriptive or helpful, but, as it appears to be a bug related to the Finder, the issue is usually fairly easy to resolve by quitting and restarting the Finder. 

There are several ways to accomplish that, the easiest perhaps being the familiar Force Quit shortcut:

Hit Command+Shift+Escape to bring up the Force Quit menu, select Finder and choose “Relaunch”

Option and Right+Clicking the Finder icon in the Dock gives the same option:

[Relaunching Finder]

If you’re a command line user, you can also choose the killall command in the Terminal app.

Whichever approach you go with, be sure to let the Finder completely load again. Then, once the Finder has opened again, you should now be able to remove the file as intended by sending it to the Trash either with a Command+Delete or by dragging and dropping it into the OS X Dock Trash icon. This is fairly basic troubleshooting, but it does work, and has apparently worked to resolve the error for quite some time judging by user responses on Apple forums

Note that if the file in question is locked, you may encounter yet another error now that’s in the Trash can when you go to actually delete the file. If so, that’s also easy to resolve by forcing the Trash to empty whether contents are locked or not. 

In some cases, the inability to trash a file like this is probably a Finder bug, though since it is easy to trigger the message with partially transferred files, it could also be a protective mechanism against prematurely removing files that are partially transferred either through local file sharing or downloading from the internet. Keep that situation in mind if you’re encountering the error message in when trying to trash something from Finder, as it may be resolved by stopping the active file transfer taking place too.

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