How to Use Secure Empty Trash Quickly with a Custom Keyboard Shortcut

As discussed on Mac Geek Gabs 356 and 358, Secure Empty Trash is a powerful, albeit potentially dangerous function of OS X. The standard “Empty Trash” command removes files and folders from the user interface and tells the operating system to overwrite those files on the drive if necessary. But until those files are actually overwritten they still exist on the drive and are relatively easy to recover.

While this method of file management and deletion works well most of the time, there are occasions in which a user may wish to permanently delete a file, such as in the case of financial records or other personal information. Apple has included a method in OS X to do just this. “Secure Empty Trash,” found in the Finder’s Menu Bar item, will delete the contents of your OS X trash can and then immediately overwrite the space on your hard drive where those files were written.

Secure Empty Trash can be handy, but it requires using the mouse and navigating to the Menu Bar. Wouldn’t it be handy to have a keyboard shortcut? Thankfully, it’s easy to set up a custom keyboard shortcut for almost any OS X menu item.

First, find the exact name of the menu item you wish to set up. In our case, it’s “Secure Empty Trash.” Next, go to System Preferences > Keyboard, and then choose “Keyboard Shortcuts.”

Keyboard System Preference Pane

Using “Application Shortcuts,” a user can create a custom shortcut for nearly every menu bar item in OS X.

On the menu to the left, choose “Application Shortcuts” and then press the plus sign at the bottom of the righthand menu. In the new window that pops up, choose “Finder” from the Application drop-down, and then enter “Secure Empty Trash” (without quotes) in the Menu Title entry box.

Note that there are two choices here: entering “Secure Empty Trash” will configure the shortcut to immediately perform a secure delete of the files in the trash can. Appending an ellipsis (“Secure Empty Trash…”) will configure the shortcut to display a warning window that alerts you to the permanence of your action. You’ll want to choose the once that makes the most sense to your workflow; if you’re prone to frequent shortcut mistakes, you may wish to err on the side of caution and include the ellipsis.

Finally, in the the Keyboard Shortcut entry box, enter the shortcut you wish to use by clicking inside the box first and then pressing the key combination for your desired shortcut. In my case, I set it to Shift-Command-Control-D.

Secure Empty Trash Shortcut

The new custom shortcut as it appears in the Finder’s Menu Item.

Press the “Add” button once you’re satisfied and you’ll now see your shortcut listed in the Finder’s menu bar. Note that Secure Emptying the trash, while better for preserving privacy, will take much longer than normal as the computer must overwrite the data on the drive.