How to Safely Eject and Disconnect External Hard Drives on Mac

Key takeaways:

  • Always eject external drives before physically disconnecting them to prevent data loss or corruption
  • There are several ways to eject drives on Mac, including using the Finder, desktop icon, or keyboard shortcuts
  • If a drive won’t eject, force ejecting should be a last resort as it can still cause issues
  • Regularly ejecting drives and avoiding interruptions during data transfers can help maintain drive health

As a Mac user, you’ve likely used external hard drives, USB flash drives, or SD cards to store and transfer files. However, disconnecting these devices without properly ejecting them first can lead to data loss or even damage to the drive. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of safely ejecting external drives and provide step-by-step instructions on how to do so.

Why is it important to eject drives?

When you use an external drive, your Mac often caches data in its memory to improve performance. This means that even if a file transfer appears complete, the Mac may still be writing data in the background. Abruptly disconnecting the drive can interrupt this process, leading to corrupted files or even a corrupted drive.

Additionally, some external drives have a “write cache” feature that temporarily stores data to speed up transfers. Ejecting the drive ensures this cache is cleared, and all data is written to the drive before disconnection.

How to eject external drives on Mac

There are several ways to safely eject an external drive on your Mac:

Using the Finder

  1. Open a Finder window
  2. Locate your external drive in the Finder sidebar under “Locations”
  3. Click the eject icon next to the drive’s name

From the desktop

  1. Locate the external drive’s icon on your desktop
  2. Drag the icon to the Trash (don’t worry, this won’t delete the drive’s contents!)
  3. The Trash icon will change to an Eject symbol, indicating it’s safe to disconnect the drive

Using a keyboard shortcut

  1. Select the external drive’s icon on your desktop or in the Finder sidebar
  2. Press Command + E to eject the drive

From the Touch Bar

If your Mac has a Touch Bar:

  1. Tap the Finder icon on the Touch Bar
  2. Tap and hold the Eject button
  3. Tap the drive you want to eject

Troubleshooting ejection issues

Sometimes, you may encounter a message saying “The disk wasn’t ejected because one or more programs may be using it.” This usually means a file on the drive is still open or a program is accessing the drive. To resolve this:

  1. Close any open files or programs that may be using the drive
  2. Try ejecting the drive again

If the issue persists, you can force eject the drive:

  1. Press Option + Command + Escape to open the Force Quit Applications window
  2. Select Finder and click “Relaunch”
  3. After Finder restarts, try ejecting the drive again

Note: Force ejecting should be a last resort, as it can still lead to data loss or drive damage if files are being written.

Tips for maintaining external drive health

  • Always eject drives before disconnecting them
  • Avoid interrupting file transfers or unplugging drives during use
  • Use high-quality cables and connectors
  • Store drives in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight
  • Regularly back up important data to multiple locations

By following these tips and properly ejecting your external drives, you can help ensure your data remains safe and your drives continue to function properly.


What happens if I disconnect a drive without ejecting it?

Disconnecting a drive without ejecting it can lead to data loss, file corruption, or even damage to the drive itself. This is because your Mac may still be writing data to the drive in the background, even if a transfer appears complete.

Can I eject a drive while files are being transferred?

It’s best to wait until all file transfers are complete before ejecting a drive. Interrupting a transfer can lead to incomplete or corrupted files. If you must cancel a transfer, be sure to properly eject the drive afterwards.

Will ejecting a drive delete my files?

No, ejecting a drive simply tells your Mac to finish writing any cached data and safely disconnect the drive. Your files will remain intact on the drive.

What should I do if my drive won’t eject?

If your drive won’t eject, first make sure no files or programs are using it. If the issue persists, you can try force ejecting the drive by relaunching Finder. However, force ejecting should be a last resort as it can still cause data loss if files are being written.