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How to empty the trash in Gmail

How to Empty the Trash in Gmail

The large pile of deleted emails in your Trash makes you uneasy? Find out below how to empty the trash in Gmail or permanently delete individual messages at any time.

First, Soup without Soup

Honey without sugar…

Like chairs without legs and bicycles without wheels, these exist; at least they exist as ideas thought up with the help of one of systematic inventive thinking‘s tools of creativity. With subtraction, you eliminate (what you assumed was) an essential component from a product or service—and see what happens.

So, let’s imagine an email trash—without emails:

How to Empty the Trash in Gmail and Delete All Emails Permanently

To permanently delete all messages in the Gmail Trash label and empty that folder:

  1. Open the Trash folder or label in Gmail.
    • Tip: You can select Trash in the left navigation pane (click More ▼ if initially you do not see it in the list) or, with Gmail keyboard shortcuts enabled, press g l and type “Trash” followed by Enter or select label:Trash from the auto-complete list.
  2. Make sure no messages that you might want or need to use later are in the Trash folder.
    1. Tip: You can use “in: trash ” followed by any other search term to search just the Trash in Gmail.
  3. Click Empty Trash now at the top of the Trash folder list.
  4. Click OK under Confirm deleting messages.
    • Important: This will permanently delete all emails that are in the Trash from Gmail.
To empty the Trash in the Gmail Android app or the Gmail iOS app:

  1. Tap the menu button ().
  2. Go to the Trash category.
  3. Now tap Empty trash now.
  4. Tap OK to confirm emptying the Gmail Trash.
Unfortunately, you cannot permanently delete individual messages using the Gmail Android and iOS apps at this time.

Do open the desktop Gmail interface in a browser instead and see below. You may be able to open Gmail’s desktop version in your mobile device’s browser.

How to Permanently Delete Individual Emails without Emptying the Trash in Gmail

To delete certain emails forever in Gmail without emptying the Trash entirely:

  1. Make sure the email you want to delete permanently is in your Gmail’s Trash folder.
    • Tip: Open the message and click Delete () in the toolbar, for example, or press # (with Gmail keyboard shortcuts enabled).
  2. Go to the Trash in Gmail.
  3. Open the message or conversation you want to delete irrevocably.
    • Tip: To permanently delete multiple emails in one go, you can check them all in the Trash folder.
    • Note that searching for specific messages and checking them will not work. You can only permanently delete individual emails if you are in the unfiltered Trash folder.
  4. Select Delete forever from the toolbar.
    • Note: There is no keyboard shortcut for this action; pressing # will, alas, not work.

Emptying the Trash and Permanently Deleting Emails in Gmail: FAQ

Will the Messages Disappear from All Labels and Email Programs Set up to Access Gmail?

Yes, the messages will be permanently deleted from Gmail including all folders and labels in it.

If you have email programs or services set up to access Gmail using IMAP or OAuth, the messages will be removed from these automatically. Email programs or services that download copies using POP—or email backup services, of course—will keep their copies, though.

Will Emptying the Gmail Trash also Remove Junk Emails?

No, messages under the Spam label will not be removed if you empty the Trash.

You can always empty Spam, of course. Messages under Spam will also be automatically deleted permanently after 30 days.

Is It Possible to Recover Emails That Were Removed from the Trash in Gmail?

No, with Gmail alone you cannot normally recover messages that have been removed from the Trash and permanently deleted.

That does not mean you are without options. To recover emails you no longer can find in Gmail (including the Trash), try the following locations:

  • An email program set up to use Gmail.
    • With email programs using POP to download messages from Gmail, the message was not automatically deleted as you permanently deleted it from Gmail itself, and if you did not delete it in the application, you may be able to find it (and copy it back to Gmail by forwarding or via IMAP).
    • If an email client or app uses IMAP, changes are automatically synchronized and all emails permanently deleted from Gmail online are probably also removed from the application. If you can immediately take the program offline, you may be able to make a copy of the email before your take the email program back online, though.
      Do check messages marked for deletion or purging, if possible in the email program.
  • Any email backup service; you might have set up one just to try and luckily forgot to disable it.
  • The email’s original sender or, for emails you sent, the recipient might still have a copy they can forward to you.
  • Gmail does have a way to request recovery of missing emails.
    • Note: This is intended for emails inexplicably gone missing, not messages you know you deleted permanently.

(How to empty the trash in Gmail tested with Gmail in a desktop browser as well as the Android and iOS apps; updated September 2017; title image: StockUnlimited)

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Heinz Tschabitscher

Has been writing about email, communication and technology in an engaging and informative manner since 1997. Find out more.