How to Add or Remove Additional Smart Inbox Folders in iOS Mail

Smart folders group similar emails for quick review

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So much mail! So many folders! So little time!

Some emails are important—and flagged. Some senders are, too, and marked VIPs. Many messages are new. Some are addressed to you personally and show it in their To: or Cc: lines. Some emails contain important documents as attachments. Some emails wait, patiently in their inboxes across all those accounts. How do you keep up?

You can concentrate on unread mail, VIPs, attachments and more by displaying preconfigured smart folders in the iOS Mail app Mailboxes screen. You can also create custom smart folders to meet your needs.

Information in this article applies to iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices running iOS 12 or iOS 11.

iOS Mail Smart Folders Display Messages of a Type

The iOS Mail app can help you collect and focus on specific message types. One ready-made smart folder shows only unread messages, for example. Others contain messages with attachments or drafts from all the Drafts folders of all your mail accounts.

Enabling these smart folders on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is easy, and they can make life much easier if you are looking, say, for recently flagged emails. If you tire of them, though, or find you use them too seldom to warrant a place in the iOS Mail app's Mailboxes list for easy access, you can disable them individually.

Smart Folders in iOS Mail App

The Mail app comes with a selection of smart folders that you can toggle on or off as well as with an option to add your own custom smart folders. To enable smart folders that focus on specific types of messages in the Mail app:

  1. Open the Mail app to the Mailboxes screen.

  2. Tap Edit at the top of the screen.

  3. Tap each item you want to activate and view on the Mailboxes screen.

  4. Tap Done.

    Mail app screens for toggling smart folders on and off

The folders are:

  • All Inboxes: Used with multiple accounts. Collects mail from all inbox folders.
  • [Account name]: An account's inbox. For multiple mailboxes, there is one for each account.
  • Today: Showcases only the emails you received today.
  • VIP: Shows messages from VIP senders in all inboxes.
  • Flagged: Contains flagged emails from all inboxes.
  • Unread: Shows only the unread emails in all inboxes.
  • To or CC: Messages in your inboxes that have one of your email addresses listed as a direct To: or Cc: recipient (instead of as a mere Bcc: recipient).
  • Attachments: All inbox messages that have at least one file attached.
  • Thread Notifications: Includes emails with activity in an email thread.
  • All Drafts: Collects email drafts from the Drafts folder in all your accounts.
  • All Sent: Contains all your sent messages, drawn from the Sent folder of each of the accounts you set up in the Mail account.
  • All Trash: The deleted messages from the Trash or Deleted Items folders for all accounts set up in Mail.
  • All Archive: Includes all Archived messages from the accounts in Mail.

To add a custom smart folder, tap New Mailbox at the bottom of the screen, give it a name and assign a parent location if you have more than one email account. As you receive emails in your inboxes on your iOS device, you can select an email and tap Move to move it to the custom folder manually. Having a rule to move email to the folder automatically is much more convenient, but you can't make the rule in the Mail app.

You can create custom folders in the Apple Mail application on your Mac and sync them to Mail on your iOS device. On the Mac, you can apply rules to sort emails to your new smart folder, so you don't have to do it manually. The custom smart folder on your iOS device is updated when the Mac is turned on, but it doesn't work while your Mac is turned off, so this solution isn't ideal.

A better solution is to add a rule for your custom mailbox in iCloud. That way, your computer doesn't have to be turned on. The change flows from iCloud to your iOS device.

How to Add a Rule in iCloud for a Custom Smart Folder

Go to iCloud.com in a browser and enter your login credentials. Then:

  1. Select Mail in iCloud.

    iCloud opening screen in a computer browser
  2. Choose the angled bracket to the left of Inbox to show the Mailboxes sidebar if it isn't open.

    Location of angled bracket to open the Mail sidebar
  3. Click the Action pop-up menu (gear icon) at the bottom of the sidebar and select Rules.

    Mail Action menu in sidebar
  4. Select Add a Rule. Specify the filtering conditions and select the new custom folder from the drop-down list. If you haven't made it yet, choose New Folder instead and enter the custom folder name.

    Add a Rule screens in iCloud
  5. Tap Done.

The changes are soon reflected in your iPhone or iPad Mail app.

Remove Smart Inbox Folders in iOS Mail App

To remove a smart folder (preconfigured or custom) from the Mail app's Mailboxes screen, reverse the process for adding or activating a smart folder:

  1. Go to the Mail app's Mailboxes screen.

  2. Tap Edit.

  3. Uncheck the smart folder you want to remove from the Mailboxes screen by tapping it.

  4. Tap Done.