How to Remove Old Mail Automatically in Mozilla Thunderbird

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Mozilla Thunderbird can do some cleaning on its own. Stockunlimited

For each folder, you can have Mozilla Thunderbird delete old messages automatically.

Always Fresh and Snappy

A Trash folder is a wonderful thing to have to recover messaged deleted by accident, but even the trash must not grow indefinitely. Of course, you can always empty the Trash folder manually in Mozilla Thunderbird. This, however, deletes all messages in it immediately, and emptying the trash is really something your software should do for you.

Mozilla Thunderbird does, and does it in very elegant a manner. For every folder in Mozilla Thunderbird, you can configure old messages (determined either by age or by the number of emails in the folder) to be deleted automatically. What is useful for the Trash folders is also great for RSS feeds, for example.

Remove Old Mail Automatically from a Folder in Mozilla Thunderbird

To make Mozilla Thunderbird delete old messages in a folder automatically:

  1. Click on the desired folder with the right mouse button.
  2. Select Properties... from the menu.
  3. Go to the Retention Policy tab.
  4. Make sure Use server defaults or Use my account settings is not checked.
  5. Check either Delete all but the most recent __ messages (or Delete all but the last __ messages) or Delete messages more than __ days old.
  6. Typically, make sure Always keep starred messages is checked; this allows for an easy way to preserve emails.
  7. Enter the desired time or message count.
    • Keeping about 30 days or 900 messages in a Trash folder usually works fine.
    • Even for something like your default inbox, 182 days (around 6 months) can work.
  1. Click OK.

Remove Old Mail Automatically for an Entire Account in Mozilla Thunderbird

To set a default policy for an account that has Mozilla Thunderbird delete old emails across folders in the account:

  1. Select Preferences | Account Settings from the Mozilla Thunderbird menu.
    • ​You can also select Tools | Account Settings… (Windows, Mac) or Edit | Account Settings… (Linux) from the menu.
  1. For local folders and POP email accounts:
    1. Go to the Disk Space category for the desired account (or Local Folders).
  2. For IMAP email accounts:
    1. Go to the Synchronization & Storage category for the desired account in the Account Settings window.
  3. Make sure
    • Delete all but the most recent __ messages or
    • Delete messages more than __ days old
    is checked.
  4. If you are prompted:
    1. Click OK in the Confirm permanent, automatic deletion of messages dialog.
    • Do keep in mind that messages you did want to keep may inadvertently be deleted with this setting; do, perhaps, not rely on your starring messages to retain them.
    • At the same time, chances are you will not miss any messages older than, say, a year that have been permanently deleted.
    • You can adapt the default settings for any individual folder to either keep more or less mail, or to turn off automatic deletion altogether; see above.
  5. Click OK.

(Updated May 2016, tested with Mozilla Thunderbird 1.5 and Mozilla Thunderbird 45)