Empty the Trash in Mac OS X and macOS Mail

Delete Trash Automatically or Manually from Your System

Man and trash cans

The Trash folder on a Mac is an essential safeguard for people who accidentally delete essential email messages. Too often, users don't empty the trash regularly "just in case" they might need something in there. The usefulness of the Trash folder as an extra file cabinet notwithstanding, it is a good idea to empty it from time to time to make room for newly deleted messages on your Mac or the mail server and to speed up performance in general.

Schedule Mail to Empty the Trash

If remembering to empty the trash regularly is one too many things to remember, you can instruct the Mail application when and how often to empty the trash for you.

  1. Launch the Mail application and select Mail > Preferences from the menu bar.

  2. Click or press the Accounts tab.

  3. Select the account you want to configure for automatic Trash deletion.

  4. Choose the Mailbox Behaviors tab.

  5. In the drop-down menu under Erase deleted messages, select one of the options. They include Never, After one day, After one week, After one month, and When quitting Mail. You have the same options for erasing junk messages if you want to include those in the purge.

  6. Close the Accounts screen to save your preferences.

    If you have an IMAP account set up in Mail and that account is set up at its server to delete older messages at a specific period, your settings on the Mac have no effect.

    Emptying the Trash Manually

    If you prefer to control when the Trash is emptied, a manual and fast way to empty the Trash folder exists.

  7. Open the Mail application.

  8. Click or press Mailboxes in the menu bar.

  9. Select Erase Deleted Items.

  10. Choose a specific mailbox in the menu that appears or select In all accounts or On my Mac.

  11. Confirm the deletion by clicking Erase in the confirmation screen that opens.

Empty the Trash With a Keyboard Shortcut

To empty all the Mail Trash folders in OS X and macOS Mail and permanently erase deleted messages:

  1. Open the Mail application and verify that no mail you may need to recover is in any account's Trash folder.

  2. Press Command + Shift + Delete.

  3. Choose Erase in the confirmation screen to empty the trash and purge deleted mail from all the accounts you have set up in OS X or macOS Mail.

The keyboard shortcut method cannot be used on a single account. It's all or nothing.

What's a Hard Delete?

If you are confident you never make any poor trash decisions, you may prefer to use a hard delete with your Mail account. Select an email you want to delete and use the keyboard shortcut Option + Delete to delete the mail and skip the trash folder entirely.

How to Restore Deleted Mail Trash

After you delete the contents of Mail's Trash, the only way to recover an email that was mistakenly deleted is to restore it from a backup. If you use Time Machine, for example, go back to a day before the email you need was deleted. Open the Mail application, locate the email, and retrieve it.