How to Empty the Trash in Mail for macOS

Delete email messages automatically or manually from Mail

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

Information in this article applies to Macs running macOS Catalina (10.15) through macOS Sierra (10.12).

Configure Mail to Empty the Trash on a Schedule

If remembering to empty the trash regularly isn't high on your priority list, you can instruct the Mail application when and how often to empty the trash for you.

To empty the Trash on a schedule, complete the following steps:

  1. Launch the Mail application. Then, on the menu bar, select Mail > Preferences.

    Mac Mail menu bar showing Preferences option
  2. Select the Accounts tab and click the account you want to configure in the left sidebar.

    Mail preferences Accounts tab on a Mac
  3. Select the Mailbox Behaviors tab.

    Mailbox Behavors tab in Mail Preferences
  4. Use the Erase deleted messages drop-down menu to select your preference. Choices include Never, After one day, After one week, After one month, or When quitting Mail. You have the same options for erasing junk messages if you want to include those in the purge.

    Mac Mail accounts preferences
  5. Close the Accounts dialog box to save your preferences.

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

Empty the Trash Manually

If you prefer to control when the Trash is emptied, you can do so manually and quickly.

To empty the Trash manually, complete the following steps:

  1. Open the Mail application.

  2. In the menu bar, select Mailbox.

    The Mailbox tab on the Mac Mail menu bar
  3. Select Erase Deleted Items. From the context menu, select a specific mailbox, In All Accounts, or On My Mac.

    Mailbox menu bar tab in Mac Mail
  4. In the confirmation dialog box, select Erase.

    Confirmation to erase deleted email

Empty the Trash by Using a Keyboard Shortcut

To empty all the trash folders in Mail and permanently erase deleted messages, complete the following steps:

You can't use the keyboard shortcut method for a single account: It's all or nothing.

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

  2. On the keyboard, press Command+Shift+Del.

  3. In the confirmation dialog box, select Erase to empty the trash and purge deleted mail from all the accounts you have set up in Mail.

What's a Hard Delete?

If you're confident that you'll never make a poor trash decision, you may prefer to use a hard delete with your Mail accounts. In Mail, select an email you want to delete and then press the keyboard shortcut Option+Del to delete the message and skip the trash folder entirely.

How to Restore Deleted Mail Messages

After you delete the contents of Mail's Trash folder, the only way to recover a message is to restore it from a backup. If you use Time Machine, for example, go back to the day before you deleted the email message. Then, open Mail, locate the message, and retrieve it.