How to Empty the Trash in Mail for macOS

Delete email messages automatically or manually from Mail

​Email in trash bin

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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 "just in case" they may need something in there. The usefulness of the Trash folder 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 the mail server or to speed up performance.

These instructions were created for macOS Catalina (10.15) but should apply to most earlier versions of macOS and Mac OS X. Some older versions of the operating system may have slightly different menu or dialog box names.

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.

  2. Select the Accounts tab.

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

  4. Select the Mailbox Behaviors tab.

  5. From the Erase deleted messages drop-dow list, select 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.

  6. 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. From the address bar, select Mailboxes.

  3. Select Erase Deleted Items.

  4. From the context menu, select a specific mailbox, select In All Accounts, or select On My Mac.

  5. In the confirmation dialog box, select Erase.

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 decisions, 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

When you have deleted 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.