How to Make Your Phone Delete Emails From POP Servers

Delete button on a keyboard
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If you're using POP for your email and you delete messages from your phone, those emails might still be in your account when you access it from a computer or some other device. You can stop this from happening by changing the settings associated with that account.

IMAP synchronizes the email on your phone with the emails on the server; in contrast, POP has your phone download messages but leaves copies on the server. You end up having to either manually go through them again from a computer or change the email settings so that the server will delete mail after they've been downloaded to your phone.

These instructions apply to Gmail accounts specifically, but you can take similar steps for Outlook, Yahoo, and other email providers.

How to Keep or Delete Mail From POP Servers

To stop seeing mail you've already deleted from your phone on other computers or in the mail provider's web interface (or to make sure they aren't deleted when you delete them from your phone), do the following:

  1. Visit Gmail from a desktop browser and select the menu/gear icon at the top right of the page.

    You can use a mobile browser, too, but you have to force the page to load the desktop version of the website, else you won't see the correct menu items to make the server changes.

  2. Choose Settings.

    Settings in Gmail
  3. Select the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab, or use this link if you're having trouble finding it.

    Forwarding and POP/IMAP
  4. Locate the POP download section and then select an appropriate action from the second step, next to When messages are accessed with POP:

    When messages are accessed with POP in Gmail

    If you can't select this menu, choose one of the "enable POP" options just above it.

    Keep Gmail's copy in the Inbox: When you delete email from your phone, the messages will be removed from that device but will stay in your account so that you can still access them from a computer.

    This setting lets you access the exact same messages from every device you use that connects to your email account. For example, if you log in to your email from a new phone, every single message from the server will download to the new device, even ones you've already deleted from your old phone.

    Mark Gmail's copy as read: Just like with the previous option, the messages will stay put in your online account when you remove them from your phone, but instead of remaining untouched, they will be marked as read the moment they're downloaded to your phone. That way, when you open the mail on your computer, you can still have all the messages you downloaded; they'll just be marked as read.

    This is a great way to keep your emails for reference later but to also know which ones you've already downloaded to your device (and likely read there). If you connect a new phone to your email with this setting enabled, all the messages will download but some will be marked as read to show that you've already read them on your old device.

    Archive Gmail's copy: Emails will remain in your account when you download or delete them from your device. Instead of remaining in the Inbox folder, however, they'll be put elsewhere to clean up the inbox.

    Delete Gmail's copy: Use this option if you want Gmail to remove all the email you download to your phone. To be clear, this means that the moment you see the email download to your phone or another email client, Gmail will delete the message from the server. The mail will remain on the device so long as you don't delete it there, but it will not be available online when you log on to Gmail from a computer or any other device that has yet to download the message.

    You might use this last option if you've have storage concerns with your email provider. If you have very little available storage in your online account, then having messages deleted automatically when they're downloaded would be a good idea.

  5. Select Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

    Save Changes in Gmail Settings
  6. Emails on the server will now behave in the way you specified in Step 4.

Deleting Emails From All Devices at Once

Accessing your email via POP servers limits you in one major way: the email app can't make changes to the emails on the server. This is unlike IMAP, which lets you control the server emails from the device. It's for this reason that you can't use POP to delete emails that have already been downloaded to your devices.

For example, say you use Gmail's POP servers on your phone and that you've chosen the keep Gmail's copy in the Inbox option from your Gmail account. When you request emails from your phone, they're downloaded to your device and then kept online.

Really, that's the end of the story when it comes to how your email app uses the emails. The messages have been downloaded, so they're there forever until you delete them. Even if you change Gmail's settings to make the POP server delete Gmail's copy from the server, they won't be removed from your device.

The only way to delete emails from all your devices at once is to have every device use your provider's IMAP server. That way, you can log in to any device that has direct server access via IMAP — your tablet, phone, or computer — and delete emails there. When they're removed from the server, every device will delete the locally stored emails the moment they request updates from the IMAP server.

Essentially, any email you change from the email server is replicated exactly from each IMAP-connected device. Devices using the POP server simply download the emails and then cut ties with what's going on from the server side.