How to Permanently Delete Text Messages on iPhone

Text messages you thought were gone may be hanging around your iPhone

What to Know

  • Sync with iCloud or iTunes soon after deleting messages to remove them permanently.
  • Remove the Messages app from search results. Select Settings > Spotlight Search > Messages, and turn off Search & Siri Suggestions.

This article explains how to permanently delete text messages from your iPhone Messages app. It also describes how to hide the Messages app from Siri Spotlight search and includes other workarounds. Instructions in this article apply to iPhones with iOS 14 through iOS 11.

How to Permanently Delete iPhone Text Messages

Text messages hang around after you delete them because of how the iPhone deletes data. When you delete some kinds of items from the iPhone, they aren't removed. Instead, they're marked for deletion by the operating system and hidden so they appear to be gone, but they're still on the phone.

Person shutting off Messages in Siri & Search

Lifewire / Luyi Wang 

When you sync with iTunes or iCloud, the items you marked for deletion are erased. When you delete a text and then sync your iPhone, the message is gone for good.​

Marked-for-deletion files, like text messages, aren't truly deleted until you sync your iPhone with iTunes or iCloud.

Remove Messages App From Spotlight Search

You can also take steps to make text messages hard to find. Deleted messages don't appear in a Spotlight search if Spotlight isn't looking for them. You control the apps Spotlight searches and which it ignores.

  1. From the iPhone home screen, tap Settings.

  2. Tap Siri & Search. In older versions of iOS, tap General and then tap Spotlight Search.

  3. Scroll down and tap Messages.

  4. Move the Search & Siri Suggestions toggle switch to the Off/white position. Now, when you run a Spotlight search on your phone, text messages aren't included in the results.

    Three iOS screens showing Siri & Search, Messages and Siri & Suggestions toggle to OFF

Erase All Data or Restore to Factory Settings

These are extreme steps and aren't recommended as your first choice, but they do solve the problem. Erasing all data on your iPhone does just what it sounds like: It erases everything stored in the iPhone memory, including text messages marked for deletion. It deletes your music, email, apps, and everything else, too.

The same is true when you restore the iPhone to factory settings. This procedure returns the iPhone to the state it arrived in when it came from the factory. It deletes everything, but your deleted text messages will definitely be gone.

Use a Passcode

One way to prevent people from reading your deleted text messages is to keep them from accessing your iPhone. A good way to do that is to put a passcode on your iPhone that they have to enter before unlocking it. The standard iPhone passcode is four digits, but for extra-strength protection, try the more secure passcode you get by turning the Simple Passcode option off. With the Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S and up, and the Face ID facial recognition system on the iPhone X series, you can have even more powerful security.

Select Apps Known for Security

Deleted text messages can't be found if they're not saved at all. If you don't want to leave a record, use messaging apps that automatically delete messages after a specified period of time. Snapchat works this way, but it's not the only option.

Why Texts May Never Truly Be Gone

Even if you remove a text message from your phone, it may not be gone. That's because it could be stored on your phone company's servers. Normal text messages go from your phone to your phone company to the recipient. In most cases, that means the phone company retains a copy of messages. These can be subpoenaed by law enforcement in criminal cases, for example.

Text messages from Apple's Messages app are encrypted from end to end and cannot be decrypted by anyone, not even by law enforcement.

  • I accidentally deleted a text message on my iPhone. What do I do?

    As soon as possible, turn on Airplane Mode on your iPhone and any other iOS or Mac devices you have. If you do this quickly enough, the deletion won't be synced with those other devices and you can view it or respond on them.

  • My iPhone is deleting text messages all by itself. How do I stop it?

    Go to Settings > Messages > Keep Messages and make sure it is set to Forever. The other options are 30 Days and 1 Year, after which your messages are deleted automatically.

  • How can I retrieve a text message I deleted on my iPhone?

    If you back up your iPhone to your computer, you can retrieve a deleted text message from a backup that predates the deletion. Either restore the entire backup (which may cause other problems) or use an app such as iPhone Backup Extractor on your PC or Mac to locate the message you need.

Was this page helpful?