How to Recover Deleted Emails in Outlook

Are your lost emails right here?
Emails you accidentally deleted may be just out of sight in Outlook.

Explore the options that will likely let you recover deleted email messages in Microsoft Outlook for Windows and Mac.

Out of Sight and Out of Memory?

When you delete an email in Microsoft Outlook, it disappears from sight and mind; it is not immediately destroyed completely, however, and not beyond restoration.

Instead, emails lurk around in Outlook after deletion—for reasons of efficiency (hiding an email is much faster than wiping and overwriting it), retention policy (your organization may be required to keep messages for a certain time) or convenience (who has not pressed Del accidentally?).

Where Do Deleted Emails Go from Outlook?

No matter your email setup, chances are any email you delete is still kept, hidden from normal view, for at least a few weeks and often much longer. You can still recover it. All you need to do is find the email in question.

Deleted emails are typically found in these locations:

  • the Deleted Items folder (in Outlook itself or your email account),
  • hidden from regular view in the same folder (with IMAP email accounts),
  • under Recoverable Items (with Exchange and Office 365 accounts) or
  • in a backup location (on your computer, in the cloud, or with your email provider).

We will explore restoring from all these locations.

Recover an Email You Just Deleted in Outlook

It will be as if nothing ever happened: if you catch yourself right in the instant of deleting a message you want to keep, undoing the damage and recovering the email is particularly easy.

To undo deleting a message you just moved to the trash in Outlook for Windows:

  1. Press Ctrl-Z.
    • Make sure you took no other action—such as moving or flagging another message—before pressing Ctrl-Z as this command undoes the very last action you took.
    • It does that repeatedly. So, you can undo a series of actions until you have successfully undone a deletion and restored the desired email. For anything but restoring one message, it is usually better to turn to the Deleted Items folder or other options, though (see below).

    To undelete a message immediately after moving it to the Deleted Items folder in Outlook for Mac:

    1. Press Command-Z.
      • This command undoes the last action you took; if that action was deleting an email, Command-Z will restore it.

    Recover an Email from your Outlook "Deleted Items" Folder

    The first place most deleted emails visit in Outlook is the Deleted Items folder. This is also the place whence you are most likely to restore emails. Do look here first.

    To restore messages that are still in your Deleted Items folder in Outlook for Windows:

    1. Open the account's Deleted Items folder.
      • For emails in POP and Exchange as well as Outlook Mail on the Web (Outlook.com) email account, this folder will be called Deleted Items.
      • For IMAP accounts that do use a folder for deleted items, the folder may have a different name; look for folders named "Trash", e.g., or "Dustbin"; for Gmail accounts, the deleted items folder is [Gmail]/Trash.
    2. Open or highlight the message you want to recover.
      • You can highlight more than one email to recover the whole bunch in one command.
      • Click Search Deleted Items (or whatever your trash folder is called) to search the folder for the message's sender or subject, for example.
    3. Select Move | Other Folder… from the ribbon's Home tab.
      • You can also press Ctrl-Shift-V.
    1. Highlight the folder to which you want to restore the message or messages under Move Items.
      • Start typing "inbox" to jump to the account's inbox folder, for example.
    2. Click OK.

    To recover deleted messages from the Deleted Items folder using Outlook for Mac:

    1. Open the Deleted Items folder in the folder pane in Outlook for Mac.
      • Deleted Items collect the trashed messages for all your email accounts.
      • If you cannot see the folder pane, select View | Folder Pane from the menu.
    2. Open the message you want to undelete.
      • You can also highlight multiple emails to recover them in one go.
    3. Select Move | Choose a Folder… on the ribbon's Home tab.
      • You can also press Command-Shift-M.
    1. Type "inbox" (or any other folder to which you want to restore the email or emails) over Search.
    2. Make sure the desired folder (for the correct account) is highlighted.
    3. Click Move.

    Recover an Email Purged from an Exchange Account's "Deleted Items" Folder in Outlook for Windows

    Emails are removed from the Deleted Items folder when

    • they have been in that folder for a certain period set by the account administrator (typical periods would be 30 or 14 days, for example) or
    • you have emptied the Deleted Items folder or permanently deleted a message from it.

    For most Exchange accounts, these messages purged from the Deleted Items folder are still not beyond recovery. For another time period—2 weeks, say, or possibly even months—, they can be restored to your account. (This also applies to emails you—seemingly—permanently deleted bypassing Deleted Items using the Shift-Del command.)

    To restore messages already removed from the Deleted Items folder in Outlook for Windows:

    1. Make sure you are trying to recover from an Exchange email account.
      • See below for options with IMAP and POP accounts.
    2. Now make sure you are connected and using online mode in Outlook.
    3. Go to the account's Deleted Items folder.
    4. Make sure the Home tab is selected and expanded on the ribbon.
    5. Click Recover Deleted Items from Server in the Actions section.
    6. Make sure all emails you want to recover are highlighted in the Recover Deleted Items window.
      • You can sort the list using any of the column headers—click From oder Deleted On, for example; click again to reverse the sort order.
      • To select multiple emails, hold down Ctrl while clicking them; to select a range of messages, hold down Shift.
    7. Make sure Restore Selected Items is selected.
    8. Click OK.

    The message or messages will be recovered to the account's Deleted Items folder. So, to further restore:

    1. Highlight the recovered message or messages in the Deleted Items folder.
    2. Select Move | Other Folder… on the ribbon's Home tab.
    3. Make sure the inbox or another folder (different from Deleted Items) is selected in the Move Items dialog.
    4. Click OK.

    Recover an Email Purged from an Exchange Account's Deleted Items Folder Using the Outlook Web App (on macOS, Linux, etc.)

    Outlook for Mac does not offer an interface to recover messages purged from an Exchange account's Deleted Items folder; you can use the web interface to the account, though.

    To restore an email that is no longer in an Exchange account's Deleted Items folder using Outlook Mail on the Web and Outlook Web App:

    1. Open Outlook Web App for your Exchange account in your browser.
    2. Click on the the Deleted Items folder in the folder list with the right mouse button.
      • If you cannot see the full list of folders, click the downward-pointed arrow head () in front of Folders.
    3. Select Recover deleted items… from the context menu that has appeared.
    4. Make sure all emails you want to recover are checked.
      • Checkboxes appear as you hover the mouse cursor over emails in the list.
      • Messages are sorted by the date they were deleted (and originally moved to the Deleted Items folder).
      • You can use your browser's search command (try Ctrl-F, Command-F or /) to find specific emails by sender or subject.
      • Clicking messages while holding down Shift lets you select a range.
    5. Click Recover.
    6. Now click OK.
    7. Close the recovery window.

    The Outlook Web App and Outlook Mail on the Web will restore emails to the account's inbox folder (not Deleted Items, as Outlook for Windows does).

    Undelete Email Marked for Deletion in an IMAP Account

    Emails in IMAP accounts are deleted in two steps: first, they are marked for deletion and usually hidden from the user; second, they are deleted on the server when the folder is "purged". When that purging happens is highly dependent on the account's (and also your Outlook) configuration.

    Before purging, you can restore emails marked for deletion easily in Outlook. Even if your IMAP account is configured to move deleted emails to a trash (Deleted Items) folder, examining the emails marked for deletion can be worth a try.

    To undelete emails in an IMAP account that have been marked for deletion using Outlook for Windows:

    1. Make sure the account is an IMAP account; see above for options with Exchange email accounts.
    2. Open the folder that holds the deleted message.
    3. Now make sure Outlook shows messages marked for deletion in the current folder:
      1. Open the View tab on the ribbon.
      2. Click Change View in the Current View section.
      3. Select IMAP Messages from the menu that has appeared.
    4. Locate the message you want to undelete.
      • You can use the Search Current Mailbox field to search for it, of course.
      • The message marked for deletion will appear in grey and stricken out.
    5. Click on the message you want to undelete with the right mouse button.
    6. Select Undelete from the context menu that has appeared.

    To undelete an email marked for deletion (but not moved and purged from its folder) in an IMAP email account using Outlook for Mac:

    1. Make sure messages marked for deletion are visible in Outlook for Mac. (See below.)
    2. Open the folder that holds the message you want to undelete.
    3. Click on the message you wish to recover with the right mouse button.
      • Messages marked for deletion will appear with a cross mark ().
      • You can use the Search This Folder field in the Outlook title bar, of course, to look for the desired email.
    4. Select Undelete from the context menu that has appeared.

    To configure Outlook for Mac to show messages marked for deletion in IMAP email accounts:

    1. Select Outlook | Preferences… from the menu in Outlook for Mac.
    2. Go to the Reading tab.
    3. Make sure Hide IMAP messages marked for deletion is not checked under IMAP.
    4. Close the Reading configuration window.

    Restore Emails from a Backup Location

    Even when the methods above fail to produce the email you miss, you are not necessarily without options or hope. Many an email account does keep backup copies for a time; you may be able to restore messages from there either yourself or by contacting support. Your computer may be set up to make automatic backup copies of messages downloaded or cached, possibly even without your being aware. The message may have been forwarded from one of your addresses to another, with a copy still kept at the forwarding account.

    To restore emails from email service backups (other than Outlook Mail on the Web and Outlook 365, for which see above), examine these options:

    To restore messages saved using backup software and services:

    If your Outlook data is not backed up and you lost your PST file, you may be able to recover that using free data recovery software.

    Restoring delted Outlook email from a backup can be very arduous a task. Do explore other options first.

    Before returning to any previous stage of your email archive, do make sure you save your Outlook's current state and messages. Otherwise, you could lose messages received in the time between—and end up having to restore these.

    Restore Emails Seemingly Lost Forever in Outlook: a Last Straw

    If you miss but one message or a few, do consider asking the sender, if you remember them, to send you another copy. Chances are, they do have that very email kept safely—and within easy reach—in their "Sent" folder.

    (Restoring deleted email tested with Outlook 2016 for Windows and Outlook 2016 for Mac)