Automatically Cleanup Outlook's Deleted Item and Junk Email Folders

Last reviewed on August 15, 2013

Do you want to empty your Deleted Items and Junk Email folders automatically? You can use the ‘empty deleted items on exit’ option built into Outlook to empty the Deleted Items folder, but it can slow down the exiting process. It also only works on the Deleted Items folder, not Junk E-mail.

Plus, it’s an all or nothing process – if it’s enabled, it will empty the folder every time you close Outlook. You can’t configure it to only delete items that are older or over a certain size. And if you accidentally delete something you need to keep and close Outlook before retrieving it from the Deleted Items folder, it’s history. It can only be recovered if it was deleted from an Exchange server mailbox and deleted items recovery is enabled.

Fortunately, there are other options. The first, which (almost) any Outlook user can use, is AutoArchive. Set it to run every few days (or even daily) and configure the Deleted Items and Junk Email folder to have items older than 1 day old (or more) deleted.

AutoArchive is disabled for Exchange server mailboxes in Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2007 when archive mailboxes are configured on the Exchange Server.

The second option is used with Exchange server accounts only and is controlled by the Exchange administrator, not the user. The administrator can configure Mailbox Manager to delete items from any folder by age, size, or both, and set exceptions for specific message classes.

Use AutoArchive to delete older Deleted Items and Junk E-mail

Configure global AutoArchive SettingsOpen the AutoArchive dialog by going to Tools, Options, Other, AutoArchive. Enable Run AutoArchive every 14 days. The default is 14 days, but you’ll probably want to lower it to 5 or less days.

You can leave the other settings the default, but remember, if you click the ‘Apply these settings to all folders‘ button, it will apply the settings to all folders, including calendar or any folder you may store old important messages in.

You’ll need to disable AutoArchiving or change the archive period on these folders individually, or raise the archive period (60 months is the maximum) and apply it to all folders, then change the setting on folders you want to archive more often.

Configure per-folder archive settingsNext, right click on the Deleted Items folder and choose Properties, then AutoArchive tab. Choose the option to ‘Archive this folder using these settings‘ and pick a number. My preference is to set AutoArchive to run every 2 to 3 days and delete items older than 2 or 3 days. This provides some insurance, should I need to recover something from either folder.

Repeat these steps on the Junk E-Mail folder.

For Deleted Items and Junk E-mail folders, you’ll want to select the option to permanently delete the items.

If you applied the AutoArchive settings to all folders, you may want to change the setting for the calendar or other folders.

Configure Outlook to Empty Deleted Items on Exit

Because this setting keeps Outlook open until the deleted folder is empty, you want to close Outlook yourself before shutting down your computer. Otherwise, Windows may force Outlook closed, which will cause Outlook to check the data file for inconsistencies the next time you use Outlook.

To avoid problems after deleting a large number of items, empty the Deleted Items folder manually before closing (right click on the folder, choose Empty Deleted items).

When you Empty deleted items on exit, you will not be able to recover accidentally deleted items once you close Outlook. For this reason, I prefer using the AutoArchive method.

In Outlook 2007 and older, go to Tools, Options, Other tab to enable this option.

In Outlook 2010, go to File, Options, Advanced, near the top of the dialog is the option to empty deleted items on exit.

Empty deleted items folder

Empty Outlook’s Deleted Items Folder Automatically Video Tutorial

The video tutorial was created in Outlook 2010 and shows you how to configure AutoArchive to clean out the Deleted Items folder on a regular basis. The process is the same in older versions, with the exception that AutoArchive is on the Tools, Options dialog, Other tab.

Configuring Mailbox Manager

If you use an Exchange mailbox, the administrator can configure the server to automatically delete older items.

This is a good way to insure the Deleted Items and Junk Email folders are emptied routinely or that messages with large attachments are removed from the mailbox once they age. As with AutoArchive, each folder can have different settings, for example, Deleted items are deleted if older than 2 days, but Junk email stays for 5.

Typically, Mailbox manager is run once a week, often on Saturday or Sunday night. Because different mailbox manager policies can be applied to different groups of users, it’s a good way to keep mailboxes small when a user is off work an extended period of time, without disabling or deleting their mailbox.

From the the Exchange System Manager’s Recipient Policies container, the administrator would add a mailbox manager policy to an existing address policy or create a new recipient policy, keeping in mind that only one policy is applied to each mailbox.

To create a new policy, right click on Recipient Policies and choose New, Recipient policy. To add a Mailbox manager policy to an existing Email address policy, right click on the policy and choose ‘Change property pages’. Add a checkmark beside Mailbox Manager Settings and click OK. Create a filter on the General tab and select the folders and edit the size and age conditions as needed on the Mailbox manager tab.

Admins can apply the policy to any folders in the mailbox, provided they know the folder name and path. To do so, click the Add button and enter the folder and path in the form of ‘Inbox\subfolder’ and set the size and age limit.

Enable mailbox management and configure the times it runs from the server’s property sheet by browsing to the server under the Administrative groups container.

Written by

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

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