Automatically Cleanup Outlook's Deleted Item and Junk Email Folders

Last reviewed on September 20, 2014   —  43 comments

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.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlookforums.

43 responses to “Automatically Cleanup Outlook's Deleted Item and Junk Email Folders”

  1. Kris

    I have outlook 2010. I want to empty the deleted emails folder when I want to empty it. It used to be easy to do.

  2. Barry Ramer

    How do you get Outlook to stop asking if I want to delete the deleted items on exit?

  3. Kristine Johnston

    I've reached the maximum in my Outlook 2007. I've neglected emptying my Deleted Items file and have been throwing things out (& and into it). No matter how I try, I can't empty the Deleted Items file, nor can I delete anything else, not even with Shift + Delete. Now what?????

  4. Sandy Wilder

    I'd really appreciate help in permanently deleting the over 500 items in a "deleted items" folder in my Personal Folder on Outlook 2007. I've tried Shift + Delete on individual files numerous times and always gotten the error message "The messaging interface has returned an unknown error. If the problem persists, restart Outlook." But the problem is still there every time I restart Outlook. These are huge messages from back in 2004; I don't need them any more and I'm sure they're clogging up my Outlook badly.

  5. Sandy Wilder

    Yes, that's the only feature that seems not to work. I'll try running the scan as you suggested and will let you know. Thank you.

  6. Mark Schultz

    I have Outlook 2010. I keep having the same outdated calendar items reappear in my Deleted Items folder. I empty the folder multiple times a day, and the outdated calendar appointments keep reappearing. Any suggestions? I'm using Google Sync to sync my tablet to Outlook. The dates that are appearing are from years ago before I had any of the hardware. They are dated 2004 and 2005.

  7. Christy (@christy_herself)

    Any way to have Outlook prompt you when an appointment gets deleting by choosing to say "okay" or something of that nature? I have a feeling some of my technologically challenged co-workers are deleting things without realizing it.

  8. JimG.

    Hello; Wondering if the explanation you give in the "Configuring Mailbox Manager" section is for Exchange 2007. I ask, because I have Exchange Management Console, and do not see an Exchange System Manager’s Recipient Policies container.

    Basically, with Exchange 2007, I have gone to the Org Config > Mailbox > Managed Default Folders (tab) and chose Deleted Items and Junk to retention periods of 14 and 5 days respectively. I set them to Retention Starts : When delivered, end date for calendar and recurring tasks. I then went to Managed Mailbox Policies and created a Delete Items policy, and added Deleted Items and Junk folders to be associated. I then went in to the shell and applied the policy to each mailbox.

    This has been configured about a week, and nothing is getting "automatically" deleted. Any ideas?

  9. Barry

    good evening,
    I have for unknown reasons been receiving 20 or 30 junk emails to my junk folder. Whilst this is good I cannot figure out how to block more than one at a time and to do 20 is time consuming to state the obvious.
    Can you advise please how I add all to block senders list at the same time.

  10. hilton8r

    I have 4 gmail accounts set up with outlook. Only emails from my safe sender list are sent to my inbox. I've set up rules to categorize, and move email into the default inbox. I would also like to do this for the junk/spam folders. I don't mind reviewing junk/spam etc... but would like to only have to monitor one folder. I know that I can run a rule against the junk folder, but would have to do it manually for each email account.

    Any ideas? I don't know much about vba, but did try to do it that way unsuccessfully.



  11. Don

    Hi Diane,

    We are using Outlook 2010 without an exchange server. I have a user that while in the inbox clicked on Folder/Cleanup Folder and everything in their inbox was deleted. I have tried many different things to recover their inbox and havent had any luck.

    In "googling" for a solution it seems as though we need to have an exchange server to recover the deleted messages. Is this so? How can I recover these messages that were deleted through Clean Up?

    Thank you,

  12. Kenneth Held

    Outlook 2013 Junk Email Filter

    Hi Diane.

    The "Delete All" feature where users also have the option to delete all suspected junk messages instead of having them moved to the Junk Email folder does not work with junk mail still being delivered to the Junk Email Folder instead of being permanently deleted.

    Why is this?


  13. Kenneth Held


    I'm using a Hotmail account and not an Exchange account with a standard associated Hotmail Junk Mail folder.

    In any event, if there's an option in Outlook 2013 to permanently delete your emails instead of moving them to the Junk Mail folder, Outlook should be able to perform this function.

    Note that my Junk Mail contains no unsubscribe links so I there's absolutely no way for me to stop them from coming in unless I close my Hotmail account which is a real pain.


  14. EZ

    Hi, I like to see a deleted message crossed but still in the mailbox until I purge myself.
    I know how to choose this option from account sittings, but it is not working. messages still go to deleted folder. I use outlook 2010.
    if the above is not easy to answer, my ultimate concern is that, when I delete a message, the cursor automatically goes to the following message and a few seconds later mark it as "read" which is really annoying. Again, I know how to extend the number of seconds, but that is not the goal.

  15. florencia

    I have a folder that whenever I send an e-mail to it, the email automatically transfers to junk e-mail. I checked that the folder doesn´t have any autoarchive functions running. Why is this happening?

  16. Aparna

    is there anyway to create a rule in Outlook 2010 to delete a mail only after it is read or marked as read ?

  17. Andrew

    In outlook 2013, why do my junk items disappear after I've read them but without me deleting them?

  18. Ethel

    Is the "Clean Up Folder" option only available on the primary Exchange mailbox? It's disabled when I select folders in my personal archive mailbox.

  19. Daniel

    HI Diane,
    Do you know an effiecient method to delete all items from a certain outlook folder ? Thank you.

  20. Bob Levin

    Diane, something is wrong, I never sent that question to you and wasn't even online then. As a former FBI Whistleblower my communications have regularly been tampered with and this seems to be the case. Maybe I should change my passwords this morning or did you reply to me by accident?????
    Best wishes;
    Bob Levin

  21. Bob Levin

    Diane, this time I am confirming that it is me writing you with a question. This is not about Outlook and I'm not sure you can help, but Word 2007 has started doing something odd. Could you tell me what has suddenly happened to make my Word 2007 start populating temp files in my document folder; i.e., example "FAP1CB8.tmp".

    How can I stop this annoying problem?

  22. Bob Levin

    Thank you for the Word link. Yes, yesterday morning I recieved an email response from you and can return it via your email or screen shot with a full Internet header if that helps. You know a thousand times more about this then me. But like I said, the government could be screwing with me.

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