Last reviewed on May 20, 2015   —  13 Comments

Exchange server users may be able to recover deleted items using Deleted Items recovery, if the administrator has it enabled. If it's not enabled, they cannot recover items deleted from Exchange mailboxes. See Recovering Deleted Items in Outlook for details.

The following method is a last ditch effort to recover Outlook items permanently deleted from a pst file. It works only on PSTs but there is no guarantee it will work.

The best way to avoid accidentally deleting items is to turn off the option to empty the deleted items folder on exit and set up AutoArchive to delete older items from the deleted folder every few days.

Things to remember:

  1. This works under very limited circumstances
  2. If the PST has begun compacting, it will likely fail
  3. You're better off NOT emptying the deleted folder until you are sure you won't need the messages
  4. Don't store messages in the folder unless you are sure the messages are trash

If, for some reason, you move items to the deleted folder and change your mind after emptying the Deleted Items folder, you may be able to recover the messages under very specific conditions.

When the method below fails, you may be able to recover the deleted message using a commercial product, such as Stellar Phoenix Deleted Email Recovery, Advanced Outlook Repair or Kernel Outlook PST

How Outlook's Deleted Items folder works

A PST is a database. Items are records within the database and there is an index that points to each item. When you empty the Deleted Items folder, Outlook doesn't actually delete the items, it just deletes the items' listings from the index. The item is still in the PST, but unrecoverable because Outlook has no idea where it is without the pointer in the index. The space the item takes up is called "whitespace".

When you Compact a PST, the item is finally removed permanently and the whitespace is recovered, often shrinking the PST by many megabytes. Once the PST has 20% "whitespace", Outlook begins compacting the PST. If the Deleted Items folder contained a lot of messages, Outlook may begin compacting the PST immediately and the items will be deleted forever within a few minutes.

To recover the items which are no longer in the index you need to force Outlook to rebuild the index by causing corruption. You can cause corruption by using a Hex editor to delete some characters from the beginning of the PST file. If you delete the wrong ones you'll cause corruption but not in the index and Outlook won't rebuild the index.

Recover the Deleted Items

If you don't know what a Hex editor is, you probably shouldn't be hex editing anything, but if you want to try, Google for "hex editor" - UltraEdit is probably the best and easiest one to use. Before doing anything to the PST with a Hex Editor, make a copy of the PST, or you may end up losing all of your e-mail.

  1. Open the PST in the Hex editor.
  2. Delete positions 7 through 13 with the spacebar. Since you're using hexadecimal numbering, this actually clears 13 characters in the following positions:
    00007, 00008, 00009, 0000a, 0000b, 0000c, 0000d
    0000e, 0000f, 00010, 00011, 00012, 00013
    As you clear the characters, the editor displays the code “20” in their position.
  3. hex edit the pst file

  4. Save the PST, it is now corrupted.
  5. Run the Inbox Repair Tool, SCANPST.exe, to recover the file. Use Windows Search utility to find it. For additional information on the Inbox Repair Tool, see How to use Scanpst.exe to repair Outlook data files or KB 287497
  6. The Inbox Repair Tool creates a backup and repairs the damage and recreates the PST.

Open the new PST in Outlook. The Deleted Items folder should now contain the deleted messages, unless Outlook has already deleted them for good by compacting the PST.


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Comments

  1. Roy says

    hello Diane, i don't know if am posting in the right place. I have hit a snag, my bosses' outlook is setup to use IMAP. The issue is Sent Items on the laptop where not synchronizing (Outlook 2013) with the Sent on the server, so i went to the 'root path' under account advane setting to try to activate the connection to the server. I typed Inbox, there after the server Sent items started syncing but i couldn't see my previous sent items. It simply has disappeared. I only see sync issues that indicate that the emails where being stored on an offline folder. I am stuck and my boss is already threatening me. I would kindly request your assistance on how to access these sent items. Hope to hear from you soon.

    • Diane PoremskyDiane Poremsky says

      What folder were the Sent items that didn't sync in? Did they sync up to a different folder? If you remove Inbox as the root path, do they come back? (I don't think they will, sorry, but it's worth a shot.)

  2. Debora says

    Hi Diane, i think i have a same problem with roy, my boss set his account in IMAP, and i delete the account on outlook, and all the file was gone, i cannot find the all the file on Outlook. could i found it in C: drive?

    • Diane PoremskyDiane Poremsky says

      Are you using Outlook 2013? When you delete an IMAP, Exchange, or Outlook.com account, Outlook oh so helpfully deletes the ost file for you since it can only be used by the account that created it. Generally its not a problem but it is if you use an IMAP account and the 'this computer only' folders and didn't export the contents of those folders.

    • Diane PoremskyDiane Poremsky says

      IMAP data files in Outlook 2010 and older default to %localappdata%\microsoft\outlook. Calendar and contacts are in a pst file, either in the localappdata location or in My Documents\Outlook Files.

  3. Nelson says

    I Diane

    Your solution of using Hex Editor worked on my ost from my IMAP account on outlook 2013.
    My problem was the web page guy screwing around with ftp folders on the hosting server, and suddenly i was looking at my outlook inbox with about 500 emails on it and they started to dissapear, vanishing right in front of my eyes. i closed outlook immediately and googled for a solution, and found it here. Thanks for that.

    Now i'm able to view the emails but can't move/copy them to another place, i've also tried to export the ost to a pst but nothing... the error is something like "the item was moved or deleted..."

    Do you have any suggestion?

    • Diane PoremskyDiane Poremsky says

      You'll probably need a commercial pst recovery utility then. sorry. You might want to make a copy then try the hex edit trick again and repair.

  4. Nelson says

    I've managed to recover the emails.
    I was trying to copy/move the emails of the "damaged" OST to a PST and the result was error. Later i was already giving up and created a new imap account on outlook and tried once more move the emails and succeeded, i'd to copy the emails one by one, and every time it gave me an error, but the email copied successfully. Move the emails from ost to pst resulted in error and no email copied, from ost to ost resulted in error but email copied correctly.

    Thank you very much for your help!!!

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