Rules and Tools to Filter Junk Mail

Last reviewed on November 7, 2014   —  15 comments

Beginning with Outlook 98, you can use built-in junk mail processing, using either the Organize pane or Rules Wizard. However, results can be less than satisfactory, often putting wanted senders into the Junk Mail folder and not ignoring items sent with no From address (usually spam).

I think Sue's low-maintenance method here may work better for many people, requiring a rules update only when you join a new mailing list.

Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 include a Junk Email filter. While this filter cannot be updated by the end user, Microsoft releases frequent updates for it. For most users, setting the Junk email filter set to high is good enough, especially if their mail is also scanned by a server side anti-spam filter. If it does not meet your needs, check out the Anti-spam Tools below.

Note: The Junk Email filter in Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 runs before Rules Wizard in current versions (with latest service packs installed).

Adding Senders addresses or domains to the blocked lists is an ineffective way of dealing with spam. Because few spammers reuse addresses and the lists hold a limited number of addresses, it fills the lists with addresses that will never be used. for this reason, only use this method to add addresses which send you mail often when you are unable to unsubscribe from the mailing list.

The following articles explain how the Safe and Blocked senders lists work.
Outlook 2003’s Safe and Blocked Senders Lists
Using Outlook’s Blocked and Safe Senders lists

Built-in rules method | Sue’s low maintenance method | Anti-spam Tools | Notes | More Information

Built-in rules method

To use the built-in junk and adult filters, see:

The built-in rules require constant maintenance to add legitimate senders to the exclusion list or spammers to the junk senders list.

Editing Outlook’s Filters.txt file does not change the way the built-in junk mail filter works. This file is for information only. It is not actively used by Outlook.

Even though the Organize pane suggests that there are updates for the junk filters, no such updates are available.

Also see:

Sue’s low maintenance method

The last four rules in my Rules Wizard list work together to make sure that undesired messages not sent directly to me are diverted to a Junkmail folder. These rules are mostly designed to handle mailing lists that I’ve subscribed to. Some lists work better with a "from people or distribution list" rule, while others are best handled with a "sent to people or distribution list" rule. When I receive the first message from any new mailing list that I’ve subscribed to, I examine the header to figure out whether the From or To address is the one that distinguishes the distribution list; it’s usually easy to tell. Then, I right-click and choose Add to Contacts to add the address to my Contacts folder. (You could also add to the Personal Address Book if you have it in your profile.) This step is crucial to gathering all the addresses for distribution lists into my first two anti-junkmail rules.

I have some separate rules to move messages from a few specific distribution lists into their own folders. Items sent to or from other lists are caught by these two rules and retained in the Inbox:

  • Rule#1 – Pre-Junk FROM:
    Apply this rule after the message arrives
    from people or distribution list (select distribution list addresses from the address book)
    move it to the Inbox folder
    and stop processing more rules
  • Rule #2 – Pre-Junk TO:
    Apply this rule after the message arrives
    to people or distribution list (select distribution list addresses from the address book)
    move it to the Inbox folder
    and stop processing more rules

Whenever you join a new list, add its To or From address, as appropriate, to one of the above two rules.

The next rule handles mail sent to any of my own personal e-mail addresses (e.g. I have also put these addresses in Contacts. I find that this rule works more reliably than rules created with the sent directly to me or where my name is in conditions.

  • Rule #3 – Pre-Junk TO ME:
    Apply this rule after the message arrives
    to people or distribution list (select my own addresses from the PAB or Contacts)
    move it to the Inbox folder
    and stop processing more rules

You may actually need quite a few names in Rule #3. Outlook 97 was very consistent about using the underlying e-mail address, but later versions seem to be sensitive to the display name. Also, in Outlook 2000, you won’t need the "move" action, only the "stop processing" action.

Alternatively in Outlook 2002, you can try replacing the "to" condition with the new "sender is in address book" condition. This means Outlook will look up the address in the address book you specify. Depending on the number of entries in that address book, this condition might run into problems if you receive a lot of mail.

The final rule catches everything else and slaps it into the Junkmail folder, for later review and deletion. Note that it does not include any conditions, only an action and an exception:

  • Rule #4 – Move to Junkmail folder :
    move it to the Junkmail folder
    except if my name is in the To or Cc box

Note that you won’t see a "stop processing more rules" option in Outlook 97, but the "move" action stops processing of the message if you are working in a standalone situation.. However, If you connect to Microsoft Exchange Server with Outlook 97, you need to add a "delete" rule to stop processing on messages that meet the specified condition; otherwise, they drop through and are processed by all the rules.

Client anti-spam tools are listed below. For server-based tools, see Content Control Tools:



It is an easy-to-use Microsoft Outlook add-on designed to provide an advanced intelligent protection against junk-mails, viruses, unsolicited emails. The program uses Bayesian filtering technology that identifies about 99% of incoming junk messages. QMailFilter seamlessly integrates into the MS Outlook, scanning all incoming emails. Emails identified as junk are moved to the Junk Email folder.

Disruptor OL

Multi-modal anti-spam tool for Outlook 2000. Uses word and regular expression filters, blacklists, whitelists, real-time blackhole lists, Bayesian filters, character set filtering. Works with all kinds of Outlook accounts. Can convert RTF and HTML messages to plain text, remove external image links, and provide access to files that Outlook security blocks.

Junk E-mail Reporting Tool

The Junk E-mail Reporting Tool allows you to submit junk e-mail to Microsoft for analysis. When you choose to submit junk e-mail, it will be deleted from your Inbox and sent to FrontBridge, a Microsoft company, for analysis to help improve the effectiveness of FrontBridge's junk e-mail filtering technologies. For Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007. Version 1.

Spam Bully

Anti-spam tool using Bayesian filters, whitelist, blacklist, and challenge queries. Automatically bounces known spam messages back to the sender as if your address didn't exist. Also blocks potentially dangerous attachments.

Spam Terrier

Agnitum's Spam Terrier features built-in heuristics-based anti-spam tools and collars junk email by training itself. As a user selects what he or she considers spam, Spam Terrier "learns" to identify behavior patterns of spam, instead of relying on users to block specific keywords and phrases. The more you train Spam Terrier, the better its nose gets for inappropriate email. Spam Terrier supports multiple email accounts in both Outlook and is available in English, German, Spanish, French and Russian.

SpamBayes Outlook Addin

SpamBayes attempts to classify incoming email messages as 'spam', 'ham' (good, non-spam email) or 'unsure'. First SpamBayes must be trained by each user to identify spam and ham. Essentially, you show SpamBayes a pile of email that you like (ham) and a pile you don't like (spam). SpamBayes will then analyze the piles for clues as to what makes the spam and ham different. For example; different words, differences in the mailer headers and content style. The system then uses these clues to examine new messages. Open source anti-spam add-in.


Anti-spam tool based on peer reporting, blacklist, and whitelist techniques. Can handle any type of Outlook account -- POP, IMAP, Exchange, Hotmail. Works with Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail (POP3) and Thunderbird


If you are bothered mainly by messages sent to you in foreign languages, see Foreign spam removal -for suggested characters to use in a Rules Wizard rule.

Another approach is to use Remote Mail in Outlook 97 or Outlook 98/2000 Corporate/Workgroup Mode or modify the send/receive settings in Outlook 2002 to download headers only, then delete any of those "MAKE MONEY FAST" messages and download only those from known senders.

Or, get a third-party program to go through your mail before you let Outlook touch it. Spam-prevention services and tools that aren’t specifically related to Outlook. Most provide either a POP proxy to run on your machine or a separate mailbox to cleanse your mail:

More Information

About Diane Poremsky

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 Outlook forums by

15 responses to “Rules and Tools to Filter Junk Mail”

  1. peter

    My Norton 360 Premium is not compatable with Windows Live.I recently started to get Spam/Junk mail which repeats itself on a daily basis.
    Any solution availlable

  2. Uditha Desilva

    Hello Mr. Scott Briggs of Microsoft,

    Thanks a lot for your response. Hope to go ahead with your service.

    Good Day Sir !!!


    How can I make sure that when I click with Norton Anti-Spam that a particular email is "Not Spam" will go the approved senders list for Outlook 2010. Norton is supposed to approve the sender automatically when I click that an email is "not spam."

    1. Diane Poremsky

      Honestly, i would disable the Norton addin. If you are clicking a button in Norton, doesn't it go on their safe list, not outlooks? (I don't use norton and only know what others have told me.)

  4. Dale

    I am particularly frustrated with the rule that says "move... then stop processing further rules. That means it only processes ONE rule. I have set up and reset up rules 3-6 times, and I continue to get rules failing, and that is all that I find. I do ger an error message, but it makes no sense either.
    What is the falue of "stop processing rules"?

    1. Diane Poremsky

      Stop processing should only stop the rest of the rules from acting *on the current message*. Something else is causing the rules to fail. What is the error message?

      For example, if you have a rule to move a message from Bob and a second rule to move message with "Hi there" in the subject and Bob sent you a message with Hi there in the subject, both rules would apply to the message. Stop processing tells outlook to move on to the next message once a message is affected by a rule - so if the first rule has stop processing, it moves the message from bob and stops checking for more rules that match.

  5. jhon

    i don't want any filter or any control such as spam or junk

    1. Diane Poremsky

      See How to disable the junk mail filter to disable it completely.

  6. nigel eastwood

    how do I move items in my blocked senders list to junk without it arriving in my inbox.

    1. Diane Poremsky

      What type of email account? Are you downloading full items? Items on the blocked list should be moved to the Junk folder as they arrive but when you download only headers (most common with IMAP accounts), the junk filter doesn't run until the full message is downloaded.

  7. Hannah Czerny

    Very useful! Thanks!

  8. Dave

    Good day. whenever I send an email, it reflects in the junkmail folder. How can I overcome this? I use Outlook 2010.

    1. Diane Poremsky

      The sent message ends up in Junk instead of the Sent items folder?
      What type of email account do you use?

      If IMAP, check the Sent mail settings in File, Account Settings, double click on the account, then more settings, sent items tab. Is the sent folder selected?

  9. John Bean

    Outlook 2010 reminds me daily of the mistake I made buying a PC Laptop Vs a Apple Laptop. Apple's IOS actually "learns" and in a week or so will accurately identify and non junk email. (Today i had 42 junk, 32 not being junk, and all 32 having been identified as not being junk repeatedly in the past 90 days)

    1. Diane Poremsky

      What type of email account do you use? What is Outlook's junk mail option level set to? Try High (default is low).

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