Understanding the Safe and Blocked Senders lists

Last reviewed on November 23, 2013

How the blocked sender’s filter works seems to a point of confusion for a number of Outlook users. It does not block the messages sent by those addresses from being downloaded; Outlook needs to download the messages in full (not headers only) to run the filters.

Blocked senders are treated as Junk Email and the messages will be handled the same way as mail filtered by the Junk Mail filter. It’s either placed in the Junk Mail folder or deleted, per your Junk mail options.

More Information

Safe Senders listFor this reason, and the reasons listed below, it is highly recommended that you add names to the Safe lists (to avoid false positives) and let the Junk Mail filter take care of the junk. The blocked list should be short.

My own blocked list has 2 addresses on it. One is a person who forwards a lot of stuff and the other is a newsletter I can’t get unsubscribed from. I don’t add people I send mail to, to my Safe Senders list because I reply to a lot of people just once or twice and my list would fill up fast, but it is recommended for most users.

If you choose to trust mail from addresses in your Contacts and you created a contact for yourself, all mail sent to you will be trusted.

How many addresses can the safe and blocked lists hold? Approximately 2000 total. This is because the total size of all lists combined cannot exceed 512K. Once the 512K limit is reached, Outlook alerts you and additional addresses aren’t saved until you remove some from the list.

For example, if you have 1800 addresses on the safe list, you can only block approximately 200 addresses. If the addresses are long, your list will hold fewer addresses; if they’re short, you’ll be able to have more.

Microsoft imposed the limit to improve performance, as the lists are stored as a hidden property in the Inbox and duplicated to the local registry. Each time the users synchronize with the Exchange mailbox store, the lists are downloaded. The limit can be adjusted on Exchange server, by adding a new registry key value to the following registry key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\MSExchangeIS\ ParametersSystem\
DWORD: Type Max Extended Rule Size
Value Data: maximum size (in bytes) that you want to allow

Importing a list of blocked addresses from an older version of Outlook is not recommended, in part because these lists often are larger than 512K and Outlook crashes when trying to import them, but also because spammers change addresses so often that lists are outdated within a few months.

If Outlook’s Junk email filter doesn’t offer enough options, misses too much spam, or you need better Safe and Blocked lists, try one of the many excellent third party anti-spam filters available.

For a list of third party tools, visit Rules and tools to filter junk mail in Microsoft Outlook

Outlook needs to use cached mode with Exchange server mailboxes to filter junk email on the client side. In classic online mode, any junk mail that is filtered is done so by the Exchange server’s filter.

For Exchange server junk mail filtering tools, visit Content Control Tools for Exchange Server

Customize the filter?

Is there a way to add a group of selected junk e-mail from the inbox to the blocked senders list all at one time instead of one junk e-mail at a time?

The short answer is simply No. The long answer is that while it seems like a really stupid move by Microsoft not to include this functionality, or the often requested ability to train the filter, they have an excellent reason for not including these options.

Microsoft believes that users should not have to touch the filters period. Any antispam solution should be automatic and good enough to catch most spam, because as we’ve learned over the years with antivirus software and Windows updates, users aren’t very good at keeping their programs updated. It also takes time to tinker with antispam settings and filters, time better spent doing anything but configuring the filters.

If the filter is designed right, only a few addresses will need to be added to any of the lists – such as addresses belonging to people you don’t want to correspond with or whose messages are mistakenly classified as spam. In fact, adding every address that is used the send spam to the list will result in a long list of names, many of which will never send you another message. In addition, you are limited to approximately 2000 names on all of the lists combined and would need to spend a lot of time culling the list. (See Outlook 2003′s Safe and Blocked Senders Lists for more information on the size of the lists.)

Your goal should be to have a Safe senders list longer than your Blocked senders list. If you need to spend minutes each day (or following each mail pass) adding addresses to your Blocked list, then your Junk Email settings are too low, you don’t have the latest filter update, or you need a better spam filter than the one provided with Outlook. Businesses should filter out the spam on the email server, removing spam long before the messages are downloaded to their users desktop.

How long are my lists? My Safe Senders and Safe Recipients lists contain 24 addresses and domains, while the blocked senders list contains just two addresses.

Delete addresses from the Blocked list

If you receive an error that your list is full or you just want to clean up the list, open the Junk Email Options dialog and delete names from the lists. In Outlook 2010 and 2013, open it from the Home tab, Junk button, Junk Email Options.

Remove names from the blocked list

When you use an Outlook.com account, you need to log into the account online and remove the names from the blocked list (or verify they were removed when you removed them in Outlook.)

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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