How to Recover Mail Attachment Storage Space in iOS

May 11, 2014 - 4 Comments

Mail and Attachment storage in iOS The Mail app on our iPhones and iPads downloads and stores emails and attachments into iOS, which makes for easy searching and retrieval of past emails. For most users this is no big deal and the convenience overrides any potential issues, but some users who send and receive a lot of attachments or tons of email may find during general maintenance that their Mail storage space is taking up huge amounts of space on an iOS device. This is easily identified by going to the Settings app, to “General”, then to “Usage”, where you can select “Mail” and read the MB (or GB) alongside “Mail and Attachments” section. But that’s where the Settings panels functionality ends… despite showing the size of the Mail and Attachments stored on the iOS device, the settings panel is otherwise left without actions to delete or remove the cache.

For now, there are two possible solutions to wrangle and recover the Mail Attachment storage.

Both of which are imperfect; either manually go through and delete emails that are heavy on attachments, which is obviously an enormous pain in the rear, or, the preferred trick that we’ll cover here, which is to remove and then re-add the entire email account, thereby cutting out all the past mail attachment files and caches that have become embedded into iOS.

This is very much a workaround until a better method is built into iOS directly. What you’re going to be doing is deleting the email account from the iOS device, rebooting, then re-adding the same email account back to iOS.

Regain Mail and Attachments Storage Space in iOS

You’ll probably want to back up your device beforehand just to be sure you can quickly recover in case you mess something up or accidentally delete something important.

When you’re ready to go, just do the following:

  1. Open the “Settings” app and go to “Mail, Contacts, Calendars”
  2. Tap on the email account in question to delete and clear attachment storage for
  3. Scroll down and tap on “Delete Account” to remove the email address and all of its stored files from the iPhone / iPad
  4. Remove an email account and it's Mail attachment files

  5. Exit out of Settings and reboot the iOS device (this is to insure iOS dumps all caches associated with Mail app, you can also just wait but we’re impatient)
  6. When the iPhone / iPad has booted back up, go back to the Settings app and to “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” again, this time choosing “Add Account”
  7. Input the email account details to add back to the iOS Mail app to get the account setup on the device again
  8. Add email account in iOS

  9. Launch Mail app as usual

Note that you’ll have far fewer cached emails stored now on the device (yes, that’s the whole point), so if you scroll back in time too far more will download, slowly adding to the “Mail and Attachment” storage usage again. You can confirm that you’ve made much more space available by going back to Settings > General > Usage > Mail and checking yourself.

Clear Mail and Attachments storage space in iOS

If you find this is consistently a problem, it may be due to a large amount of images being exchanged through email. You can help to reduce the image caching by preventing the images from loading automatically within your emails, which also cuts down on bandwidth use, but removes thumbnails and pictures from the Mail app until you have manually tapped on an image and chosen to load it.

For those running low on iOS storage space and find that Mail attachments are consuming a huge amount, this is a very useful strategy. Interestingly, the “Cleaning” process which goes through and dumps caches seemingly never applies to the Mail app, only third party apps. Also, while you can clear out app caches using PhoneClean for many apps, that utility won’t do anything to reduce the size of Mail app attachment storage, thus the manual intervention. Hopefully the next major release of iOS allows users more control over email storage and attachment caches on their devices, like a central location to delete it all without having to remove the entire email account itself. That feature exists for the Mac Mail client, and it’s certainly needed on the iOS side too.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks

4 Comments

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  1. Di says:

    Please check if you POP vs IMAP. The article should mention checking first!

    • Vankmen Petolius says:

      Whether the email account is POP or IMAP doesn’t matter in this case since you’re deleting the account and re-adding it, not the emails themselves. Obviously if you’re deleting emails that would be important, but the entire account is aimed at addressing the offline files and cache that iOS so poorly manages for every app, Mail included.

      Basically the iOS Mail app aggressively caches files and attachments for searching with Spotlight (the thing where you pull down on an icon and get a search bar, you know, the search feature that nobody uses because they buried it in an obscure gesture). Once you’ve used the Mail app on a regular basis for a while you’ll have at least a few hundred MB of storage cluttered up in there from ancient emails you probably didn’t think you needed. I’ve seen users with 2-3GB of Mail storage on their iPhone before! Keep in mind these things only ship with about 10-11GB of space available from the get-go on a “16GB” device, between Mail and Photos it’s no wonder everyone is always running out of space!

  2. Michael says:

    How do you get the carrier RF signal strength to show in a numeric format?

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