Change the Mail Swipe Left Gesture in OS X to Archive or Delete

Dec 2, 2015 - 11 Comments

Mail app icon The Mac Mail app has added inbox swiping gestures to OS X that allow you to quickly delete or archive an email message with a simple left swipe. While this helps to sort through tons of emails rather quickly, it can also lead to some unintentional removal of emails that you may want to keep, as it’s pretty easy to accidentally swipe over an email message when navigating in the Mail app of OS X.

Fortunately, it’s easy to change the swipe left gesture in Mail app to either Trash or Archive emails.

How to Change the Swipe Left Gesture in Mail for Mac OS X to Archive or Trash

This pertains to Mail app in OS X 10.11 and later versions only:

  1. Open the Mail app and pull down the Mail menu, going to “Preferences”
  2. Go to the “Viewing” tab
  3. Look for “Swipe Left To:” and change “Trash” to “Archive” (or vice versa, depending on your desired action)
  4. Close out of Mail Preferences and return to the inbox, swipe left over an email message to see the newly changed swipe left action

Change the Mac Mail swipe left gesture

Now the swipe left function will either Archive or Trash a message, depending on what you picked. In the screenshot example, the swipe left gesture now attempts to archive a message rather than delete it:

Swipe Left to Archive or Trash in Mac OS X Mail app gesture

If you find yourself accidentally deleting email messages with the Swipe Left gesture in Mail for Mac, consider changing the setting to “Archive” rather than the default “Trash”.

A good number of Mail users have found the swipe left feature to be challenging in OS X, leading to unintended results. But for now the only two options available for the swipe gesture are Trash and Archive. Perhaps a future release of OS X Mail will allow users to turn off the left swipe actions complete, thereby preventing any accidental mail sorting or deletion.

This feature is borrowed from Mail in iOS which allows left swipes to delete and archive as well, but for many users (myself included) the gesture tends to work better on a touchscreen than it does with a trackpad or Magic Mouse, since it’s easier to accidentally activate on the Mac.

While these are the only options available in Mail app natively, the BetterTouchTool app can modify things further, even setting the swipe left feature to do nothing, thereby disabling the feature. Whether or not you want to use a third party utility to achieve that effect is really up to you, but BetterTouchTool has some other handy uses too, like changing the green maximize button behavior.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

11 Comments

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  1. MacTech says:

    I don’t want to simply change it’s function, I wan’t to disable it altogether! I hate it!

    • Paul says:

      I’ve heard this many times before, but unfortunately without using something like BetterTouchTool to create an empty gesture as the replacement, it’s not possible to disable for the time being.

  2. Shirley Allan says:

    To disable it altogether, Open Mail Preferences and change Viewing to “Use Classic Layout. I’ve tried and tried to use the Swipe there and it just doesn’t work. Better than inadvertently trashing an important email!

  3. DeloresMoon says:

    My son passed away recently from Cancer. I am Personal Rep of his Estate and have his iPhone & personal belongings. I do not have the code to get into his phone. Is it possible the code could be reset? If not, to you have any suggestions? I would like to use his iPhone.

    Thank you for any suggestions you might have.

    DeloresMoon

    • whitney says:

      I’m very sorry to hear about your son.

      Unfortunately, if there is an iCloud lock set on the iPhone, it can not be bypassed without assistance with Apple. If there is a simple passcode, it can be reset through iTunes by erasing the iPhone.

    • MacTech says:

      If it’s iCloud locked, you can take it to Apple or an Apple Service Provider and they can work with Apple to get it unlocked. It’s about a 2 week process. As far as a simple passcode, you can connect it to the original computer it was connected to and to a restore. However, this will erase everything that is on it. You can then restore the personal data from an iTunes or iCloud backup, if there is one available.

  4. Gaey says:

    Anyone can suggest on swipping left with shorter distances?
    I am just tired of swipping from right to “far left” to trash an email. It seems like there are no adjust to make shorter distances of swipping.

    Anyone have any ideas on hiw to shorten the distance required to swipe from right to left?

  5. johnsan says:

    I must be missing something but there is no option for swiping in my mail prefs. I have a MBA and magic mouse and swipes on neither does anything but move the cursor,

  6. Jonathan Levi says:

    THANK YOU! Jeez, I wasted an hour trying to figure out how to disable the “delete” function and make GMAIL play smoothly with Apple Mail… and this was all it took!

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