How to Delete All Emails from Mail in Mac OS X

Mar 17, 2016 - 17 Comments

Mail app icon If you use the Mail app on a Mac, it’s fairly likely that you regularly delete emails that you determine to be unnecessary, junk, or that simply aren’t needed. Typically this is a selective process where particular email messages are removed as needed, but in some situations you may want to go all out and delete every single email that is in a particular Mail account, or even remove all emails from the entire Mail app on a Mac, without removing the associated email account from Mail app. In other words, while the email messages are removed from Mail, the email account remains in Mail on the Mac so that it can continue to be used.

You should be making regular backups of your Mac with Time Machine, so don’t skip a backup before you do this. If you do not have a backup made, and you delete all email in Mail app, those emails will be gone forever. Thus, this delete all emails approach should be used with discretion, and not applied universally just to declare email bankruptcy or clear up space.

This is not a recommended action. Outside of some specific reasons to delete every email from a Mac, this is simply not necessary for the majority of Mac OS X users, and you could end up removing emails that you wanted to keep.

How to Delete ALL Email in Mail for Mac OS X

This is irreversible, do not delete all emails unless you want them to be permanently removed from the Mac Mail app (and possibly from anywhere, depending on your backup and mail server):

  1. Open the Mail app in Mac OS X if you haven’t done so already
  2. Mail app icon

  3. At the primary inbox screen, select “Inbox” from the sidebar under Mailboxes
  4. Select the Inbox in Mail app to delete all emails

  5. Now pull down the “Edit” menu and choose “Select All”, this will select and highlight every email message contained in the mailboxes of Mail app
  6. Select all emails in the Mail app

  7. Now go back to the “Edit” menu and choose “Delete” – this deletes every single selected email from Mail app in Mac OS X, and since we just chose Select All that means this sends all emails into the Trash of Mail app
  8. Delete all selected emails in Mac Mail app

  9. Once the Inbox has become empty, right-click (or Control+Click) on the “Inbox” in sidebar, and choose “Erase Deleted Items” this completely erases every email from Mail in Mac OS X that has been stored in the Trash, which is every single email in this case
  10. Erase all deleted emails to completely remove all emails from Mail in Mac

  11. The Mail app inbox is now completely blank, with zero emails at all – all of them have been deleted

All emails deleted, a blank email app in Mac OS X

You can repeat the process with the “Sent” folder, the “Draft” folder, and other folders in Mail app if you want to as well if desired.

This is really only necessary for particular situations with particular types of emails and Mail usage; perhaps you used the Mail app for a junkmail account and you don’t want the junk mail taking up space on the Mac hard drive any more, but you still want to email address itself kept around. Or maybe you just want to declare the ultimate email bankruptcy by removing every message from Mail on the Mac. Many people who rely on web mail clients like Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo never delete any email at all, and since it is stored on a remote server they don’t worry about any potential space the thousands of accrued emails can take up. That’s one major perk to using a web based email service, but for those who use the Mac Mail app you may be a bit more discerning.

It’s worth mentioning that if you had the same email account setup on an iOS device, you may want to repeat the same process and delete all email from Mail on iPhone or iPad using a similar process, which, like the Mac approach, completely removes the emails from the iOS device, and is also irreversible (without a backup made, anyway).

And again, this trick does not remove the email account from the Mac, it only removes the email messages themselves. The actual email account will stay on the Mac unless it is removed separately.


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


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  1. Emily says:

    I want to delete emails on my Macbook Pro – as these have eaten all my memory. I can’t say which ones so I want to take these off my Macs memory but keep them in my Gmail so I can still refer to these at any point if required. How does one do this? NOTE: I do NOT want to permanently erase any emails.

  2. Chris Gugg says:

    I tried that and all my mail kept coming back. Then i found under the heading MAILBOXES ,synchronize, iCloud or the name of your email company. I chose my email company after i went to their web based email client and erased everything and then it was all gone.

  3. Frances says:


    I currently have over 24,000 emails in my Mac Mail and a similar number in my folder for Mac Mail work (as I’m self employed) and then well over 48,000 in my Sent Items.

    Is there a way I could store say all these emails, say prior to 2012 separately, so that I don’t have this high number of messages cluttering up my Mac Mail …. I don’t want to erase them all, just move them elsewhere.


  4. ella says:

    nope. i’ve done this dance for an hour now and gmail still keeps over 38 thousand emails in its ‘all mail’ folder. each time i do this dance it asks me do i want to delete 8000something messages i say yes and it just moves back and forth between trash and all mail folders. nothing happens.

  5. Rickie says:

    I tried to delete emails but failed with below message.
    What should I do?

    “41304.emlx” couldn’t be copied to “Messages” because an item with the same name already exists.

  6. Megan says:

    I did every single step and it will delete my emails, but when I click out of it and go back in they all reappear. What should I do?

    • Erik says:

      Your mail server is probably IMAP which means it downloads the emails from the server when they are requested. You would need to adjust your Mail app preferences to change that behavior, but beware because it deletes from the remote server and then you will forever lose the emails (and if you watch cable TV we know what trouble that can get you in!)

  7. Dumbledore says:

    I’m doing the same exact steps over and over again, and when I click back on the ‘Inbox’ Tab, it still loads the same emails. Same with the ‘All Mail’ Tab, I do the same process, but is still the same.

  8. noway says:

    There is a far simpler way than having to do to any menus, simple go to the inbox, hold command A to select all, then hit delete, and ALL emails in that mailbox’s inbox to go the trash. No need to mouse thru drop down menus.

    • Aerodynamic says:

      I prefer keyboard shortcuts as well, but you won’t believe the novices who will complain about it not working since they can’t figure out the proper buttons to press, or they’ll press the power button and say it turned off their Mac. Better to direct the newbies to menus and specifics so they can’t break something in their Mail app.

  9. If you have your email setup as IMAP or Exchange ActiveSync on your iOS devices, you won’t need to repeat these steps. The emails will already be gone. It’s sad how brain dead a lot of people are about email. I have had to work with users who have 100GB+ mailboxes, and they insist that they need it all. It’s delusional.

  10. Mirla says:

    I actually used this feature, before you came with it. I use gmail as my email provider, but mail get the emails too, as my gmail account has been set up in icloud as well. When I erased all messages,1.e. put them in trash/bin, it did the same for my gmail emails. which is not what i wanted/ Luckily I had not cpmpletely erased them amd now I vbring the gmail one, that I still need, slowly back….

    • Keith Pulver says:

      I have had this worry also…about losing the actual Gmail archives when I delete the iPhone emails.

      Any worries or tips?


      • Mark Crane says:

        I just tried this, and my entire Gmail account went into the Gmail trash folder. I think I was able to recover it. It was terrifying like you wouldn’t imagine.

  11. Shirley says:

    Why not just set up the Mail >Preference > Accounts > Mailbox Behaviors to Delete the mail (Drafts, Sent, Junk, Trash) at a specified time? Much easier! If the Inbox has message you don’t want to read, hold the Command key down, Click on each message and delete sending to the trash which is set to delete in your choice of One day, One week, One month or when Quitting Mail. To send consecutive message to Trash, hold down the Shift key.

  12. dear paul
    I was a bit confused at the end: Is this a method of deleting
    a) all emails in a specific Mail Folder/Mailbox
    b) all emails in all the mailboxes?

    I suspect from the detail re the Inbox, that this method works on specific Mailboxes, not all mailboxes at once.
    Am I correct?

    • Paul says:

      This deletes all emails from all mailboxes that have been selected, since we are selecting “Inbox” (which includes all mailboxes that have been setup in this case), thus it deletes all emails from all accounts.

      If you only select a single inbox (for example say, “Outlook”) to start with, it would remove all emails from that single account instead.

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