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How to delete archived emails in Gmail

How to delete archived emails in Gmail

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Archived emails may be out-of-sight and out-of-mind, but they still take up space in your Gmail account. Knowing how to delete archived emails in Gmail can help you free up storage space within your Google account. 

As a reminder, the free Gmail storage limit is 15 GB, and you can get 100 GB or more with a Google One account. Either way, you might not want thousands of archived messages sitting around and clogging up your storage.

We’ll show you how to identify and delete archived emails in this article. Gmail has some useful but not-so-obvious functionality we’ll cover, as well.

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What does archiving an email do?

Think of your Gmail account as a hub of messages, all with different labels. Your Primary inbox is a label. Your Sent folder is a label. Your Drafts folder is a label. Of course, any labels you’ve made for specific groups or types of messages also count.

Outside of all this is your All Mail folder. Every message lives here. You can find it in the left-hand menu on desktop and mobile (you might have to click More on desktop). When you archive a message, it just loses the inbox label. Archived messages exist in the All Mail folder but don’t have a special label of their own.

To archive a message, select it and then click the Archive option, which is in the upper left toolbar of your inbox. 

a screenshot of the Gmail inbox on desktop highlighting the archive icon found at the upper left toolbar

On mobile, you can archive emails by pressing the leftmost icon in the toolbar of the email.

a screenshot of the upper left portion of the Gmail inbox on mobile highlighting the Archive icon found at the upper left toolbar

One important note: If you’ve ever used a third-party app to unsubscribe you from all of your junk mail, it may not actually be unsubscribing you from anything. Often, tools like this create a Gmail label for junk mail and send everything there to keep your inbox clutter-free. However, the messages in that folder still take up storage space. This is another reason to learn how to delete archived emails in Gmail.

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How to delete archived emails in Gmail: Quick version

The simplest way to find and delete an archived email is to go to All Mail, and then look for messages that don’t have the inbox label. Here’s what the inbox label looks like on desktop:

a screenshot of a portion of Gmail All Mail inbox on desktop showing the one without the Inbox label as the archived email and the active email with the Inbox label

And here’s what it looks like on mobile, highlighted in blue:

a screenshot of a portion of Gmail All Mail inbox on mobile highlighting those with Inbox label in blue as the active email and those without Inbox label as archived email

Messages without this label have already been archived. To delete your archived emails, simply select those without labels, and send them to the trash.

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How to delete archived emails in Gmail: Advanced technique

As we covered above, Gmail doesn’t make it easy to see archived messages alone. And going through your All Mail folder, looking for messages without the inbox label, is a bit tedious. Thankfully, there’s a better way. This technique works on both desktop and mobile. We discovered this particular method from Gmail power users on a Gmail help center thread.

First, go to All Mail and click inside the search bar. Next, type or paste all the following parameters into the search: 

  • -in:inbox -in:sent -in:chat -in:drafts has:nouserlabels
a screenshot of the parameters typed in the Gmail inbox search bar after looking into All Mail to filter for achived emails in Gmail

You’ll now see only archived emails, and perhaps some miscellaneous pieces of content. This search filters out all messages in your inbox, in your Sent folder, in Chat, and in Drafts. The last parameter filters for messages that have no user labels. You can also negatively filter out messages with certain labels by typing “-label:name,” but filtering out all possible labels would take a while.

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Deleting archived emails in the Gmail app

After filtering for archived emails on mobile, you can go down the list and delete each one individually. Unfortunately, this is the only way to do it in the Gmail app.

If you use the Apple Mail app to access your Gmail account, you can click Edit and select multiple emails for deletion. However, keep in mind that the Apple Mail app doesn’t show the inbox label we discussed earlier, and therefore, search functions don’t work the same for isolating archived messages.

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Deleting archived emails on desktop

The good news is that Gmail’s desktop version offers more functionality for selecting and deleting emails en masse. After you filter for archived emails, you can click the master checkbox at the top and select up to 99 emails that appear on that page. Then, simply send them to Trash by clicking the small garbage can icon.

a screenshot of parameters to filter archived emails on desktop with the trash bin icon highlighted to emphasize that you can delete en masse after checking the master checkbox

You can delete more than 99 emails at once, too. After you select the first page of messages, you’ll see this notice: “All 99 conversations are selected. Select all conversations that match this search.”

a screenshot of the notification that pops out after selecting the master checkbox on Gmail desktop; you can check as many as 99 checkboxes en masse

Click on this notification to select every message that fits the criteria of the search you performed. Now, click Clear selection. This deletes every single archived email, whether you have 200 or 20,000.

a screenshot of the notification after selecting the master checkbox with the option to clear selection

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Don’t forget to empty your trash!

Don’t forget to take this one step further because your recently deleted emails still take up space. We recommend you empty your Gmail trash right after deleting your archived emails to free up storage ASAP. If you skip this step, no worries: Gmail automatically empties the trash after 30 days, but if you empty your trash manually, you’ll gain the space back right away.

a screenshot of Gmail sidebar highlighting the trash bin. Selecting the trash bin will immediately empty your Gmail trash and free up storage

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How to unarchive emails

Now that you know how to delete archived emails, let’s talk about the opposite — recovering emails back to your inbox by unarchiving emails in Gmail. First, find the message you want to unarchive in All Mail. Then, click the Move to Inbox icon on desktop, which looks similar to the archive icon:

This icon doesn’t exist on mobile. Instead, you can tap the upper three dots for the main menu and select Move to Inbox

a screenshot of Gmail inbox on mobile highlighting Move to Inbox feature to unarchive emails

Note: This option is always available, whether you previously archived the message or not.

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Save more space by changing default actions in Gmail

By default, the Gmail app on iPhone and Android archives an email when you swipe it to the side. You might not realize you’ve archived dozens or hundreds of messages instead of deleting them. You can change the swipe action for each direction to trash/delete instead.

For iOS and Android:

  1. Open up your Gmail app.
  2. Tap the three-line hamburger menu button.
  3. Tap Settings.
  4. Tap Inbox customizations on iOS or General settings on Android.
  5. Tap Mail swipe actions.
  6. Select the action you want for each swipe direction.

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Auto-delete emails with a filter

Another option is setting up a filter that will auto-delete certain emails for you to save even more space. You can only set up a new filter on a desktop.

  1. In Gmail, click the settings gear then See All Settings.
  2. Click Filters and Blocked Addresses.
A screenshot of Gmail Settings section with Filters and Blocked Addresses portion highlighted
  1. Select Create a new filter.
  2. Add your filter parameters.
a screenshot of the pop-up window when creating a new filter
  1. Click Create filter.
  2. Choose what to do with filtered messages, like Delete it.
a screenshot of criteria to choose when creating  a filter with "Delete it" option hightlighted

You can’t filter for archived emails because filters only apply to new incoming messages. What you can do though is create custom rules in Gmail that tell it to take certain actions automatically. You can archive or delete messages from certain senders, for example.

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Recap: Deleting archived emails in Gmail

While archived messages don’t have a special folder or home within Gmail, they still take up space. And although they lack the inbox tag you can see on messages in the All Mail folder, you can search for them by typing “-in:inbox -in:sent -in:chat -in:drafts has:nouserlabels” in the All Mail search bar, and delete them in bulk that way. Or, if you always archive certain types of emails, consider setting up a filter or rule to automatically delete them.

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