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How to empty the trash in Gmail and permanently delete messages

How to empty the trash in Gmail and permanently delete messages

min read

It’s that time of year again: spring cleaning. While most people focus on physical clutter and disorganization, it’s worth doing digital cleaning occasionally, too. Start by taking out the trash – in Gmail, that is. 

Did you know that Gmail stores emails you delete in the trash folder for 30 days? After 30 days, Gmail automatically deletes those emails permanently, but until then they continue taking up space in your Gmail inbox. 

If you don’t want your unwanted emails to stick around, don’t worry. Gmail allows you to manually empty your trash whenever you want with just a few clicks. 

Let’s break down how to empty trash in Gmail, plus some other strategies for organizing your inbox. 

<a href="#how-to-empty-trash-in-gmail" class="anchor-link">How to Empty Trash in Gmail</a>
<a href="#why-would-you-empty-gmail-trash" class="anchor-link">Why Would You Empty Gmail Trash?</a>

  • <a href="#protecting-sensitive-information" class="anchor-link">Protect Sensitive Information</a>
  • <a href="#freeing-up-storage-space" class="anchor-link">Free Up Storage Space</a>
  • <a href="#decluttering-and-staying-organized" class="anchor-link">Declutter and Stay Organized</a>

<a href="#whats-the-difference-between-deleting-and-archiving-emails" class="anchor-link">Difference Between Deleting and Archiving Emails</a>
<a href="#other-ways-to-manage-and-organize-your-inbox" class="anchor-link">Other Ways to Manage and Organize Your Inbox</a>
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How to empty trash in Gmail

Empty your Gmail trash folder through the desktop or mobile app. Here’s how to empty trash in Gmail both ways:

On desktop

  1. Open Gmail and head to the menu on the left-hand side of the screen. Click “More” to see additional options.

  1. Scroll down and click on “Trash” to see emails that you’ve deleted in the last 30 days.
  1. Mark the checkbox next to an email and click “Delete forever” to permanently delete individual emails. There’s no confirmation after clicking “Delete forever,” so make sure you’re ready! 
  2. To empty the trash and permanently delete all of the emails in this folder, Click “Empty Trash now” at the top of the folder
A screenshot of the note above the Trash section of Gmail inbox
  1.  A confirmation message will appear to verify that you want to permanently delete all these messages. If you want to do so, click “OK.” Bear in mind that you can’t undo this.
A screenshot of a confirmation message when deleting messages
  1. Once you click OK, Gmail permanently deletes all the emails in your trash folder. You’ll have a nice, empty trash folder and more space available in your Gmail account. 

On mobile

The process for emptying trash on the Gmail mobile app is similar. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the mobile app and select the three parallel lines next to the search bar. This will open the menu. 
A screenshot of the top portion of the Gmail inbox on mobile
  1. Select “Trash” to view your trash folder.
A screenshot of a portion of the drop-down menu on mobile highlighting the Trash section
  1. At the top of the screen, you’ll see an option to “Empty trash now.” Click this to get rid of all the emails in your trash folder. 
A screenshot at the top of the screen of Gmail's Trash section on mobile
  1. You’ll get a confirmation message asking whether you want to continue. Click “OK” to empty your Gmail trash. 
A screenshot of Gmail's confirmation message for deleting messages on mobile

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="why-would-you-empty-gmail-trash" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Why would you empty Gmail trash?

If Gmail automatically clears emails from your trash folder after 30 days, why would you need to know how to empty the trash in Gmail? There are a few reasons.
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Protecting sensitive information

One reason why you might want to empty your Gmail trash is to protect your sensitive information. For example, suppose you recently deleted emails containing sensitive information like your date of birth, passwords, social security number, or bank account details. In that case, you shouldn’t let those emails sit in your trash folder for 30 days. 

Even though Gmail’s security is very strong, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Go into your Gmail trash and permanently delete sensitive emails to ensure no one can access the information. 
<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="freeing-up-storage-space" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Freeing up storage space

Emptying the trash will also free up storage space on your Gmail account. If you’re nearing the storage limit on your account, clear the trash to gain some space back. Depending on how many emails you delete in a month, emptying the trash could make a big difference. 
<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="decluttering-and-staying-organized" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Decluttering and staying organized

Some people consider emptying their email trash folders part of staying organized online. You may not want to accumulate excess deleted emails, and emptying your trash folder is the solution. 
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What’s the difference between deleting and archiving emails?

Deleting emails and emptying the trash removes those emails permanently. But what if you want to remove emails from your inbox but don’t want them to disappear entirely? That’s what the archive feature is for. 

When you archive an email in Gmail, it leaves your inbox but remains saved in your Gmail account. You can find archived emails later by going to “All mail” or searching for these emails with the Search function. 

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="other-ways-to-manage-and-organize-your-inbox" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Other ways to manage and organize your inbox 

Beyond regularly emptying your Gmail trash folder, there are several other ways to manage and organize your inbox, including:

  • Add labels to categorize your emails: Gmail automatically sorts your emails into Categories (e.g., Promotions, Social, and Updates), but you also have the option to add your own labels to your emails. Add Gmail labels to keep all emails related to a specific event or topic together.
  • Star important emails: If you have a crowded inbox, quickly finding your most important emails is challenging. Set those emails apart by starring them. View all your starred emails together in the “Starred” section. 
  • Unsubscribe from unwanted mailings: Do you ever find yourself deleting emails from the same contact constantly without even reading them? It’s probably time to unsubscribe from those mailings. Then, you won’t have pointless emails cluttering your inbox.
  • Create email filters: Filters in Gmail are rules that take action for you. For example, create a filter that stars emails from a certain contact and labels them “Priority.” Gmail will do that for you automatically. 

External tools will also help you manage and organize your inbox beyond Gmail’s features. Streak, for instance, allows you to organize emails by adding them to pipelines. Once added, your emails receive color-coded custom labels — see at a glance what each email pertains to. 

A screenshot of Gmail inbox with Streak's color-coded labels

Add emails to your Streak pipelines manually or let Streak automatically add emails to pipelines based on the contacts involved. If the contacts or organizations are already in your pipelines, Streak will add future emails from those senders to the appropriate pipeline. 

Try Streak for free by downloading the browser extension from the Chrome web store or the Mac app store for Safari.

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