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How to permanently delete a problem email in Microsoft Outlook

International NO symbol

Depending on how well your spam catcher of choice works, you may still see the occasional shifty-looking email in your Microsoft Outlook inbox – you know, something with a weird subject line, from a name you don’t recognize, etc.

But before you open it up or even click on it, be warned: It may be carrying dangerous cargo, and not always in the form of an attachment.

I’ll be the first to tell you: I’m no expert on spam and email security, so I can’t give you a rundown of all the dangers in this area.  But when I see something in my own inbox that looks suspicious, I err on the side of caution by permanently deleting it.

I say “permanently” because, if you simply hit the Delete key in Outlook, that email isn’t really deleted.  All Outlook’s done at that point is move it from your Inbox (or whatever subfolder it’s in) to the Deleted Items folder.  And, depending on your Outlook settings, it may stay there a while, lurking and still posing a potential security threat.

(I also say “permanently” because, as that word implies, once it’s gone, there is no way for you to retrieve it within Outlook, so don’t do this lightly.  This feature does not, however, provide a way to circumvent any sort of forensic recovery of individual emails from your account in the event of a lawsuit, investigation, etc.  In other words, if you’re trying to do the electronic version of shredding documents, this trick won’t help you.  But that’s a whole other discussion.)

Safely (and permanently) deleting email

Once you decide that something in your Inbox needs to be gone, here’s how you skip over the Deleted Items folder entirely:

  • First, before you even single-click on the offending email, be sure you’ve turned off AutoPreview (the feature that allows you to see the first couple of lines directly beneath each message’s header information) and the Preview Pane (the feature that shows a window at the bottom or side of your Inbox to allow you to scroll through the message without opening it).  Even a preview of the email, without actually opening it in a new window, may trigger malware that’s included with the email.  Look for these buttons on your toolbar:
Outlook Auto Preview button

Auto Preview

Outlook Preview Pane button

Preview Pane

  • Make sure both buttons are “de-selected” and you cannot see any of the actual message content in your Inbox.  (You should still be able to see the From, Date, etc. information.)
  • Once you’re turned off any preview features, then you can safely select the message with a single click. Once the message is selected, hold down the SHIFT key and press DELETE.  That’s Shift-Delete, simultaneously, to permanently delete the message.  (You may be asked to confirm that you want to permanently delete the message.)

That’s it!  That message is outtahere!

by Deborah Savadra

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  1. I found the auto preview button but could not fine the preview pane button – where is it?

    Secondly, after these instructions there is no indication as to how or even IF you should SELECT the offending e-mail before you press delete. Obviously you should or you might delete something you did not want to. This otherwise useful article could be clearer on these points.

  2. Arlette must be brain dead or a california lawyer or the like
    and or ought wait until he has enough time on net to know
    a reasonable relative question before grunting……
    however, as to what to delete in spam, all spam that is not opened
    should be, must be, deleted forever, as shown in this article, and
    on some opened show ‘not spam’ thus should be engraved and
    put on the fireplace mantel or in the fireplace,,,,, however if you
    leave spam in spam then delete it, be a sport, save space on net,
    make obama’s job easier, send contributions to his campaign to Romney

  3. reading how you write is an art form,
    i have already reduced out most of my gibberish
    and am getting to write only on point, thanks

  4. I’m with David Arlette, I want to be the best I can be at Outlook, but don’t have it on my home computer, so I’m following the instructions in my head from memory. She did say before you even single-click on the message so hoe is the offending message selected ? Simply being top of the pile ? If David can’t find preview pane, then I don’t know where it is either, could somebody post a picture ?

    1. @Josephine — Did you catch the pictures of the Preview Pane buttons posted under the first bullet point above? What version of Outlook are you using? Depending on what version you use, the preview pane could be in a different place on the menu/ribbon.

  5. Hiii i want to delete some mails permanently but the shift delete doesnt work :( i want that the message does not even come back when we click recover messages please help me

    1. What version of Outlook are you using? And are you on some sort of Exchange server?