Disappearing Emails in Outlook

Sometimes it seems that Outlook is automatically deleting old messages or messages you want can’t be found – where could they be?

This is an occasional question and hard to answer.  Let’s look at some of the possibilities for missing messages, starting with the most common problem we see.

Online Spam Filters

These days it’s more likely that the ‘cloud’ or online spam filter at your mail host has stopped an incoming message before it reaches Outlook.

Most mail hosts have a spam filter which checks email before it gets to your online Inbox.   ‘Spam’ messages are usually deleted with no notice to you.  Sometimes the ‘spam’ is moved to an online ‘Junk Email’ folder (Gmail has a ‘Spam’ folder that you can check) but it’s more common for the presumed spam emails to be deleted without a trace.

These online filters don’t have the ‘Safe Senders’ and ‘Safe Recipients’ options available in Outlook’s spam filter.

All you can do is ask the sender to try again, preferably with a CC to an alternative mail account you control.  Then you can check if the message arrives in both Inboxes or just one.

Junk Email

The Outlook Junk Email filter isn’t perfect; no spam filter is perfect.  They will let through unwanted messages and, crucially, block messages that you want to get.

Check the Outlook Junk Email folder to see if the missing message/s have been shunted directly there.  As already noted, it’s more likely that presumed ‘spam’


Check your mail rules at Home | Move | Rules .  Is it possible the missing messages have been moved unexpectedly by an Outlook Rule?

Deleted Items

Don’t think it can’t happen to you.   Check your Deleted Items folder for the missing message.  It’s really easy to hit ‘DEL’ on a message by accident.


AutoArchive is an Outlook feature we’ve never recommended and complaints about missing messages is just one reason.

Microsoft added AutoArchive to Outlook back when the software and computers had trouble handling large mailboxes.  Redmond’s ‘solution’ was to move old messages to a separate ‘Archive’ which reduced the support calls to Microsoft but otherwise didn’t help customers.

The older messages are moved to a separate Outlook store (PST/OST).  It’s easy to forget that some messages are ‘archived’.

If looking for messages, remember to check the archive.  Even better, close AutoArchive and move those messages back to their original folders.  Modern Outlook can easily handle large PST/OST.

Exchange Server

Keep in mind that recent versions of Outlook default to for an option to keep only recent messages on the computer.   Older messages are kept on the Exchange Server but not your computer.

There are options from as little as 3 days up to ‘All’ or keeping a copy of everything offline.

The default is NOT  ‘All’ so it’s quite possible that your older messages are only saved on the server.

The low options are there for limited storage devices like Surface or tablets.  If your computer has the disk space, we suggest sliding to the extreme right for the ‘All’ option.  That lets you quickly access all your messages etc even on a slower Internet link, or no connection at all.

POP email

Another possibility for missing messages is a POP email setting in Outlook.  Normally, Outlook will grab new messages from the online POP mail store and delete that online copy of the message.  That’s because, traditionally, POP accounts had very small storage and the space was needed for future incoming messages.

However, there’s an option to keep the online messages there after copying to Outlook.  Messages are kept online for  ‘n’ days then automatically deleted.

Outlook 2016 defaults to keeping messages online for 14 days.

That setting should not effect Outlook because it keeps all the incoming messages.  However, if you’re connecting to the same online mail store from another device, it may seem that older messages are disappearing.

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