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Bulk erasing emails can be done in several ways depending on what type of program you are using to read your email.

Is there a way to bulk erase emails? My wife never seems to erase any of the many emails she receives. She holds on to them just in case it may lead to a bargain. Guess who ends up erasing sometimes 1500 or more of them one by one, twice? AOL used to cut her off at 1000 but doesn't do that anymore. Oy vey! Our OS is Windows 7 with AOL.

In this excerpt from Answercast #76, I look at several ways to quickly select large numbers of emails, in both online email programs, and in desktop readers.

Bulk erasing emails

The answer is maybe.

It really depends on what email program or what email access method you're using.

Desktop email programs

I'll start with desktop email programs like Outlook or Thunderbird or any of the others. Typically, you can easily delete multiple messages at once.

It really depends on how you select them. Take a look at your list of messages. If you click on one message and then CTRL-click on another (in other words, hold down the Control key while clicking on another message), you'll see that both messages get selected.

You can do that for multiple messages; you can select any number of messages that way. When you have the messages you want selected, hit the Delete key (or right-click on one of them and select Delete.) All of the messages that have been selected should be deleted at that point.

Now, CTRL-clicking 1500 times seems like a bit of a pain - and it is. So the other approach is for when you have a range of messages. In other words, you know that all of the messages between "this one near the top," and "this one near the bottom," and all the messages in-between, need to be deleted.

Click on the first one; then simply scroll down to the last one and hit Shift while you click the mouse on that last message. The first message, the last message, and all of the messages in between will be selected. At that point you can, once again, hit the Delete key (or right-click on it and select the delete option if the email program makes that available.)

So that's an approach that works well. It works with most email desktop programs. Like I said, Thunderbird, Outlook (and even Outlook Express, although I hope you're not using that anymore) all those programs work just fine.

Online email programs

When you get to the web, things get more difficult.

When I say "web," what I mean is the web interfaces that you visit in your browser for email services like Hotmail or Gmail or Yahoo or whatever.

Here's what you'll need to do there. In the list of messages in your inbox, there's usually a box, an empty box, in front of each message. That's a checkbox. If you check the box in front of every email message that you want to delete, then the "Delete option" (usually up above the message list) - it will delete all the ones that you've checked.

Selecting "all" emails

Similarly, you can select all of the messages that you see on the screen (in other words, all of the messages that are visible right now) by clicking the checkbox that's in the header of the Checkbox column. Above the list of messages is another line that has an empty checkbox and then probably the word "Date," the word "Subject," the word "From," those kinds of things, identifying each column in that list.

That checkbox is a way to automatically check all of the messages that are being displayed on the screen at that time. Check that and all of the message on your screen will get deleted.

Now, the problem with web mail is that you're typically only looking at 25 messages at a time - which means that this Select All option (that's up there at the column header) will only select the 25 messages that you're seeing at a time.

I don't know of a good way around this that works across all email services. On some, you can specify (somewhere else) that each page should show you 25 or 50 or 100 messages at a time. Typically, it maxes out at around 100. Some go to 250.

Bottom line, though, is that it's almost always less than 1500 - which means you may end up having to repeat this process a few times. The good news, however, you won't have to repeat it 1500 times.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6101 - December 5, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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5 Comments
Brian
December 7, 2012 8:41 AM

If you are using Thunderbird this can also be achieved by highlighting one message and then hold down Control and the letter A and then delete

bill
December 7, 2012 9:45 AM

AOL may be using a model like Google mail where they give you boat loads of space and don't expect you to ever delete the messages off the server.

I delete my old messages when they are copied to my desktop program and I have read them but the Gmail copy remains and I can go back online at any time to search or read them.

After many years of use, I am only using 2.6 gig of the 10 gig allowance. I kind of wish that Gmail would allow me to set up certain labels (similar to folders for sorting the mail) that would automaticly delete ads that are over XX months old. They may not care about the space being used but my old timer self considers it a waste of equipment and sometimes it makes for messier searches when too many results show up.

Dan
December 7, 2012 11:37 AM

There is sometimes an option to create a folder in your mailbox called 'Ads' or whatever you want to call it, and create a rule to send all emails that come from someone not in your contacts list to the Ads folder, and every email that comes from someone in your contact list will show up in your inbox. Then, EMPTY the folder when it gets too big. If someone shows up in the ads folder that you want to keep, move the email to your inbox and add them to your contact list. You might want to learn how to set up rules, create useful folders and have most of your emails sorted out for you. Leo probably even has instructions on setting up rules - but if he doesn't your email programs help will.

Joseph Bialon
December 7, 2012 11:52 AM

I bulk erase by clicking on on one messssage till it is highlighted then I use ctrl A which highligh ts all of them then I hit ctrl d and it will delete all of them....

Mark J
December 7, 2012 12:13 PM

@Dan
Here's one way to accomplish what you are talking about:
Some email programs have the option of sending any email that is not from someone in your address book to the spam folder. That would be similar to what you are talking about. You'd simply have to go through your spam folder, as you would have to do anyway, and look for emails which you want to keep. If there's an address you want to continue to receive emails from, you can add them to your address book.

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