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How to Recover Deleted Emails in Outlook

When you delete an email in Outlook it goes to the Deleted Items folder.
Like the Recycle Bin on the Desktop, this gives you a second chance if you delete an email by accident.

Where do emails go when you delete them out of the Deleted Items folder?
If Outlook is using an account on an Exchange server, the answer is the Dumpster - the American word for a skip.
This is the place Exchange stores deleted emails for a length of time, called the Retention Period, the length of which can set by an administrator, before finally and permanently deleting them.
The Arrowmail Exchange servers have a Retention Period of 60 days.

The Dumpster

The good news is that you can access the Dumpster yourself from within Outlook.
Here's how:-
Select the Deleted Items folder then click:-
Tools - Recover Deleted Items…

Select Deleted Items Folder and select Recover Deleted Items…  

A window opens showing all the emails deleted from the Deleted Items folder which haven't exceeded the Retention Period.
Select one or more emails you want to recover, click on Recover Selected Items and they will appear back in the Deleted Items folder:-

Select emails to recover  

There's also the option to purge items from the Dumpster if there's a particular email you want to make disappear for good.

You can also access the dumpster from Outlook Web Access, from the Options page:-

Access the dumpster from within Outlook Web Access  

The Hidden Dumpster

This is fine for emails that have passed through the Deleted Items folder, but it's possible to "hard delete" items straight to the Dumpster from any folder by holding down the Shift key while deleting an email.

With Outlook open and an email selected in the Inbox, you're 4 key-presses away from disaster:-
Ctrl+a then Shift+Del
This means "Select all emails in the Inbox" then "move them all to the hidden dumpster".
I've lost count of the number of support calls I've had where this has happened.

Emails hard deleted from any folder go to the Dumpster but, by default, you can only retrieve ones that have passed through the Deleted Items folder.

To be able to access the entire Dumpster you need to make a Registry change.
(Remember that care should always be taken when editing the Registry as there are settings in there that can render your Windows installation inoperable.)

Click: Start - Run and type regedit then click OK to open the Registry Editor.
Navigate to:-

Click: Edit - New - DWORD Value
Rename the new value: DumpsterAlwaysOn
Double-click this new value and set its value to 1:-


Create the new Registry Value DumpsterAlwaysOn


Close Regedit
Close Outlook, if it's open, restart it and the Recover Deleted Items… option will now be enabled for every folder, including those that contain Contacts, Calendar items, etc.

You'll need to make this Registry edit on every PC from which you want to access the hidden dumpster.
There's no way to access the hidden part of the Dumpster from Outlook Web Access.

Changes to the Dumpster in Outlook 2010 and Exchange 2010

The discussion so far has been about Outlook 2003 connecting to Exchange 2003, but the Dumpster's operation has changed in the most recent versions of Outlook and Exchange.
The main changes are:-

In Outlook 2010 you can access the Dumpster for any folder by default so there's no need for the Registry edit.

In Exchange 2010 there is now only one Dumpster per mailbox which contains all the emails hard deleted from any folder in the mailbox.

If you purge emails from your Dumpster they actually go to another hidden Dumpster in your mailbox until the retention period expires, and only Exchange Administrators can access this hidden Dumpster.
This is designed to prevent users getting rid of emails that a company might require in a court case.

In Outlook Web App (Exchange 2010's webmail) right-click on the Deleted Items folder to access Recover Deleted Items.

Recovering Deleted Emails from the Cache on another PC

If some major catastrophe has happened with your email, and missing items are not recoverable from any part of the Dumpster, there may still be some things you can do.

If you've been using Outlook with Exchange, in cached mode, on another PC, which is currently turned off, this PC will have a full copy of your Outlook data in a local OST file.
This data will be as up-to-date as the last time you used Outlook on that PC, hopefully before the current problem occurred.

The last thing you want to happen is for this PC synchronise with Exchange and so delete the items you're after from its cache so, before you turn this PC on or open Outlook, make sure that it's NOT connected to the Internet.
Maybe pull out the network cable or turn off the wireless card.

When you open Outlook on this PC, while it's off-line, you should see all the missing items still there. The first task is to copy them to a local PST file:-

From within Outlook, click:-
File - New - Outlook Data File…
Select Outlook Office Personal Folders File then click OK
Click OK then OK to accept the default location and name of the new PST file.

You'll now see a new set of folders in Outlook called Personal Folders.

Drag-and-drop all the items you need from the mail folders, contacts, calendar etc. in the Exchange folders to the equivalent place in Personal Folders.
When the copying process has completed you can safely re-enable your Internet connection and allow Outlook to synchronise with Exchange.

The next thing to do is to copy the items you've saved to Personal Folders, back into your Exchange folders, as the synchronization process will have just deleted them from there.
Exchange will accept these as valid new items and will copy them back, first to your mailbox on the server, and then to the local caches on all the other computers where you use Outlook.

When you're sure that this has worked, right-click on Personal Folders and select
Close "Personal Folders".

The local cache of your Exchange data, held on a PC, is your insurance against a failure of the Exchange server that could be unrecoverable.
Maybe the building housing the server and the backup tapes has burnt down.
You could then arrange to have your incoming emails diverted to a POP3 mailbox and access a SMTP server so that your email is functional again.
I've seen someone working this way, more than 2 years after the Exchange server they were using disappeared for good.

How do I Recoved Lost Emails if I use Outlook in Stand-alone mode?

If your Outlook isn't connected to an Exchange server, and you collect your emails by downloading them from a POP3 server then the news isn't good.

Your emails only exist in one place: your PC, and in one file: the PST file on your local hard drive that holds all of your email data.
This means that, not only are there no second chances after deleting an email, but any event, such as a power-cut or a computer crash could corrupt this PST file, risking the loss of all your emails, contacts, calendars etc.

You could take regular backups of your PST file but who is disciplined enough to do this on a regular basis?
There are utilities you can find, searching on Google, that are be able to recover Hard Deleted emails in a PST file or repair a corrupted PST file, but these programs don't always work.

As an individual it would be uneconomic to run your own Exchange Server, but Arrowmail allows individuals to rent just a single Exchange mailbox for £3.90/month.
An Exchange mailbox has many advantages, two of which are that you can recover deleted emails for up to 60 days and your email data is stored in multiple locations.
Find more details here.

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