Will Deleting an Email on the iPhone/iPad Delete it on the Server?

I’ve been using Gmail on my iPhone and iPad for a long time now and I have it setup exactly the way I want. A couple of my friends have Gmail setup too, but they didn’t quite understand how Gmail, IMAP and iOS work together when managing email.

One question I always get is what happens when I delete an email on the iPad or iPhone? Will the email be gone forever from the server? Could I recover it if I needed to? In this article, I’ll clarify exactly how Gmail and IMAP work with iOS on the iPad and iPhone so you understand what is going on.

Before we get started, I want to also clarify the two methods that you can use to access Gmail from your iPhone or iPad. The first way is by setting up Gmail in the Mail app that comes installed on your iPhone/iPad. The other way is to download the official Gmail app for iPhone and iPad. The results of deleting an email in both ways are different. So I’ll explain that also.

Understand Gmail All Mail Folder

The first thing to understand is the Gmail All Mail folder. This is basically a giant catch all folder that contains all emails regardless of whether you received it or sent it or what label it has. Other than spam email and email in the trash, it contains every other possible email in your Gmail account.

Now, when you go to the Gmail web interface and you delete an email, it goes to the Trash. You can also click on the folder icon and that will archive the email, which means it will simply be moved to the All Mail folder.

archive email

Now let’s talk about how everything works when you use IMAP and add a Gmail account to your iPhone or iPad.

IMAP and Deleting Gmail Emails

By default, if you use the Mail app on your iPhone or iPad and you swipe to “delete” an email or even tap on the Trash icon, the message will actually be archived. And you can see that when you swipe on an email, the archive icon is shown, which is a blue box.

This means that the server will keep a copy of the email in the All Mail folder and just remove it from your Inbox and any labels. This is set by default because it allows you to recover an email if you find out later on that you really needed it.

However, if there is something you really want removed completely, then you’ll have to go to the All Mail folder in Gmail and manually delete it from there. The other option is to go to Settings on your iPhone or iPad and change how the swipe works. Go to Settings, then tap on Accounts & Passwords, not Mail.

Next, you’ll see a list of all accounts added to your phone. Select the one you wish to edit. It’s worth noting that the swipe feature can be changed on an account-by-account basis.

Above, I selected a second Gmail account that I am using on my iPhone. Now you’ll get some options for turning Mail, Contacts, Calendars or Notes on or off. You can leave those as-is for now. Go ahead and tap on the account line towards the top.

Now you’ll get more info about the email account, but we need to tap on Advanced at the bottom.

Finally, after all of that tapping, we get to the screen where we can actually change how the swipe works and what folders will be used for the Deleted mailbox and for the Archived mailbox.

At the bottom, if you want the email to go to the deleted mailbox, just tap on that instead of archive mailbox. At the top, you can choose which folder in Gmail will correspond to the folder designated in the Mail app. By default, Deleted Mailbox will go to the Gmail Trash folder and Archive Mailbox will go to the Gmail All Mail folder.

Now when you swipe, it gets moved to the Trash folder and you’ll see the icon has also changed to a trash can. It’s kind of like the recycle bin folder on your computer. You can still recover emails from the trash folder, but you only have 30 days. After that, anything older than 30 days is permanently deleted. Again, you will have to manually go into the Trash folder to delete it forever if you want it gone faster than 30 days.

Gmail App on iPhone/iPad

Lastly, if you have the Gmail app installed on your iPhone or iPad, then it works just like it does when you visit Gmail in your browser. Tapping on the Trash icon will send the email to the Trash folder on the server.

Gmail app archive

So hopefully that clarifies how deleting emails only our iPhone and iPad will affect the email on the server. Remember this is for IMAP. If you are using POP, then deleting an email will only delete it locally, not on the server. It’s best to use IMAP and most email clients and email servers support it. Check out my post on how to setup Gmail in Outlook. Enjoy!