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How to Find Missing Emails in MS Outlook (Where Is My Email?)

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Read Time: 10 min
This post is part of a series called How to Use Microsoft Outlook (Essential Tutorial Guide).
What Is MS Outlook? (Pro Email Software Tool)
How to Retrieve Your Deleted or Archived MS Outlook Emails

Did you ever wonder: where is my email?

Once again, an important email that you're expecting has disappeared. Or maybe it's an email that you received yesterday, but can't find today. Either way, missing emails can be annoying.

But missing emails are more than just annoying. They can cost your business money. What if that missing email was a customer order? Or what if it was from a client who had an important question? if you don't get back to your clients in a timely fashion, they may take their business elsewhere.

If your emails have been disappearing from Outlook, you need to find out why. More importantly, you need to learn how to get those missing emails back.

In this tutorial, you'll learn the four locations where most missing emails in Outlook end up. You'll also discover how to retrieve Outlook's lost emails. We’ll talk about where email marked as spam goes. Plus, we’ll cover how to find archived emails in Outlook.

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Before going further in learning how to use Microsoft Outlook, be sure to grab our Free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery. It's packed wth inbox organization strategies and killer tips for managing all your incoming email more efficiently.

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Now let's dig into the material on how to find missing emails in Outlook.

How to Find Missing Emails (Video)

Learn how to use MS Outlook's search function to find missing Outlook messages in this short video.

Where Are Your Outlook Emails? 

It’s not uncommon for email to go missing in any email system. Typically, emails go missing when an email is accidentally deleted. It can also happen if the email system incorrectly flags an incoming message as spam, which would mean the message never reached your inbox. Less frequently, an email can go missing if it’s archived and you don’t realize it. Or, if you accidentally file it in the wrong email folder.

To find your Outlook lost emails, let's examine the question: where does Outlook store emails? In MS Outlook, here are the primary folders where you should look for missing email messages:

  1. Archive folder. Outlook creates this folder the first time that you archive a message. Older messages are automatically sent to the Archive folder after a defined period.
  2. Deleted Items folder. This is one of the default MS Outlook folders. It’s where messages go when you delete them.
  3. Junk Email folder. This folder is also a Microsoft Outlook default folder. Email that seems to be junk messages goes to this folder. (Whether a message ends up in this folder depends on how your Junk email settings are defined.)
  4. Spam folder. The default in Outlook is for spam messages to go into the Junk Email folder. However, if you've got a third-party spam filter add-in, you may also have a Spam folder generated by the add-in.

Note: Depending on your settings, email in the Deleted Items folder and Junk Email folder may be automatically deleted after a specified period. If this happens, you may not be able to retrieve the email. If you're using Outlook from within a business or school, ask your administrator what the email retention policies are. 

It’s not difficult to find the Deleted Items folder or the Junk Email folder. All you need to do is look in the Navigation Pane:

Deleted Itmes and Junk Email FoldersDeleted Itmes and Junk Email FoldersDeleted Itmes and Junk Email Folders
Missing emails in Outlook are often found in the Deleted Items or Junk Email folders.

The Archive folder may be slightly more difficult to find since it may be hidden, or it may not be called Archive. It also might not be set up.

1. Set Up Your Archive Folder

To set up your Archive folder, click the Archive icon on the ribbon. The Set up One-Click Archive popup appears:

Archive PopupArchive PopupArchive Popup
If you're brand new to Outlook, you may need to set up your Archive folder.

Click the Create archive folder button to create a new folder named Archive. (You can also choose to use an existing folder for your archived messages.) The new Archive folder is added to your Navigation pane:

New archive folderNew archive folderNew archive folder
The new Archive folder appears below the Deleted Items folder.

How to Find Missing Emails in Outlook

If you're looking for missing emails in Outlook, you can either go to the folder where you suspect the item is. Or, you can use Microsoft Outlook's search utility. Here's how to find your missing message in several common scenarios:

1. Find an Email in the Deleted Items Folder

Here's how to find deleted emails in Outlook. No matter which folder the lost email is in, start by locating the folder in the Navigation pane. Click on the folder to open it and view the messages. In this case, I opened the Deleted Items Folder:

Deleted Items FolderDeleted Items FolderDeleted Items Folder
The Deleted Items folder is a good place to look for missing emails.

If you don’t see the missing message in the folder, use the Scrollbar on the right to move up and down through the messages until you find it. You can also use the search bar at the top of the messages.

This method of finding lost email messages works well when you don't have many messages in a folder. If you've got a lot of messages, you may need to use Microsoft Outlook search.

2. Find Lost Messages in the Junk Email Folder

Sometimes the system mistakes new messages for spam. When that happens, the messages are sent to the Junk Email folder. If you’re expecting an email message but it never arrives, check the Junk Email folder. Here’s how to do it:

Locate the Junk Email folder in the Navigation pane:

Spam folderSpam folderSpam folder
The Junk Email (or spam) folder is another place to look for missing Outlook messages.

Click on the Junk Email folder to open it: 

When looking for Outlook lost emails, don't forget to check the Junk Email (spam) folder.

In this example, I’m looking for an email message about the company’s new logo:

Missing email messageMissing email messageMissing email message
If you don't have many messages in your Junk Email folder, you can easily find missing emails in Outlook.

Since the Junk Email folder in the example only contains two messages, it’s easy for me to locate the message I’m looking for. If your Junk Email folder is full, you can use the scroll bars or the search bar to locate the missing email message.

Note: While messages are in the folder, the system considers them to be spam. You won’t be able to click on links within the message or download attachments until the email is moved to another folder.

3. Find Lost Messages Using Microsoft Outlook Search

If you've lost a message and have no idea where it might be, but know a little bit about the message, you can use Microsoft's email search utility to find it. You can find Outlook Search tool above the messages on the right side:

Outlook Search toolOutlook Search toolOutlook Search tool
You can also use the MS Outlook Search tool to find lost email.

To use the search utility, type a word or phrase from the missing email in the search box. The default is to search all mail within the mailbox you’re currently using. Use the box on the left to further refine your search within the current mailbox:

Refining an Outlook SearchRefining an Outlook SearchRefining an Outlook Search
You can define how your search results appear.

You can choose between All Mail, only Unread Mail, or only Mentioned Mail. You can also choose how the search results are organized, and how they appear on the screen (Show as Conversations or Show in Groups).

To define how your search results are arranged, click the Arrange By option. Here’s a closer look at the various options you’ve got to organize your search results:

Arranging search resultsArranging search resultsArranging search results
You can even define the order your results appear in.

If you want to search more than the current mailbox, use the box on the right of the Search tool to define what mailboxes will be searched: 

Search parametersSearch parametersSearch parameters
Outlook defaults to searching the Current Mailbox, but you can change that.

If you’ve got no idea where your missing Outlook email is, the last option, All Outlook Items is your best option to find your lost email. However, the All Outlook Items won't find items in your Deleted Items folder, Junk E-Mail folder, or Archive folder. To find email messages in those folders, you must search from within the folder.

How to Get Your Outlook Lost Emails Back

If you know which folder your missing email message is in (or if you can guess), retrieving it is fairly easy.  You can either copy the missing email back to the location where you want it to be. Or, you can drag it to the desired folder.

1. Move the Retrieved Messages to the Original Folder

Once you’ve find the message you're looking for, click on it to select it. Then click the Move icon in the Ribbon. The popup menu lists various folders that you can move the selected message to:

Moving an email messageMoving an email messageMoving an email message
If you're wondering how do I get my email message back to where it belongs, use the Move option.

Click the name of the folder where you want to move the message. The missing email message is removed from the current folder and moved to the selected folder.

2. Retrieve Outlook Messages Using Drag and Drop

You can also retrieve Outlook folders using drag-and-drop. To drag and drop an email message, click on the message to select it. In the example below, I’ve selected an email message from the Deleted Items folder: 

Select an Email to MoveSelect an Email to MoveSelect an Email to Move
Select the email to be moved and then drag it to the correct folder. 

Continue to hold the mouse key and drag the selected email to the Outlook folder where you want it to be. In this case, I'm moving the message from the Deleted Items folder to the From My New Boss Folder:

Dragging a message to a new folderDragging a message to a new folderDragging a message to a new folder
You can use drag-and-drop to move an email message in MS Outlook.

When you release the mouse button, the selected message will be in the new folder you selected.

How to Retrieve an Email from an Outlook Data File

If your Outlook email is set up with a POP or IMAP, your messages are stored as Personal Folders Files (.PST files). You can import these files back into your Outlook email system

Start by clicking on the File tab in the upper left of your email inbox. The Account Information screen displays. Click the Open & Export menu option on the left:

Retrieve a message from a data fileRetrieve a message from a data fileRetrieve a message from a data file
Here's how to find older archived emails in Outlook.

Click the Open Outlook Data File option. The Open Outlook Data File screen displays. Navigate to the folder where your Outlook files are stored:

Email data fileEmail data fileEmail data file
Sometimes you may need to retrieve a message from a data file.

Click on the archive file to select it. Then click OK. A new folder appears in your Navigation Pane that contains the archived messages.

Scroll through the messages to find the ones you need. Or, use the search bar. Then, copy the retrieved message into the appropriate folder.

How to Stop Your Emails From Disappearing in Outlook

A good way to keep emails from accidentally disappearing from Outlook is to organize your inbox. You can do this by setting up folders to help organize your email. You can also use rules to automatically sort certain emails to specific folders or even to block email from predefined senders.

For a complete guide on how to organize your email inbox, sign up for the Tuts+ Business newsletter and grab our free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery. It's packed with inbox organization strategies and killer tips for managing all your incoming email more efficiently.  

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Now you know how to find your missing MS Outlook email messages. In this tutorial, we've solved the problem of emails disappearing from Outlook. You've learned how to retrieve deleted emails from Outlook. You've also learned how to find and retrieve archived emails in Outlook. We've even discussed how to find and retrieve missing messages from the Junk Email folder.

Best of all, you no longer have to ask: "where is my email?" Nor do you have to worry about lost or disgruntled customers due to missing emails in Outlook.

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