Outlook Express – Unable to Delete Email Messages

I answered a question recently from someone who was having problems with Outlook Express.

This particular problem is one that creeps up on long-term Outlook Express users, who think they’re doing everything they need to do.

I’ve written about the problem in a general manner before, in my article Deleting an Email Completely.

The issue is that every email program has one or more files (usually one per folder in the email program) that actually hold the emails. When you delete an email in your email program, the program does two things:

  1. First, it copies the email into the Trash or Deleted Items folder, and
  2. Second, it marks a label on that message in the original folder to indicate that the message has been deleted.

But, it doesn’t actually delete the email from the folder until you Compact the Email Folder.

Similarly, when you empty the Trash or Deleted Items folder, the program does not really erase them. It just marks the corresponding entry in the file to indicate that it has been deleted. When you compact the folder later, the email program will actually rewrite the file — taking out all the deleted messages.

But, what happens if you never compact the folders? They just get bigger and bigger!

Outlook Express has an issue when the Deleted Items folder gets too big — it won’t let you delete emails!

So, what’s the fix.

First, you can compact the email folders, which is the way to prevent the problem from occurring. You might do this once a month or once a year, but you need to do it.

  • In Outlook Express, the process is similarly easy — File, Folder, Compact All Folders.
  • In Eudora, it is under Special / Compact Mailboxes. In Outlook Express, it’s found at File / Folder / Compact All Folders.
  • In Outlook, the process is much more complicated to compact one of its .pst files. The process is: File / Data File Management, select a file, click Settings, then click Compact Now.

The quick fix is to delete the "Deleted Items.dbx" file. After that, the next time you’re in OE and hit the delete key on an email, OE will create a new copy of the Deleted Items file (which is represented in OE as the Deleted Items folder).. so that you can you can delete it. My article Backing Up Outlook Express Email Folders will help you find the Deleted Items.dbx file.


  1. I just followed your instructions on how to deal with my problem – – -“unable to delete email”.

    Followed you instructions – – now, not only can I NOT delete an email, I can’t even open one!

    What did I do wrong?

    My wife was going to be so proud of me when she got home – – but now?????



    • No idea what you did wrong (if anything), since I wasn’t watching you.

      Try rebooting – that solves a world of Windows problems.


  2. I am very pleased and very excited that I read your instructions on how to delete my emails. Your instructions worked perfect. I was told that the best thing for me to do was to purchase a new computer or get someone to fix it for about 100.00 or more, not to put too much money in it because it would not be worth it. I am glad I decided to check your site first. Thank you so much.

  3. Thank you Terry, we followed your advice and were successful in deleting emails on outlook express. A thousand thank yous as Microsoft wanted me to pay them $60.00 to do the same thing.

    Your service is most appreciated.

    • Dear Terry,
      Being unable to delete e-mails I followed your advice & compacted all my Outlook express files via my outlook express ” File…….folders…..Compact all files” .
      Regretably this action deleted (removed) all e-mails from both my “Sent” Box & my “Deleted ” box., which are both now empty! Luckily my ” In Box & Drafts box” remain intact.
      How can I get my Sent & deleted e-mails back????

      Thanks for your help……………….Peter

      • Sounds like time to restore your email folders from your backup. The compacting would not normally have emptied everything from your Sent and Deleted folders – they must have been corrupted.

        • Dear Terry,
          I dont have external back up for my Outlook Express 6 E-mails , but my computer friend has checked my system & has said he can see the compacted deleted files (1.1GB) under identities, but he cannot open or move them back .
          Even with my now empty Deleted box I still cannot delete files from my in box.
          Any suggestions………..Peter

  4. Where do I find “Deleted Items.dbx”? I thinkmy computer needs a quick fix and a long term fix. Cant delete or receive anything right now. Thanks for your help.

  5. Nice info – but it didn’t help me delete files. It can’t be a size issue because I can delete dozens of other emails – some large – but can’t delete a simple two line text email. And it is from a trusted source.

    I have moved everything out of my inbox and deleted it to remove the files – but I’m not gonna do that every couple of days every time a new troublEmail pops up. And I forwarded the latest troubled mail to myself and could delete the forwarded copy !!!

  6. I am using Microsoft Outlook express web accesss (/owa) and I have a message in my draft since May and It will not let me delete it or move it. any ideas?

    • Rusty,
      Try to edit the draft message. At that point, you may be able to send it to yourself just to get rid of it.

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