Android email application bug: unable to delete email messages

Android figures with references to candy.
Was it deleted or did someone eat it?

Today I noticed something interesting on my Samsung Galaxy S2 aka. Epic 4G Touch: I’m unable to delete email messages using Android’s stock email application.

I did a bit of research and it’s definitely a bug. There are at least four bug reports I could find on Google’s Android project:

  1. 12282 IMAP email deletion not working
  2. 13195 Certain emails reappear after deletion
  3. 16293 IMAP does not work! — a little dramatic :)
  4. 16484 Email client reload all previously deleted mail

From what I gather, most complaints are coming from Samsung users (tablet and phone), but I found a few users that reported a similar bug on the Motorola XOOM, which appears to have been resolved.

What’s happening is that Android lost track of the folder that keeps your deleted messages, so when you delete something, it disappears momentarily on the screen, assuming that the command executed successfully, but since Android doesn’t know where to put that deleted message, it simply keeps it in the inbox.

Then when you refresh your inbox to retrieve new messages, it shows back up.

So what can we do about this?

There are three workarounds I currently know about.

1. Move your email message to the trash as apposed to using the delete button

This is probably the least convenient option, as it involves more steps, but it is the quickest to implement.

When you’re looking at your list of emails, press the menu key and then the move to folder button.

Select the messages you want to “delete” and click on the move to folder button.

Then choose your folder, whether it’s trash (will be stored locally) or something like INBOX.Trash (will be stored in trash on server), and your message(s) will be moved.

2. Use another email client such as K-9 Mail (free)

You basically download an entirely different application and setup all your email accounts on it.

The delete command has been confirmed working in K-9 according to users who have my phone and switched.

This application is available for free in the Android market and seems the most recommended.

3. Root your phone and edit a database file

This is the only permanent solution that lets you keep your stock email application, however, before you can edit this file your phone must be rooted, otherwise you don’t have access/permissions to do so.

If you browse to /data/data/ on your phone and open this file with a text editor, you can edit your specific email account and reassign that folder.

There are more details in a comment on Android’s project page that discusses another bug report called Email app doesn’t handle IMAP folder prefixes properly, but that same user recommended this fix for being able to delete your messages.

I personally will use the first method until I get a firmware update. If the issue then isn’t fixed, I’ll consider option #2 or #3.

If someone knows of another solution, I’d love to hear it!

As always, feel free to leave comments below.

Featured image by Guido Coppa.

Comments (15)

Previously posted in WordPress and transferred to Ghost.

December 30, 2011 at 10:32 am

It is pitiful that a supposed IMAP client is not able to mark messages deleted. This is a fundamental part of the IMAP protocol. I can not understand how this managed to get through quality control – perhaps there was none.

Ryan Sechrest
December 30, 2011 at 10:43 am

You’re right, it is unbelievable.

December 30, 2011 at 11:46 am

Do you have the sync problem where the email shows on your android but when you select it then the entire body of the message is stuck in loading…..

Ryan Sechrest
December 30, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I don’t. Does it happen with one or all ISPs, one or all accounts, and some or all email messages? That’s where I’d start in narrowing down what exactly is causing it.

February 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm

was searching all over the internet to find a solution … Finally, I found it … THANKS

January 11, 2014 at 11:06 pm

I was experiencing the same problem. I discovered upgrading dovecot 2.0.9 (rhel/centos version) to 2.210 resolved/works around the problem.

Slightly more detail at my site:

May 15, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Thank you Ryan Sechrest for a temporary solution. @Email on ATT Samsung Galaxy S5 having the same issue.

May 28, 2014 at 7:50 am

I was able to rectify the issue on my phone.

1. Remove email account from phone.
2. Go to apps and delete cache and data for exchange services and email.
3. Add email account to phone.

Pratik Ghosh
October 22, 2014 at 9:17 am

On my Samsung Tab 3, the email editor has an annoying bug whereby if one has to delete in the middle any text, the delete key “copy paste” the following part of the paragraph from the deletion point at the end of the paragraph. It goes on repeating the copy paste for each press of the delete (backspace) key. The only way to resolve is to select the text part and do a copy-cut!

stuart dingman
October 14, 2016 at 12:09 pm

i have yahoo email on my LGK7 android phone and on my laptop (same acct.). my laptop shows trash folder is empty. yahoo on my phone has two emails in my trash folder that i can’t delete… why?

Ryan Sechrest
October 14, 2016 at 12:23 pm

No clue, Stuart. I’ve since switched to an iPhone.

Joel Gayman
October 27, 2016 at 12:35 am

I have a slightly different problem with my Samsung Galaxy S2 and the stock email app. It suddenly stopped deleting either multiple or single emails that one has selected with a check box. It will only delete a single highlighted email, but not any that are checked.

Does anyone know if you can download another copy of the program and see if reinstalling it might fix this,

April 10, 2020 at 6:19 pm

There *IS NO* ‘menu key’ in gmail on samsung android. so there *IS NO* ‘move to folder’

You need to check that your suggestion is even relevant.

Ryan Sechrest
April 10, 2020 at 8:58 pm

Dear Bogus, that post is over 8 years old. There is a good chance things have changed.