It’s a mistake that happens fairly often: You send an important email only to gasp in horror after realizing it includes embarrassing errors. Even worse, you mistakenly hit Reply All to send a nasty email to everyone at work — not just your office nemesis.
Undoing the damage may take some work, but there’s an often-overlooked solution for the recipients who haven’t already read your embarrassing digital letters: Recalling emails. In fact, many email clients actually support this feature.
In this guide, we show you how to recall an email using the Microsoft Outlook desktop client. Follow these step-by-step instructions so you can snatch those embarrassing emails right back.
Note: These instructions do not apply to the web-based version of Outlook — they only work with the desktop client. They also only work if you and the recipient use a Microsoft Exchange account within the same organization, or you both have Office 365.
How to recall Outlook emails
Step 1: Open your Sent Items folder and look for the email you want to recall — it should be at the top of the list. You absolutely must double-click on this email to fully open it before moving to the next step.
Step 2: Click the Message tab on the toolbar to make it active. Next, navigate to the Move section and click the More Move Actions button designated with a letter and an envelope, as shown below.
Step 3: Click the Recall This Message option on the drop-down list.
Step 4: A pop-up window appears on your screen. Here you have two options: Delete unread copies only, or delete unread copies and replace them with a new message. You’ll also see an option to have Outlook report if the process succeeds or fails.
Select your option(s) and click the OK button to continue.
If you deleted the message, congratulations! If you want to replace it, continue on to Step 5.
Step 5: If you choose to create a replacement, Outlook opens a second screen so you can revise the message. As you compose your new email, Outlook quietly recalls your old message and displays a notification (if you selected that option). Just click the Send button when you’re done with the revised message.
Note: If you send a recall message, it doesn’t exactly make your old email disappear. In order to have the original message disappear, the recipient may need to open the recall message first. This is why you should type “URGENT” or something similar in the recall message’s title so that it’s opened before the first offensive email. Continue on for a lengthier explanation.
Why email recall doesn’t always work
Starting the recall process doesn’t mean that it will work the way you intended. With today’s internet speeds (unless you live in a dead zone), that mistaken email is probably already waiting in someone’s inbox, which creates a number of issues. Here are the factors that can nullify your recall — or at least make the process more complicated.
- Opened messages: If a recipient opens your email, you can’t recall it. The recipient can still get and read the second recall message, but the original stays in their Outlook inbox. That’s one reason why you should act quickly.
- Redirects to other folders: If your first message activated a filter and Outlook rerouted it to a specific folder, then your recall will fail. The recall option only affects emails that remain in the inbox. If the first message waits elsewhere, it won’t go away.
- Public folders: If anyone reads your first email lurking in a public folder, the recall fails. It doesn’t matter which recipient or login account tags the email as read — it’s still too late.
- Other email clients: The recall function works with Outlook. If you send an email to someone who uses Gmail, for example, the recall won’t work.
- Mobile apps: If you are using Exchange ActiveSync settings for Outlook on mobile devices, then the recall option may not work. This happens because the system juggles different Outlook versions as it syncs and it can’t complete the process, especially if your mobile device is offline.
There are a lot of pitfalls to this handy little feature, sure. If your recalls just aren’t working, here are two ideas for you to improve the scenario:
Solution 1: Write an apology. Other than making sure to double-check your emails before they’re sent, this is the simplest solution to the problem. If you mistakenly sent an email to the wrong person/people and it wasn’t too egregious, save your time and tack on a quick apology note. This works for most people and you can stop worrying.
Solution 2: Delay your emails. If you have a case of email butterfingers or are always busy replying and forwarding more sensitive information, you may want to consider delaying your emails. You can do this for all Outlook emails by following these steps:
- Click File in the top left corner.
- Scroll down and select Manage Rules and Alerts on the following page.
- The Rules and Alerts pop-up window appears on your screen. Click the New Rule option.
- In a second pop-up window, select Apply Rule on Messages I Send listed under Start From a Blank Rule. Click the Next button to continue.
- Ignore everything on the conditions list and click the Next button. Next, click the Yes button in a small confirmation popup.
- Select the Defer Delivery by a Number of Minutes option. Click the “A Number Of” link and a popup appears prompting you for a duration. Enter the number — 120 minutes is the maximum — and click the OK button. Click the Next button to continue.
- Select exceptions if needed and click the Next button to continue.
- Name your rule and click the Finish button.
If this whole process has soured you on the Outlook email client, you could always use a disposable address.
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