Maybe you impulsively sent a mean email to someone. Or, maybe you sent a work email and just forgot to attach a document that your co-workers need.
If you want a way to take it back, you’re in luck — if you’re using Outlook, that is. That’s because the email client has a built-in solution for situations like this: The option to recall emails. An email recall can stop a recipient from seeing an incomplete, angry, or otherwise bad email you sent. Follow the instructions below if you want to recall an email in Outlook. If you also want to know how to delay your emails in Outlook (to prevent accidentally sending out such emails in the future), scroll past the recall instructions to view a guide on how to do just that.
Note: These instructions won’t work with the web-based version of Outlook — they only apply to the desktop client. Also, they only work if you and the recipient use a Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft 365 account within the same organization. Recalls in Outlook won’t work with recipient email addresses from outside of the sender’s organization.
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 have to 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 of This Message or Delete Unread Copies and Replace With a New Message. You’ll also see an option to have Outlook notify you 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 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. Microsoft also states that, in some cases, the recipient may be notified when recalled messages are deleted from their inbox. So, bear in mind that even when recalling an email, the recipient may still know that a botched or offensive message had been sent to them even if they can’t view it.
Why email recall doesn’t always work
While it sounds pretty simple, recalling an email won’t always work the way you think. 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 several issues. A few different factors will mess with your attempts to recall an email. Here are some of the things that might thwart your efforts or add complications.
- 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.
- 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.
Again, recalls aren’t foolproof, and your attempts may get frustrated by factors you can’t control. If you find you’re attempting recalls that don’t go through, consider these two other steps:
Solution 1: Type out an apologetic email. Besides double-checking to ensure your emails are sent to the correct people, this is probably the most straightforward solution to the issue. If you happen to accidentally send an email to the wrong recipient or group of recipients and it wasn’t overly scandalous, then just save some time and effort by owning up to your mistake and saying you’re sorry. An honest apology usually goes over well and may even build trust with the recipients. Then you can all move on.
Solution 2: Setback your emails, so they don’t send immediately. If you’re constantly replying to emails, sending private data back and forth, or are just prone to slipups, you might want to start delaying your emails. You can easily set this up for all your Outlook emails by following these simple instructions:
Step 1: Select File in the upper-left corner of Outlook.
Step 2: Scroll down a bit and click Manage Rules and Alerts.
Step 3: The Rules and Alerts window will pop up on your screen. From here, select the New Rule option.
Step 4: Another pop-up window will appear. Here, click Apply Rule on Messages I Send. You’ll notice that this is listed underneath the Start From a Blank Rule option. Hit the Next button to continue.
Step 5: Don’t worry about anything else on the conditions list and click Next to continue. After this, a confirmation screen will appear. Select Yes to confirm.
Step 6: Select the Defer Delivery By a Number of Minutes option. Choose A Number Of link. You’ll see a pop-up screen appear and ask you to choose your preferred duration. Input the number you want (120 is as far as you can go) and then click the OK button. Once you’ve gone through all that, click Next.
Step 7: If you have any exceptions, select the exceptions option. Then, click the Next button to continue.
Step 8: Give your rule a name, and check the Turn On This Rule checkbox if it’s available. Finally, hit the Finish button.
If all of these Outlook steps are just too overwhelming, it’s possible to use a disposable address.