So I've been using GMail for a couple of years now.

Back in the early days I was a member of a rather high-volume mailing list. And since GMail had effectively infinite storage, I just saved everything rather than cleaning it out.

However I've found I practically never refer to any of these emails; and when I do, I'm more likely to trip over them in web archives while doing web searches.

So I'd like to get rid of most of them since there's no point in keeping them.

Out of my 800+MB box, I estimate about 600MB are messages from this list.

My problem is that I can't seem to efficiently delete them.

If I use mutt through IMAP to look at the mailbox, it times out while trying to read the 60K+ messages in the All Mail folder. If I do manage to read the whole folder successfully (mutt seems to barf if a message gets delivered to my gmail while reading the folder) I can't write changes back because mutt seems to want to update all the messages at the same time, and I've never successfully managed to do that.

I can import the whole folder into something like Outlook (ick), but I can only delete about 200 messages in one go before the commits back to the GMail server start to fail.

GMail's built-in interface seems to want to make me do it 20 messages at a time, and well I don't have that kind of time.

So what tools/techniques do people use when they decide it is time to clean out the GMail box?

Update: I guess I should specify here that I don't want to delete them all, I'd like to hang on to those I wrote, which for various reasons are mixed up in the mess with the rest of them. So I can't just delete all messages marked '[list]' for example.

3 Answers 3


You will first need to separate the messages that you want to keep from those you want to delete.

I'm not sure I understood the question entirely, but there are a few methods to do this:

  • Use a search query to filter on those that you want to keep (e.g. label:list from:me), then either use this query negated in the next step, or star/label these messages.
  • Go through the 60K+ messages manually. As you do so, you should either star them or add them to a label.
  • Search for messages that you know you want to keep based on keywords and manually mark them with a star or label. As you do this, you should negate those that have already been selected to keep the list small. So for example, if you know that a message you want to keep has the words "save this", you would run "save this" -is:starred, then select the messages and star them.
  • You might already have the messages in a specific label, in which case you are ready for the next step.

Now you can simply run a query to select all those messages you want to delete and subtract those that you want to keep. Simply run a query such as: label:list -is:starred. Next, select all the messages in the list (you will need to tell Gmail to select all messages not just the first 20 by clicking the link above the list of messages). Once all of them are selected, you can simply delete them.

In case you want to use a label instead of stars, simply use -label:foo instead of -is:starred in your query.

  • took me a couple of tries to get it right, but it works. Jan 19, 2011 at 4:02

GMail's built-in interface seems to want to make me do it 20 messages at a time, and well I don't have that kind of time


I'm not sure I understand. Are you able to provide enough search terms to narrow down this list you want to delete? If so, when you do this search, gmail provides a message at the bottom of the first page of results that states....

Deleted messages match your search. View them or go to Trash to delete forever.

Click "Trash" to send all of the results to trash.


i guess you could first apply a filter to move all your messages from the mailing list to a label, and hide them from inbox(archive them).

then search your inbox for all messages from the mailing list(the ones you moved earlier should not appear)

then select all the messages in the result -- there is a link on the left side, just above the 1st result to do so, and delete them.

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