How to use the iPhone’s Mail Search feature

You have thousands of emails on your iPhone. Use the built-in Search feature to quickly find the one(s) you want.

You have thousands of emails on your iPhone. How can you find the one(s) you want? Don’t scroll through a massive Inbox, page after page after page. Instead, use the Search feature and get the email(s) you need.

First, find the Search box

The Search box is at the very top of the list of emails. You have to be looking at a list, and you have to be at the very top. Compare these two pictures:

Search box showing in Mail list on the left, but not in the Mail list on the right. We need to scroll to the top to show the Search box.
Search box showing on the left, but not on the right. The difference? The list on the right is scrolled down just a little.

The picture without the Search box is slightly scrolled down. If we scrolled up to the top we’d see the Search box again.

Quickly scroll to the top of a list on an iPhone

What are you looking for?

This is easy: just type in what you’re looking for. Mail will find what you typed, searching senders, receivers, subjects, bodies– even the names of attachments.

Tip: you can tap the microphone in the Search box and dictate instead of typing. Siri doesn’t work for searching email (yet) so this is the best we can do right now.

iOS Mail search screen
Searching All Mailboxes for the word “Soccer”

Notice a couple of things about the image above. We see the word I’m searching for (“Soccer,” boxed in red at the top). But we also see ‘Search for “Soccer”‘ (top arrow) and a blue “search” button on the keyboard (bottom arrow). What this means is we haven’t really done the search at all (more on that in a minute).

Will you take suggestions?

If we scroll up a bit the keyboard disappears, and we see a list of suggestions that the iPhone thinks might be exactly what we’re looking for. This list of suggestions appears instantly, and often it contains just what we’re looking for.

iOS Mail search suggestions
The iPhone’s suggestions based on the word we’re going to search for

If the list of suggestions doesn’t show what we’re looking for it’s time to really do the search, and for that we’ll tap at the top, where it says ‘Search for “Soccer”.’ This will take some time.

(We could have tapped the blue “search” button on the keyboard to begin with, but remember the keyboard disappeared as soon as we scrolled, so it’s nice that there’s another place to tap in order to start the search.)

Where are you looking?

A real search takes a little time. You can reduce the time required by reducing the number of emails that Mail has to look at. You do that at the top, by tapping “Current Mailbox” rather than “All Mailboxes.” Of course you have to be in the right mailbox to begin with– you can’t specify a mailbox to search in other than choosing “Current Mailbox.”

iOS Mail search All Mailboxes or Current Mailbox
All Mailboxes, or Current Mailbox? Current Mailbox is faster, if you’re already in the right place.

What do you want to do with the email(s) you found?

Sometimes you’re looking for that one email… but other times, you have bigger plans. Maybe you want to delete all of the emails from a certain person. Maybe you want to move all of the emails from a certain person into a folder. Maybe you want to mark some of the found emails as Junk, or maybe you want to flag them. Here’s how you do it.

If you look closely you’ll see an “Edit” button at the bottom right of the search results.

iOS Mail Search showing Edit button
The Edit button, oddly placed since all of the action previously was at the top

It’s easy to overlook the Edit button because it’s way down at the bottom and everything else about searching Mail is at the top. Well, now you know.

Tap the Edit button to get a screen like this, with little circles to the left of each email.

iOS Search with selection circles
Tap circles to select messages.

Now we have something like this:

iOS Mail Search showing four message selected.
Selected emails, ready for you to Mark, Move, or Trash

The options across the bottom (Mark, Move, and Trash) all very helpfully tell us how many emails are selected. Pay attention to that so you don’t accidentally move 10,000 emails to the Trash.

Any questions?

That’s everything you need to know about searching for emails in iOS Mail. If you still have questions, contact me and I’ll try to help you.


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Christian Boyce

Author: Christian Boyce

Christian Boyce is a Mac and iPhone expert specializing in teaching people how to use Apple devices better, to get more done with them, and to have more fun doing it. He bought his first Mac (a Mac Plus) in 1986 and his first iPhone in 2007. He's written books and magazine articles, and given seminars at Macworld Expo, MacFair/LA, and the California Computer Expo. Over 30 years in the business.

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