How to recover deleted mailbox items from Exchange Server

Exchange has a built-in dumpster — call it a recycle bin if you like. This allows users to delete emails while also allowing them to recover the deleted emails for a certain period of time as defined in Exchange. The Exchange mailbox database retains deleted mailbox items for 14 days by default. This value can be changed, not only on a store level but also on an individual mailbox level. Certainly, you don’t have the storage capacity to raise the retention time for every user in the organization, but you could change it individually for certain users such as the CEO or CFO or CIO, and give them, say, 30 days of deleted-item retention. There are a few ways you can change these limits. If you prefer logging into the Exchange Admin Center and making the changes then you would need to do the following:

Database limit change

  1. Launch the Exchange 2019 Exchange Admin Center from the start menu under the Exchange 2019 folder.
  2. Once your browser has loaded the page, enter in your credentials and log in.
  3. Click Servers in the left-hand pane.
  4. Select the database you want to change and click the pencil button to make changes.
  5. Click the limits tab on the left.
  6. On the right-hand side, you will see the option Keep deleted items for (days):

Enter the value you want. This should align with company requirements and also with storage requirements.

Click OK to save it.

You can also do the same change using PowerShell. To change the deleted item retention for the mailbox database, run the following command in the Exchange Management Shell (EMS):

Set-MailboxDatabase -Identity "Mailbox Database 0996934797" -DeletedItemRetention 30

recover deleted mailbox items

Don’t forget to also set your warning quota.

Mailbox limit change

You can also set this for individual mailboxes as mentioned above. To do this, perform the following steps:

  1. Launch the Exchange 2019 Exchange Admin Center from the start menu under the Exchange 2019 folder.
  2. Once Internet Explorer has loaded the page, enter in your credentials and log in.
  3. Click Recipients in the left-hand pane.
  4. Click on the Mailboxes Tab.
  5. Either Search for the mailbox or select it from the list and then double click it or click the pencil to open the properties page.
  6. Click on the mailbox usage tab and scroll down.
  7. You will notice that whatever is set on the database level will be set on the mailbox as the radio button “Use the default retention settings from the mailbox database” is selected.
  8. To make any customizations, select the “Customize the retention settings for this mailbox” radio button and enter in the new value that you want and then click the Save button.

You can also do the same change using PowerShell. To change the deleted item retention for a mailbox you can run the following command in the Exchange Management Shell (EMS):

Set-Mailbox -Identity "User1" -RetainDeletedItemsFor 30 -UseDatabaseRetentionDefaults $false

Again, don’t forget to adjust the quota warnings as you have applied new values.

How a user can recover deleted mailbox items

  1. First, when a user deletes an email, that email goes to the deleted folder in the user’s mailbox. This option is called the “Delete” operation.
  2. If the user then deletes the mail from the deleted items folder, this is referred to as the “Soft Delete” operation. The mail will no longer appear in the deleted items folder but now moves to the Recoverable Items Folder. This is the “dumpster.”
  3. Now let’s move on how to recover those deleted items. The user first has to click on the deleted items folder and then right-click on it to reveal the menu option called Recover Deleted Items… or they can select the option from the Ribbon within Outlook. recover deleted mailbox items
  4. Once they have clicked the option to recover, whichever method they prefer, a new window will appear and show them all the deleted items available to them for recovery.
  5. After they have selected the items for recovery, they can then select Recover Selected Items options at the bottom and then click OK to finish the process.

Take note: You also have the option to purge the items, which will then remove it all from the dumpster.

Once the mail has been restored it will appear in the deleted items folder again.

Deleted mailbox items: Get them back alive

The best method to recover deleted mailbox items is either to restore from backup or use the “recover deleted items” MS Outlook option. One other alternative is the third-party Exchange Recovery Tool. I have used the tool for some cases (database corruption, deleted mailbox recovery, multiple mailboxes recovery, dirty shutdown, etc.) and in each instance, all emails that I was looking for were recovered.

This way you can easily get back all deleted mailboxes and their items within the retention period.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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