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Your iPhone's deleted voicemails aren't actually deleted. Here's why and how to delete them for good

If you like keeping your phone tidy by periodically deleting old messages and voicemails, you may be surprised to hear that those voicemail messages you deleted two years ago may still be on your phone.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Cropped shot of an unrecognizable man using a smartphone and a laptop while working from home
Moyo Studio via Getty Images

My voicemail is filled with automated message reminders, bum dials, and spam messages which are irrelevant to my daily life. Listening to and deleting these messages is not something I do often, but it can be helpful to prevent the dreaded "Mailbox is full" communication that incoming callers sometimes get.

However, if you've ever gone through your iPhone's visual voicemail and deleted older or useless voicemails, the truth is you probably haven't deleted them at all. 

Voicemail messages are typically stored in the mobile carrier's servers; they're not automatically stored on the phone itself, but they can be backed up to iCloud or a computer.  

Because voicemails are stored by the carrier, voicemail settings are relatively limited on your phone, so if you're having issues with voicemail that you can't seem to solve by troubleshooting, it's probably something your carrier knows how to fix. 

The fact that voicemails are typically stored on your carrier's server and not your phone itself is why you have to set up your voicemail again when you switch carriers or get a new phone, and why you're likely to lose them in the process unless they're backed up.

How to actually delete your deleted iPhone voicemails

Step 1: Go to Voicemail

You can access your visual voicemail on the Phone app

You can access your visual voicemail on the Phone app

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

The Phone application is where recent calls, contacts, favorites, the dial pad, and voicemail reside. It's where you can access visual voicemail.  

Go to the Voicemail tab on the Phone app.

Step 2: Delete unwanted messages

One of the cool things about visual voicemail is that it makes it easier to delete your voicemail messages. 

I'm a fan of getting rid of old and unwanted things in general, but do you remember when we had to call our own voicemail to check our messages? We had to sit there waiting for the recording to go through the inbox so we could press a button on the keypad to delete a message. 

Voicemails can be deleted individually on in groups

Voicemails can be deleted individually on in groups

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

There are two ways to delete voicemails on your phone: either select an individual message and delete it (left) or tap on Edit at the top right corner of the Voicemail tab and select several to delete at once (right). Unfortunately, there is no Select All option.

Step 3: Check Deleted Messages

Voicemail inbox looks empty, with the exception of the Deleted Messages

Voicemail inbox looks empty, with the exception of the Deleted Messages

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

If you deleted all the messages, you're now staring at a seemingly "empty" inbox, but with a Deleted Messages button. The Deleted Messages is like the cemetery for your deleted voicemails. And it's where you can retrieve them if you accidentally delete one you meant to save. iPhone also stores your deleted photos in the Photos app for 30 days for this reason.

Deleted messages folder

Deleted messages folder has all my old voicemails from when I first got my phone

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

But if you forget this place exists, your voicemails of yore pile up in there, much like mine did.

I have voicemail messages in my Deleted folder dating back to January 2019, around the time I got my iPhone XS Max. Mind you, I also switched phone carriers in late 2021, so where are all voicemails stored? Is it just on the carrier's server or the phone as well? It seems that, in my case, most were stored on the phone itself as well.

Step 4: Tap Clear All

Tap Clear All
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

When I tapped on Deleted Messages, all the voicemails I had deleted in the past 3.5 years were there. Once you're at the Deleted Messages, you can simply tap Clear All to get rid of them all. 

Empty mailbox

So satisfyingly empty.

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Also: How to set up voicemail on iPhone

But can you be 100% certain that your voicemails are deleted forever?

Deleting voicemails from your visual voicemail should delete them from the carrier's server, but does it? Verizon says deleting these messages, plus the voicemails on the deleted messages folder on iPhone will permanently erase them and cannot be undone, leading one to infer that the deleted visual VM messages are also deleted from the carrier's servers. If you are concerned about this, I'd recommend a call to your carrier to confirm this is the case. 


Will deleting voicemails free up iPhone storage space?

Unfortunately, there's no straight answer for this, as it varies from one carrier to the next. I had voicemails dating back to January 2019 in both my normal inbox and my deleted messages, so I obviously wondered where they're being stored. Is AT&T storing my messages out of the kindness of its heart after I left it a year ago? 

I can't speak with certainty for the messages on the inbox, but it does seem like the deleted messages from my voicemail were stored on my phone. When I switched carriers a year ago, I also changed my phone number but didn't get a new device, and all my old voicemails remained. 

Before I started deleting voicemails like I had something to hide, I checked my iPhone storage. You can check yours by going to Settings, then selecting General, then iPhone Storage

Before deleting all voicemails and then all deleted voicemails, my storage sat at 178.1 GB. After deleting them it dropped to 174.4 GB. I wish I had actually counted my messages before deleting them but with over 3.5 years of voicemails, I am pretty certain I had over 100.

iPhone storage change

iPhone storage snapshot before and after deleting voicemails

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

What is Visual Voicemail?

Visual voicemail is a feature that lets users see their incoming voicemail messages on a list, allowing for easy playback and even transcription, depending on the carrier's support.

Instead of calling a voicemail service and listening to all the messages, Visual Voicemail displays them as a list of recordings, also allowing users to share, save, or delete them quickly.  

How can I call to access my voicemail?

How you call to access traditional voicemail depends largely on the carrier. Some carriers make voicemail available by simply dialing 1, others you have to call a specific number. Typically, just calling your own number from your phone (or your number from another phone and dialing * or #) will give you access to voicemail with sequential playing. 

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