Can you see permanently deleted iMessages?

iMessage is the default messaging app on iOS devices and Macs, allowing users to send free messages over WiFi to other Apple users. With over 1 billion active devices worldwide, iMessage has a significant user base, especially in countries like the US where it accounts for 17% of the instant messaging market according to one estimate [1].

When an iMessage is ‘permanently deleted’, it is removed from the device’s message history and conversation threads. Unlike regular deletion which sends a message to the ‘Recently Deleted’ folder, permanent deletion skips this step and immediately removes the message from local storage. The message is no longer accessible through the device’s interface.

In this article, we’ll examine whether permanently deleted iMessages can still be recovered through iCloud or iTunes backups, synced devices, or third-party apps. We’ll also look at when permanent deletion is truly final. This will help Apple device users understand what happens when they permanently delete a message and if there are any ways to retrieve it.

Deleting vs Permanently Deleting iMessages

When you delete a message normally on an iPhone, it is moved to the Recently Deleted folder and stays there for up to 30 days before being permanently deleted automatically. This allows you time to recover any messages you may have deleted by accident.

Permanently deleting messages means they are removed right away without going to the Recently Deleted folder first. Permanently deleting bypasses the recovery period, so the messages cannot be retrieved.

You may want to permanently delete private or sensitive conversations that you don’t want anyone else accessing from your device, even by accident. Financial information, confidential work communications, or intimate messages with a loved one are examples. Permanently deleting removes any local copy of the messages right away.

However, even after permanent deletion, the messages may still exist in other places like iCloud backups or the recipient’s device. So permanent deletion only deletes them locally, not necessarily everywhere.

Can You Recover Permanently Deleted iMessages?

When you permanently delete iMessages from your iPhone, they are designed to be irrecoverably removed from your device and iCloud storage. The purpose of permanent deletion is to thoroughly erase messages so they cannot be recovered by any normal means.

However, in some limited cases it may be possible to retrieve permanently deleted iMessages. This is because even after permanent deletion, iMessage data can sometimes persist in backups or on synced devices where deletion has not occurred. So while permanent deletion is intended to be irreversible, there are a few scenarios where recovery could potentially happen.

For example, if you had an iTunes backup from before the message was deleted, it may still exist in that backup. Or if the message was synced to another one of your devices before deletion, you may be able to retrieve it from that device. Additionally some third party apps claim they can recover permanently deleted data from iPhones, with varying levels of success.

So while permanent iMessage deletion is designed to be unrecoverable, users should be aware there are some edge cases where it may be possible to retrieve the deleted messages if they still exist in certain backups or synced copies.

Checking iCloud Backups

Even after you permanently delete iMessages on your iPhone, copies of those messages may persist in iCloud backups. iCloud automatically backs up your iPhone periodically when connected to power, Wi-Fi, and have a strong cellular connection. These backups contain a snapshot of your data and settings from that time, including recently deleted iMessages.

To check if a deleted iMessage still exists in an iCloud backup:

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups.
  2. Select the device backup you want to check.
  3. Look for the Messages category and see if it shows a size, indicating iMessages stored.

To delete the iMessages from your iCloud backups:

  1. Tap on the backup that contains Messages data.
  2. Tap Delete Backup and confirm.

This will remove that device backup and any iMessages contained within from iCloud. Be cautious before deleting, as you’ll lose the ability to restore other data from that backup. As an alternative, you can turn off iCloud backups for Messages under Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Messages.

Restoring from iTunes Backup

Similarly, iTunes backups may contain deleted messages from your iPhone that you can potentially restore. When you connect your iPhone to a computer and sync with iTunes, it can create backups that include your messages, contacts, photos and more. To check if a deleted message is stored in an iTunes backup:

1. Open iTunes and connect your iPhone to your computer via USB.

2. Select your device and go to Summary > Backups to see if you have any stored backups and when they were created. Look for a backup made before the message was deleted.

3. To restore, click Restore Backup and select the relevant backup containing the deleted message. iTunes will sync the backup data to your device.

Keep in mind restoring the entire backup will overwrite your current iPhone data. If you only need to retrieve a few messages, you can use third-party iOS data recovery software like AnyRecover to selectively extract deleted messages from iTunes backups without fully restoring the backup. This gives you more control over which data is recovered.

Third-Party Recovery Apps

There are a number of third-party apps that claim to recover permanently deleted iMessages, such as iMyFone iBypasser, EaseUS MobiSaver, FonePaw iPhone Data Recovery, and iSkysoft Toolbox. These apps work by scanning your iPhone for residual data from deleted messages that may still exist in the phone’s storage.

However, according to Apple’s support page, when you permanently delete iMessages they are removed completely from the device (1). This means third-party apps likely cannot recover messages after permanent deletion, as there is no residual data left to find. As one Reddit user commented, “No. They are gone. You can try restoring to an older backup, sometimes that brings back messages that were there during the time the backup was made” (2).

In summary, third-party apps that claim to recover permanently deleted iMessages do not appear to work as advertised. Once an iMessage is permanently deleted, it is likely gone for good.


Retrieving from Recipient’s Phone

In some cases, a permanently deleted iMessage may still exist on the recipient’s device if they have not also deleted it. While it may be technically possible to retrieve the message from their phone, this raises significant privacy and consent issues. There are ethical concerns around accessing someone else’s device to recover messages without their knowledge or permission.

Any attempt to retrieve deleted messages from another person’s phone without consent could be considered a breach of privacy. The messages were deleted for a reason, and the sender likely intended for them to be permanently gone. Accessing the recipient’s device would go against the sender’s intent in deleting the message in the first place. Legally, retrieving messages in this manner could potentially violate data protection and privacy laws in certain jurisdictions.

Overall, while messages may still reside on the recipient’s device, it is not recommended to attempt recovery without obtaining clear consent. The ethical and potential legal risks outweigh the benefits of recovering a deleted message. Senders should assume deleted iMessages are meant to be permanently gone, even if remnants linger on the recipient’s phone.

Messages Synced to Other Devices

When you have iMessage enabled across multiple Apple devices logged into the same Apple ID, such as an iPhone, iPad, and Mac, your iMessages are synced across those devices (1). This means even if you delete an iMessage thread on your iPhone, that thread may still exist on your synced Mac or iPad if you haven’t specifically deleted it from those devices.

To check for deleted iMessages on other synced devices:

  • On your Mac, open the Messages app and check for any conversations you thought you deleted on your iPhone.
  • On your iPad, open the Messages app and tap Edit > Show Recently Deleted to view deleted threads that may still be stored.

If you find deleted iMessages on those other devices that you want to permanently remove, simply delete the threads again from each device individually. This will ensure the iMessages are removed across all your synced devices.

When Permanent Deletion is Final

There are a few scenarios where deleting an iMessage will result in it being permanently erased with no possibility for recovery:

  • The message was never backed up to iCloud or iTunes.
  • The message was deleted from the phone and then the latest iCloud and iTunes backups were also deleted/overwritten, removing all archived copies of the message.
  • The message was never synced to any other devices like Macs or iPads connected to the same Apple ID.

To ensure a message is fully deleted from all locations:

  1. Delete the message from the iPhone’s message history.
  2. Sign out of iCloud and disable iCloud backups on the iPhone.
  3. Delete any existing iCloud backups containing the message by going to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups.
  4. Delete any iTunes backups containing the message from your computer.
  5. Uninstall any apps capable of iMessage recovery from your iPhone.
  6. Sign out of iMessage on any connected devices like Macs or iPads.

Once all copies of the message are removed from active devices and backups, there will be no way to recover it. The deletion will be permanent.


In this article, we discussed the key differences between deleting and permanently deleting iMessages. While deleted iMessages can often be recovered through iCloud or iTunes backups or third-party apps, permanently deleted iMessages are much more difficult to retrieve.

There are a few ways you may be able to find permanently deleted iMessages, such as checking backups that were created before the deletion, using data recovery software, or retrieving them from the recipient’s device if synced. However, if the iMessage has been permanently erased from all locations, recovery is likely impossible.

The key takeaway is that permanent deletion is designed to be irreversible in most cases. So before permanently deleting sensitive iMessages, think carefully, as you most likely will not be able to recover them. Backing up your data regularly is the best way to protect important messages you may need later.

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