We all want to delete the SMS (AKA text) messages we get on our iPhones sometimes. Whether that's because you want to keep your Messages app tidy or because a message had something in it you don't want someone else to see, a simple swipe usually takes care of things.
Or does it? It turns out that deleting iPhone SMS messages isn't so simple.
Try this: delete an SMS message from your iPhone, then go to Spotlight and search for the text of the message you just deleted. In many cases, something disturbing will happen: the text message will appear in the search results. This also happens in some cases when you search within the Messages app. Those SMS messages that you thought were gone when you deleted them are still hanging around your iPhone to be found by someone who's determined and knows how to find them.
Why This Happens
This potentially frustrating behavior is the result of an intricacy of how the iPhone deletes data. When you "delete" some kinds of items from the iPhone, they don't actually get deleted. Instead, they're marked for deletion by the operating system and hidden so that they appear deleted. But they're still on the phone. Only when you sync your iPhone with iTunes are they truly deleted.
How to Permanently Delete These SMS Messages
If you want to truly and permanently delete SMS messages from your iPhone, there are a few options:
1. Sync Regularly - Since syncing with iTunes is what actually erases items you've marked for deletion, sync regularly. If you delete an SMS on your iPhone and then sync your iPhone, the message really will be gone for good.
Learn more about syncing your iPhone.
2. Remove Messages from Spotlight Search - Your deleted SMS messages can't appear in a Spotlight search if Spotlight isn't looking for them in the first place. You can control what apps Spotlight searches in and which it ignores, so you can stop it from searching Messages. To do this:
- From your home screen, tap Settings
- Tap General
- Scroll about halfway down the screen and tap Spotlight Search
- Scroll to the bottom of the screen and tap Messages to uncheck it.
Now, when you run a Spotlight search on your phone, SMS messages won't be included in the results.
3. Erase All Data or Restore to Factory Settings - These are fairly extreme steps, but they do solve the problem. Erasing all data on your iPhone does just what it sounds like: it erases everything stored in your iPhone's memory, including your text messages marked for deletion. Of course, it deletes your music, email, apps, and everything else, too, but it solves the problem.
Learn how to erase iPhone data.
The same is true of restoring the iPhone to factory settings. This basically returns the iPhone to the state it arrived from the factory to you in. Again, it deletes everything, but your deleted text messages will definitely be gone.
Learn how to restore your iPhone to factory settings.
4. Use a Passcode - One way to prevent nosy people from finding your deleted text messages is to keep them from gaining access to your iPhone in the first place. A good way to do that is to put a passcode on your iPhone that they have to enter before it will unlock. The standard iPhone passcode is 4 digits, but for extra-strength protection, try the more secure passcode you get by turning the Simple Passcode option off. Thanks to the iPhone 5S's Touch ID fingerprint scanner, you can have even more powerful security on that device.
Learn how to enable a passcode.
5. Apps - There are a few apps that claim to solve this problem for you, too. I haven't used any of them, so I can't speak to their effectiveness, but you may also want to give them a try:
- iErase: Zero Free Space - US$2.99 - Purchase at iTunes
- ProtectStar iShredder Pro - $5.99 - Purchase at iTunes
- SecureWipe - $3.99 - Purchase at iTunes
- ShredIt HD - $9.99 - Purchase at iTunes
Got a tech support question? Ask it in the discussion forums.
Want tips like this delivered to your inbox every week? Subscribe to the free weekly iPhone/iPod email newsletter.