How to clear an incorrect unread email count badge on the Mail app

By , Mar 9, 2016

unreal email mail app icon

If you use the stock Mail application on your iPhone or iPad, you may have experienced a mysterious occurrence where the Mail app icon will display a red badge telling you there are unread emails when there actually aren’t any. No matter what you do, it seems that up can’t clear that inaccurate number of unread emails.

The Mail app is no stranger to weird bugs, so let me reassure you here, phantom unread emails aren’t taking over your iPhone or iPad. In this post, I will share with you a few options to fix an incorrect unread count, and hopefully put an end to it all.

Why can’t I clear that unread email badge?

I wish I had a proper explanation for this problem that happens randomly to some users, but unfortunately, I don’t. I know for a fact this is something that may affect users using any email service, including Outlook, Hotmail, and Gmail. Me and my mom, for instance, have experienced this on devices running both older and up-to-date versions of iOS.

My best explanation is that it is a software bug; something only Apple can fix, as it seemingly has nothing to do with the email service being used. While you can’t technically fix the problem, you can make it go away.

How to remove badge for unread emails from the Mail app icon

There are several ways to go around it, which I believe you should try in this specific order.

Make sure you don’t have unread emails

Mail iOS 9 show Unread mailbox iPhone screenshot 003

Duh! I know what you may think, but I also know human errors happen much more often than software bugs, and it really doesn’t hurt double checking that you indeed do not have any unread emails. The best way to go at it is to triage your inbox to only show unread emails, and the good news is, the Mail app has such a feature that allows you to easily show a hidden ‘Unread’ smart folder to gather your unread messages in one place.

If you already know how to do that, then great. If not, make sure you check out this post to enable ‘Unread’ smart mailbox in Mail for iPhone and iPad:

After having made sure you indeed read all emails in your inbox, and if the Mail app still wrongly shows unread emails, then we’ll have to dig deeper.

Force quit the Mail application

Now that we have the obvious out of the way, let’s go into the basics of troubleshooting. First thing you want to do is to force quit the Mail app.

Force quit app

Though usually not recommended, force quitting an app (also know as force closing an app) is a great solution when nothing else seems to work for that specific app. To force close the app, do the following on your iPhone or iPad:

  • Launch the Mail application.
  • Press the Home button twice quickly. You’ll be in app switching mode and see previews of your recently used apps.
  • Swipe up on the Mail app’s preview to close it.

If the Mail app still shows unread emails when there are none, we will have to escalate to the next basic troubleshooting step.

Restart your device

We’re still in basic troubleshooting mode here, but you’d be surprised to know how often rebooting your iPhone or iPad can fix small software problems.

slide to power off

I assume you know how to restart your iOS device, but for the sake of completeness, we’ll walk you through the steps anyway:

  • Press and hold on the Sleep/Wake button at the top or on the side of your iOS device until the Power Off slider appears.
  • Swipe on the slider to turn off your device completely.
  • Once off, press and hold on the Sleep/wake button again until you see the Apple logo.

Problem still happening? Let’s move up the troubleshooting chain…

Delete and set up your email account again

This is the solution that has always worked for me and the handful of people I know who have experienced this issue, including my mom earlier today. What you have to do here is completely delete your email account from your iPhone or iPad, then set it up all over again.

Because everything potentially related to your email (emails, contacts, calendars, notes) is saved server side, the risk of you actually losing anything here is virtually inexistent, so don’t worry about that.

To delete your email account and set it up again, follow the following steps:

  • Go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, then select the email account.
  • Scroll down and select Delete Account, then confirm you do want to delete that account.
  • Now go back to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, then choose Add Account.
  • Go through the set up process by selecting the email service, and entering your email address and password.

As previously mentioned, this has cleared the incorrect unread email count badge every single time, so I’m hopeful this will work for you too. If not, you really have few options left at this point.

Disable Mail app icon unread badge notification

disable mail app badge icon

This is not really a fix but more of a workaround.

You don’t have to show the unread badge count on the Mail app, or any other app for that matter. Instead, you can choose to hide the badge app icon, and never see that red little circle on the Mail app again. To do so:

  • Go to Settings > Notifications.
  • Scroll down and select the Mail app.
  • Select your Mail account.
  • Make sure to toggle off the Badge App Icon option, as seen on the screenshot above.

Restore your iPhone

This is the not-so-fun part of iPhone troubleshooting. When nothing else works, the best option is to restore the device and set it up as new. As a matter of fact, this is a step Apple Support will ask you to take before they even consider looking into your issue. Restoring basically wipes your iPhone or iPad clean and is usually the best way to fix software-related problems when nothing else works.

After backing up your iOS device, you can either restore using iTunes by plugging it into your computer, launching iTunes, and clicking on Restore. As an alternative, you can also go to Settings > General > Reset, and select Erase All Content and Settings directly from the device. Note this is not technically similar to restoring, but erasing all content and settings is an acceptable way of wiping up your iOS device clean, according to Apple.

After restoring or erasing all content and settings, it is highly recommended to set up your iPhone or iPad as new (not from a backup). Setting up the device from a previous backup may bring over corrupted files that may be the cause of your issues to begin with, which is why setting up as new is always the best option.

If all this fails for you, then I guess you’ll have to live knowing that your unread email inbox badge is inaccurate. Talk about first world problems… But I’m confident that deleting and re-installing your email account will fix the issue. If not, restoring most definitely will. In the meantime, try not to obsess too much about that badge, or just hide it all together!

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  • The only time i get a mystery unread mail flag on my iPhone is when there’s unread gmail in the “promotions” or “social” folders, which don’t show (by default) on my phone.

  • Donstil

    No dock and smaller icons looks cool. What jailbreak tweak does that❓

  • Karim Muharram

    It happens with me, I usually reread the last 10 emails even if it’s already read, and it works every time.

  • af0erster31

    …if you like it light weight and free 😉

  • Joey_Z

    settings – mail – mail service that shows unread – flip the switch to disable syncing, reboot, reenable syncing. Better than restore…

  • Smegmatron

    Can you please tell me how to make the phone app badge to dissapear? I have a “2” on the voicemail but I don’t have any. And that red thing is killing me

  • Ginger Hadley

    Easiest fix I’ve found:

    Incorrect Unread Count iPhone / iPad FIX
    1. Go to “Settings”
    2. Select “Mail, Contact, Calendars”
    3. Select the mail account that shows the unread message.
    4. Turn “Mail” to “Off”
    5. Turn the iPhone / iPad off by holding down the power button for 5 seconds and slide to “power off.”
    6. Wait for 30 seconds, turn the iPhone / iPad back on

    • Robert Haag

      That worked. I’d tell people to try that before going through the pain of deleting and re-setting up the account.

  • Hugh

    Thanks! Deleting and setting up the account worked! That freaking issue has made me crazy for months! 🙂