Bearing in mind how quickly the Messages app is liable to fill up with texts, photos, videos and other attachments, it's a good idea to have the occasional clear-out to make space on your iPhone. There's even an option in Messages (under Settings > Messages > Message History) to automatically delete messages after a specified amount of time.
But what happens if you delete an important message by accident? Well, with a little luck and our advice you can probably get it back.
In this article we walk you through five simple methods to retrieve lost or accidentally deleted texts on your iPhone. For broader troubleshooting advice related to this app you may find our tutorial explaining how to fix iMessage helpful.
How to retrieve deleted texts from an iCloud backup
If you made an iCloud backup of your iPhone before you got rid of the texts, you may be able to use this to recover them. Here's how to retrieve those deleted messages.
- Open Settings, and tap on your name/picture at the top.
- Select iCloud > Manage Storage, then tap Backups.
- You'll be presented with a list of available backups; tap one to see when it was saved. Look for one that applies to the correct device and was saved before you deleted the message(s).
- Even if you can find a suitable backup, bear in mind that you'll need to completely reset your iPhone to factory settings before setting up your iPhone using the older backup. You'll lose any data added or system changes made since the backup, so be sure to separately save copies of any more recent files you want to keep.
- To restore the iPhone to factory settings, go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. This will take a few minutes. When the phone wakes up again it will take you through the usual setup; when you're given the option to recover from a backup, be sure to choose the correct one.
If you haven't got an old backup with the data you need - or you don't want to overwrite the data added to your phone since the old backup - you'll need to try something else. Don't despair. We have more options.
How to retrieve deleted texts without overwriting your iPhone
This is a method that's brilliant if it works, since it doesn't require a complete reset. But it doesn't work for everyone. For reasons that remain unclear, in certain territories and for certain phone operators, iCloud simply doesn't back up SMS messages.
So try the first two steps to see if you're one of the lucky ones, and jump ahead to the next method if you're not.
- Log into iCloud.com using your Apple ID and password.
- Click on Text Messages. (If this option isn't visible, your messages haven't been backed up here - so you might as well skip to the next method.)
- Search the messages to find the ones you need.
- Now go to your iPhone and choose Settings > [your name] > iCloud.
- Turn off Text Messages (or make sure it's already turned off).
- You'll see a popup. Select the option to Keep On My iPhone.
- Now turn text messages back on.
- Tap Merge, then wait. After a few minutes the deleted text messages should reappear on your iPhone.
How to retrieve deleted texts from an iTunes/Finder backup
If you can't find a suitable backup on iCloud, you may be able to recover your messages from a backup on iTunes (on Windows or older versions of macOS) or Finder (on macOS Catalina or later). It's worth a few minutes of your time to try.
Remember that using this method, as with iCloud, will overwrite any data on your phone that's newer than the backup. Export and save separately any recent files you want to keep.
- Connect your iPhone to the Mac or PC containing the backup(s). Open iTunes or Finder.
- In iTunes, you should see an iPhone icon appear in the top left-hand corner. Select it. In Finder, select your device from the lefthand menu bar.
- Now choose 'Restore backup'. In Finder, you'll find this option under the General tab.
- The backup data will now replace the data on your phone. This will take a few minutes. As long as you haven't backed up since deleting those text messages, they should now appear in the normal list on your phone.
How to retrieve deleted texts by contacting your phone provider
If you've had no luck finding the texts in your backups, the next step should be to contact your phone provider. Some companies (although certainly not all) will keep a record of your text messages. If they have, you're entitled to access them.
Some providers let you do this by simply logging into your account online; others require you to go through customer services. Here's how to contact Three, Vodafone, O2, Giffgaff, EE, BT and Virgin, for example.
The answer may be no, but it costs nothing (except a bit of time) to ask.
How to retrieve deleted texts using a third-party app
If you find that none of the options outlined above get your texts back, it's time to go nuclear and employ a third-party software tool. Bear in mind that such tools can be expensive (although many offer a time- or feature-limited free trial), and there is no guarantee they will work. But if you're desperate, and nothing else has worked, this is what we'd suggest.
There are a few third-party apps that have a good online reputation (some of which we've personally used). Dr.Fone by Wondershare, Enigma Recovery, PhoneRescue by iMobie and Tenorshare UltData are four possibilities to explore.
Even after you delete messages they remain on your handset until overwritten, so you should be able to recover deleted messages using these utilities. But, as we say, there are no guarantees.
The best advice if you're using one of these apps is to do so as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the more likely it is that you'll have written over the relevant section of memory and made it impossible to recover the lost data.
If everything has worked the way it should, you'll now be looking at an impeccably well-behaved iPhone containing several recovered text messages, and wondering what to do next.
For a broader overview of our phone advice, take a look at our iPhone tips feature, which links out to a range of useful, in-depth tutorials. And if you're interested in getting a new handset at a bargain price, take a look at our roundup of the best iPhone deals.