Preventing unwanted messages from showing up in your inbox can be integral to enjoying email. In this article we will walk you through the process of creating mail rules that will direct messages to other folders or the trash based on conditions you specify. We will also discuss how to update rules to include additional senders or other criteria, and provide some common-sense guidance about effectively using mail rules in general.
Mail rules allow you to direct messages out of your inbox into another folder or trash automatically, based on their sender or other conditions. Rules can be set up on iCloud.com if the email address is the one you use for iCloud (it can end in either @icloud.com, @me.com, or @mac.com).
For your other email addresses, rules can be set up in the Mail app on a Mac. If you set up rules using iCloud.com they are very effective, immediately directing messages to the specified folders on all your devices. If you set up rules using the Mail app, they are effective only after you start up your Mac and open the Mail app. At the end of this article, I will make some practical suggestions about how to address that, and other aspects of using mail rules.
There may be a few different types of undesirable mail. I suggest that a folder (and rule) be set up for each of the types. Below are examples of different different types of messages you might set up folders for:
- Vendors – Messages from businesses you enjoy visiting such as restaurants, supermarkets, clothing stores or tech vendor websites. You might want to look at these later for special offers and coupons.
- Spam – Messages from business you don’t prefer, including anything offensive or sketchy.
- A Frequent Sender – A loved one, boss or customer whose messages you want to see separately from your other incoming mail.
Your needs regarding how many folders you set up and what to name them may be different. The best solution might not be a one-size-fits-all rule. It might be a set of multiple rules.
Create a mailbox for each type of undesired message
On iCloud.com this step isn’t necessary because the new folder can be set up during the process of creating a rule, which is a nice feature not found on OS X.
On a Mac, create a mailbox by choosing Mailbox from the menu bar and clicking on New Mailbox. For the Location field, choose a location on an existing email account, not “On My Mac.” That way, at least for IMAP accounts (like iCloud and Gmail) and Exchange accounts (like many corporate email accounts), the folders will be visible on all your devices. For POP accounts (like Verizon, RoadRunner, and others hosted by most Internet service providers), the folders will not be visible on all your devices.
These “mailboxes” are just folders, and will display in the same places that your existing mail folders do. They display a number to the right of the name that reflects the number number of unread messages inside, just like your inbox does.
Create a Rule to direct messages to the mailbox
Access iCloud.com using a web browser on your computer and log in. Click the Mail icon, then click on an example of an undesired message. The rule you create will be based on that message. Click the gear icon on the bottom left and choose Rules.
Click “Add a Rule” on the right and notice that the sender’s address from the example you chose is shown below in the “is from” field. Click on “Choose a Folder” and then New Folder. Type in a name for the new folder and click Done on the bottom right. You will see the rule you just created displayed on a list. Click Done at the bottom right to exit Mail settings.
If you are making a rule in iCloud.com based on some condition other than the sender, click on the “is from” field to see the other conditions you can use:
- is addressed to
- is Cc’d to
- is addressed or Cc’d to
- has subject containing
Using the Mail app on a Mac:
Click on an example of an undesired message, and then choose Mail from the menu bar and click on Preferences. Then click Rules on the top right and click the Add Rule button.
Type a name for the rule like “Vendors,” then click on the button that says Any Recipient and change that field to “From.” Notice that the sender’s address from the example you chose is shown to the right in the appropriate field.
In the “Perform the following actions” section at the bottom, confirm the action says “Move Message” and choose the appropriate mailbox using the popup menu on the right. Then, click the OK button at the bottom right to save the new rule.
At that point, a popup will be displayed asking “Do you want to apply your rules to messages in selected mailboxes?” This retroactively moves all messages that meet the conditions of the rule to the specified folder.
Update a rule with additional conditions
When using iCloud.com, simply repeat the same steps as you used to create a rule. That will result in an additional row being added to the list of rules. Click Done at the bottom right to exit mail settings.
Using the Mail app on a Mac:
Click on a message from the sender you want to add to the existing rule’s conditions. Then go back to Mail > Preferences > Rules, click on the Vendors rule, and click Edit. Click the + sign on the right side of the existing condition.
This will create a new row, where the condition is “From” the sender you clicked on. Click the OK button at the bottom right and then choose Apply when prompted.
Suggestions about using Rules
Implement the rules on iCloud.com if possible. There are many benefits to doing it this way, including being able to see both the criteria of your mail rules and the folders from any computer.
When creating rules on a Mac, don’t make too many. Create a few basic rules and update the conditions of them as necessary. Both you and your computer will have difficulty processing the logic of excessive rules.
When creating rules like the Vendor rule in the examples above, click in the email field, and use the delete key to delete all the characters prior to the vendor’s domain name, like “Chefscatalog.com” or ”LifeProof.com”. This makes the rule much more effective because messages from any address at that company will be sent to the Vendors folder.
You can also use this trick to direct all messages from your coworkers into a specific folder, as seen in the example below.
Rules can be created in iCloud based on conditions other than sender, which were listed in this article. There is a much broader list of conditions that can be used when using the Mail app on a Mac as reflected in the image below.
It’s not recommended to make rules that automatically delete messages by directing them to the trash folder, since doing so could cause you to miss an important messages. Instead, consider creating rules that send messages to a folder you created.
If you leave your computer on at home, you might as well leave the mail program running so the rules will be applied on a continuous basis. That way your iOS devices will reflect the cleaner inbox, and your Mac will already have the rules applied when you access your mail there.
Using mail rules will hopefully improve your mail experience by helping you focus on the new messages you actually want to see. Filtering out the undesired messages and directing coupons and special offers to a specified folder, especially in your primary email account, is well-worth the time it takes to set up.