How to recover deleted text messages on iPhone

Given how bulky the Messages app can get, it’s a good idea to have the occasional text clear-out to make space on your iPhone. There’s even an option in Messages to automatically delete messages after a specified amount of time.

So what happens if you accidentally delete an important message? Well, with a little luck 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 you may find our tutorial explaining how to fix iMessage helpful.

How to recover deleted texts from an iCloud backup

How to recover deleted texts from an iCloud backup

If you’ve got an iCloud backup of your iPhone from before you deleted the texts, you may be able to use this to retrieve them. Here’s how.

1. Open Settings, and tap on your name/picture at the top.

2. Select iCloud > Manage Storage, then tap Backups.

3. You’ll see a list of available backups; if you tap one you’ll see when it was saved. Look for one that is for the correct device and was saved before you deleted the message(s).

4. 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 will lose any data you’ve added since the backup, so be sure to separately save copies of any recent files you want to keep.

5. To restore the iPhone to factory settings, go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. This will take a few minutes, before the phone bursts into life and takes you through the usual setup. When you’re given the option to recover from a backup, make sure to choose the right 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 recover deleted texts without overwriting your iPhone

How to recover 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, iCloud doesn’t back up SMS messages in all territories or for all phone operators.

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.

1. Log into using your Apple ID and password.

2. Click on Text Messages. (If this option isn’t there, your messages haven’t been backed up here – so you might as well skip to the next method.)

3. Search the messages to find the ones you need.

4. Now go to your iPhone and choose Settings > [your name] > iCloud.

5. Turn off Text Messages (or make sure it’s already turned off).

6. You’ll see a popup. Select the option to Keep On My iPhone.

7. Now turn text messages back on.

8. Tap Merge, then wait. After a few minutes the deleted text messages should reappear on your iPhone.

How to recover deleted texts from an iTunes/Finder backup

How to recover deleted texts from an iTunes/Finder backup

If you can’t find a suitable iCloud backup, you may be able to recover your messages from a backup on iTunes (or Finder, if you’re running macOS Catalina or later). Even if you don’t think you backed up your messages, it’s worth a few minutes of your time to try.

Remember this method, like the iCloud backup, will overwrite any data on your phone that’s newer than the backup. Save anything precious you want to keep.

1. Connect your iPhone to the Mac or PC you backed it up to. Open iTunes, or Finder if you’re on Catalina or later.

2. 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.

3. Now choose ‘Restore backup’. In Finder, you’ll find this option under the General tab.

4. All the data you previously backed up 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 messaging list on your phone.

How to recover deleted texts by contacting your phone provider

How to recover deleted texts by contacting your phone provider

If you’ve had no luck finding an old copy of the texts in your backups, the next step should be to contact your phone provider. Some companies – although not all – will keep a record of your text messages, and 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 to ask.

How to recover deleted texts using a third-party app

How to recover deleted texts using a third-party app

If you find that the previous options don’t help, it’s time to go nuclear and employ a third-party software tool. Bear in mind that some of these tools come at a price, and there is no guarantee they will work – but if you’re desperate, this is the next step.

There are a few third-party apps that have a good online reputation (some of which we’ve personally used). PhoneRescue by iMobie, Enigma Recovery, WonderShare Dr.Fone for iOS and Tenorshare iPhone Data Recovery 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 quickly as possible. The longer you leave it, the more likely it is that you’ll have written over the relevant section of memory.

What next?

If everything has worked the way it should, you’re currently looking at an impeccably well-behaved iPhone containing several recovered text messages, and wondering what to do next.

You could install some new apps, for a start: read our guides to the best free iPhone apps and best free iPhone games for advice on that count.

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.

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