Mac Mail Search Not Working on Monterey, Big Sur, or Catalina? Do This

frustrated frustration in front of computer
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If your Mac mail search is not working in Catalina, Monterey, or Big Sur (or really any other version of Mac OS), read on! Sometimes it’s the most obvious, and simplest, thing that you do last. In 2021 (and now 2022) there were tons of articles and posts answering questions about how to fix email search on a Mac, and many of them suggest complicated (and yes, sometimes necessary) methods for restoring the search function for your Mac email, everything from reindexing Spotlight to reinstalling the OS (eek!). So if email search is not working on your Mac, we’re here to hopefully save you some frustration.

With email being such an integral and indeed necessary aspect of our daily lives at both work and home, we know how incredibly frustrating it can be when your search function stops working and you can no longer easily find that email that you need from last week, last month, or even last year. And perhaps even all the more so when you are searching for email on a Mac, given how for so many years Applytes (you know, Apple acolytes) were fond of saying that “it just works” and, for the most part, it did just work. (Don’t get us wrong, we are a fully Mac shop and still fully committed to Macs ourselves, although in part that’s because of the BSD Unix under the hood.)

Now it may be that by now you have already tried many of the other possible fixes that you have found online. These include, from simplest (or at least most straight forward) to most complex: Logging out of your Mac and back in. Reindexing your hard drive to reset Spotlight. Logging out of your Mac, shutting it down and restarting it in “safe mode.” Customizing your touch bar (if you have one) to perform an email search. Closing the mail app, finding and deleting the hidden email indices, and opening Mail app again (to force it to rebuild the tables and indices again). And, again, reinstalling the OS (to which we, again, say “eek”).

And then there is perhaps our favorite, which involves quitting the mail app, relaunching it while holding down the shift key, then quitting the mail app again, and again relaunching it while holding down the shift key, then shutting down and restarting your computer, while sacrificing a chicken and hopping up and down on one foot. (Ok those last two are optional, and aren’t really recommended, but it can start to feel like that.)

Anyways, this fix doesn’t involve any of these things. And it’s dead easy, although you may need to repeat it many times (because you have to apply it individually to each mailbox or folder).

Easy Fix to Try for Search Not Working in Mac Mail App

Open your Mail app (no need to close it and reopen if you already have it open).

Go to a mailbox or folder that you know contains an email with a particular search term. Search for it to confirm that it doesn’t show up and that search is not working.

Stay in that mailbox or folder, and click on ‘Mailbox’ up on the menu bar.

mailbox menu mac mail app email

Go all the way to the bottom of the dropdown and click on ‘Rebuild’.

rebuild mailbox menu mac mail app email

It will probably seem like nothing is happening. And that ‘nothing’ happens very quickly (unless the mailbox or folder you are in has a lot of email in it).

Now try your search again.

If this worked, then this is what you need to do with your other mailboxes and/or folders.

If it didn’t work, well then unfortunately you are likely going to need to resort to one of those other methods mentioned above, but try this first (not last!)

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