Outlook Search Not Working: Here’s What to Do

You may keep a tidy inbox, or your inbox may be the wild west with hundreds or thousands of unread and disorganized emails. Regardless of what kind of email user you are, sometimes you need to search through your emails in a quick manner. Within the Outlook email client, Outlook Search is a powerful tool to quickly find the specific email you are looking for. However, when Outlook Search is not working correctly, this can be a major hassle. 

Instead of quickly locating the email in question, you are left to scroll through your inbox manually. If you’re trying to reference an email from many months ago, this can be near impossible. You can’t narrow down the result based on keywords, subject, or sender. 

Why is Outlook Search not working?

There may be a variety of causes affecting Outlook Search’s functionality. A few of the most common reasons why the search function might not be working in Outlook:

  • Microsoft Office 2019 is outdated.
  • Update KB5008212 – A recent Windows 10 update has unintentionally broke Outlook Search for many Windows users.
  • Outlook isn’t being indexed.
  • A local Group Policy setting prevents proper indexing.
  • Outlook Personal Folder File (.PST) is corrupt.

How to fix Outlook Search when it’s not working

1. Windows Search Troubleshooter

Often the easiest thing you can do is to use the built-in Windows troubleshooting feature. If it’s anything simple and easily fixable, Windows may detect and fix the problem for you. Or Windows will provide recommendations for how to fix a problem. To run the Windows Search Troubleshooter:

  1. Press the Windows key or click the Start button. Enter Settings into the search bar. On the right-hand side, select Open for the Settings application.
Windows Settings
  1. When the Settings window pops up, find and select Update & Security.
Open Update & Security
  1. Select Troubleshoot from the menu to the left. On the Troubleshooting pane to the right, then click on Additional troubleshooter.
Run the Search and Indexing troubleshooter to fix Outlook Search not working
  1. Click the Search and Indexing troubleshooter option, and when prompted, click Run the troubleshooter. Follow any directions provided by Windows Troubleshooter,  but typically if Windows identifies an issue, Windows can fix the problem itself. 

2. Update Microsoft Office

The next solution is another quick and easy check before moving on to more involved options. If Microsoft Office hasn’t been updated in a long time, you may have outdated software. The search function might not be working in Outlook because of an outdated Office version. To update Microsoft Office:

  1. Open Outlook. Select File from the top menu and then Office Account from the menu on the left-hand side.
Outlook File Menu
  1. Look over to the Product Information on the right side, and you will see the button for Office Updates.
Updating Office can resolve search problems
  1. Click Update Options, and the drop-down menu will open. Select Update Now if available and let the process complete. Now Microsoft Office is fully updated. Restart your machine and try to use the Outlook Search functionality. 

You can manually install Microsoft Office updates via the Office Updates download page.

3. Rebuild search index (Update KB5008212)

If you have updated your Windows 10 or Windows 11 machine recently, you might have a bad update. Windows 10 update KB5008212 was released in December 2021. It was quickly identified as the cause behind many Outlook Search issues for users. 

This update issue mostly affects users with POP, IMAP, and offline Exchange accounts because the local Windows Search service indexes email for searching. Microsoft 365 hosted email and connected Exchange accounts use Service Search. Those users will not experience this issue.

Windows has identified a couple of options for dealing with this update and the undesired Outlook indexing issue. First, let’s try to rebuild the search index using the Outlook Index Repair Menu:

Note:  It may take a few days for the index to be rebuilt, so the resolution may be delayed before you can use Outlook Search again.

  1. Open Outlook. Select File from the top menu and then Options from the menu to the left.
Outlook options
  1. From the Outlook Options window, select Search on the left-hand side.
Outlook Search Options
  1. Under Sources, select Indexing Options, select Advanced.
Rebuild the Outlook index to solve search not working
  1. Under Troubleshooting, select Rebuild. Restart your machine and understand that this solution may not immediately show that it’s working.

4. Known Issue Rollback (Update KB5008212)

Because Windows realized the issues associated with Update KB5008212, they provided a Known Issue Rollback (KIR). Follow the below directions to complete the rollback and prevent the Outlook Search issue altogether:

  1. Download and Install the MSI file that corresponds to the problematic Windows 10 version from here.
  2. Once the MSI file has been installed, you can find the ADMX and ADML files in the “C:\Windows\PolicyDefinitions” folder.
Policy definitions
  1. Next, you need to open the Local Group Policy Editor. Click the Start button and search for “Run”. Open the Run application and enter “gpedit.msc”.
Run gpedit
  1. Within the left-handed pane, navigate to Local Computer Policy and then Administrative Templates. Next, select KB 5007253 Issue 002 Rollback. Then narrow down to Windows 10, version 2004 20H2 and 21H. 
  2. Double-click on that policy setting to open. By default, there is no configuration of this policy. Change the value for the update policy to Disabled. Then click OK.
Roll back the known Windows Update to fix the Outlook Search problem
  1. Restart your computer to see if the Local Group Policy changes have made an effect on the Outlook Search functionality. 

5. Check Outlook Index Locations

If the update is not the issue, then you want to continue with the following solutions. Let’s make sure that Outlook is currently being indexed and you don’t have any indexing problems. If Outlook is not being indexed, then you can easily fix that. 

  1. Open Outlook. Select File from the top menu and then Options from the menu to the left.
  2. From the Outlook Options window, select Search on the left-hand side.
  3. Under the Sources heading, select Indexing Options.
  4. Then click the Modify option at the bottom of the Indexing Options window.
  1. Make sure there is a check alongside Microsoft Outlook, then press OK.
  1. Restart your system and check if Outlook Search is working.

6. Use Registry to fix Outlook Search

Next, you will be using Windows Registry to fix the Outlook Search problem. 

Warning: When making Registry changes, always check and double-check that you are editing the right variable and that it has the right value. Changing the Registry without following specific steps can break your machine. 

To use Windows Registry to fix this problem:

  1. Press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialog application. Then, type “regedit” and press Enter to open the Registry Editor.
Run regedit
  1. Navigate to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\
  2. Look for a sub-key called Windows Search. You may or may not have it. If you have it, double-click on the Windows Search key. If you do not have it, just right-click on the Windows key instead. Choose Edit from that dropdown and select New and then Key. Make sure to name it Windows Search
  3. Once that panel is selected, right-click and select New Dword (32-bit). Name the new Dword PreventIndexingOutlook and assign it the value 0.
Fix Outlook Search in the Registry
  1. Press OK, then restart your system. Open Outlook and check if this solution fixed the Outlook Search problem.

7. Repair Your Outlook Personal Folder File (.PST) 

The search issue may not reside with Outlook itself but with your own Outlook personal folder file (.PST). PST stands for Personal Storage Table. If this has been corrupted or otherwise damaged, it can induce problems with Outlook, like the search function not working. You can repair this file using the Microsoft Outlook Inbox Repair utility:

  1. First, you need to find the location of the repair tool on your system. You’re looking for the scanpst.exe file in one of the following locations:
    • 32-bit Office 2016 and newer: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office16\
    • 64-bit Office 2016 and newer: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office16\
    • 64-bit Outlook 2016 and newer: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office16\
    • Office 365 (2016 package): C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\office16\
    • 32-bit Office 2013: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office15\
    • 64-bit Office 2013: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office15\
    • 64-bit Outlook 2013: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office15\
    • Office 365 (2013 package): C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\office15\
  2. Now you need to find the location of your PST file. You should find your personal folder at either:
    • Windows 10: drive:\Users\<username>\Roaming\Local\Microsoft\Outlook
    • Older versions: drive:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook
  3. Double-click on the scanpst.exe executable, and if the PST file is not automatically entered, you will need to type it in the field called “Enter the file name to be checked.”
  4. Select Start and allow Microsoft Outlook Inbox Repair to complete its check. 
The Microsoft Outlook Inbox Repair tool can fix search function problems
  1. The repair may take a few minutes. When it’s complete, you can restart your system and check if the Outlook issues are resolved.

8. Verify the Outlook Indexing Group Policy Setting

Finally, we are going to verify that Outlook has the correcting Indexing Group Policy setting. This is a quick final check you can make before engaging with Microsoft. To verify this setting:

  1. Click the Start button and search for “Edit Group Policy”. Then click Open.
  2. Navigate through the menu on the left-hand side through User Configuration, then Administrative Templates, and finally Search. 
  3. Verify that the following two settings have been left Not configured. If these are not configured, then you are good to go. If these have been changed, then you will need to fix the problem. The two settings to check are:
    • Default excluded paths
    • Prevent indexing certain paths

Solved: Outlook Search is now working

You’ve restored the search function to your Microsoft Outlook application. You aren’t stuck scrolling through hundreds of emails when you try to reference an email from two months ago. If you’ve followed through this guide, then you’ve tried many tested solutions to the Outlook Search problem. 

You started out small, using the Windows Search troubleshooter and updating Office. This can catch any simple issues and prevent any problems due to outdated Office software. Next, we covered some solutions associated with problematic Windows updates. There have been quite a few over the years that have negatively impacted Outlook Search, but the most recent was released in December 2021 and has caused some serious issues. If you aren’t looking at an update issue, then you had to check that your indexing settings were correct and use the registry to fix the search problem. If you are still having issues at this point, it’s best to turn to your PST file and make sure to repair it and eliminate any corruption. Finally, we verified the indexing group policy setting. 

If Windows Search is still not allowing you to search through your emails, please consider uninstalling Outlook and doing a fresh reinstall. Alternatively, reach out to Microsoft support

Leave a Comment