How To Manage Disposable Email Addresses With Gmail

Having a spare email address is useful for web sites that demand your details but which you suspect will then bombard you with unwanted messages. With Gmail, you can keep your main address and still use your account for 'disposable' addresses as well.

Granted, it's not particularly difficult to set up a brand-new 'disposable' email account with one of the many free email providers (Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! being the most obvious options), and use that for trying out services. However, that means managing an entirely separate account and remembering to log into it regularly to make sure it doesn't expire. And if you sign up for a mailing list or site that does prove useful, switching it back to your most active email account is another nuisance. If you're already a regular Gmail user, setting up a 'disposable' address as part of your main account is a much simpler solution.

Doing this takes advantage of a simple (but not obvious) feature of Gmail: you can add extra text to your existing user name with a + sign. Mail sent to [email protected] will go to the [email protected] address, so you can set up specific versions of your email for particular situations ([email protected]), or a general catch-all email to identify stuff that might be suspect ([email protected]).

You might well be thinking "But if all that mail comes to my Gmail inbox anyway, how is this helping me avoid spam and unwanted messages?" The answer is to take advantage of Gmail's filtering technology to automatically shift messages sent to that 'expanded' address. Here's the steps you need to follow within Gmail (assuming that you're using [email protected] as the 'disposable' address, with 'yourname' replaced with your Google user name):

  • Click on the 'Create a filter' link (just next to the search box).
  • In the 'To' field, enter your disposable address: [email protected]
  • Click on the 'Next Step' button.
  • If you just don't want to see messages sent to your Gmail account, select the 'Skip the inbox' option. If you've used a specific address to identify (say) a mailing list, you might want to apply a Gmail label instead.
  • Click on 'Create Filter' and you're done.

From now on, just use your [email protected] address whenever you suspect you won't want follow-up emails, and any unwanted mails will avoid your inbox. If you suspect that something useful has been missed, you can still access it via the search engine or through the 'All mail' view. Easy, hey?

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?


    One problem with this plan is it's easily filtered for at the spammers end, should they have a mind to do so.


      Yeah, having + to separate it does not always work well, as others have mentioned, its easy to strip the + or . characters to guess the email, another option could be to use something like fastmail, where you can use [email protected] (or another domain) and use fake names and forward this to your gmail account.

    Will these e-mails be downloaded onto your iPhone inbox?

    I've tried this many times. It usually doesn't work. Most sites see the + sign and tell you the email address isn't valid. It depends on the site of course and how they implement their UI validation, but I personally gave up with it a long time ago.

    You can also put dots anywhere in your username in a gmail account and it will come to you

    eg, if your email address is "[email protected]", you can register for dodgy crap with "[email protected]" and it will still come to you, and you can use filters to sort it out like above :)

    I just filter based on the sender's email address (once I've received the first message) and haven't had any problems. Gmail's spam filter picks up any other unsolicited rubbish.

    Actually I used yahoo's disposable email system-- maybe it is a little better because you can use a totally unrelated base so the spamers can't 'guess' your actual address .. other than that disposable emails address are gr8

      You're right. Yahoo's disposable email system really is better! If I could find a solution like that for gmail, I would totally convert to gmail. But since I haven't found anything similar yet, I'm still on Yahoo too. bummer.

    I use this regularly, unfortunately many sites won't accept a "+" sign in the E-Mail address, their excuse is that "+" not a valid character, even though it explicitly is valid, according to the RFCs...

    As others have mentioned, it would be trivial for spammers to recognise gmail addresses and then strip the disposable part from the address.

    I registered my own domain a long time ago and always put when handing out my email addresses, letting me see who gives out my email address. The surprising thing is that spam has never been a problem with my own domain.

    Also, a cool thing about google mail is that they will host your own domain for free, This means that you can have your own domain and still use the great features of gmail. Win Win!

    I'm a Gmail devotee who very much appreciates the advances they have made in communication, including being able to create unique "markers" in my email address so it can be filtered. This works great for projects where you are exchanging numerous emails among colleagues, vendors, etc. However, for use as a disposable email for registration/subscription purposes it works poorly - for all the reasons already mentioned. I use Once registered (they have free and premium versions), you can create email "on the fly" or as a planned method. Managing the account is easy and you can block email entirely from those that prove to be spammers.

    Just tried it, it wont let me use the + symbol in my address.

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