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Everyone uses email today, for everything from communicating with friends and colleagues to using your email address as your online passport. Nearly every app and service you signup for today requires an email address, as do most loyalty cards, contest entries, and more. It's nice to have one address for everything, but getting dozens of email each day that you really don't want isn't nice. Plus, it's far from uncommon for stores to have their databases hacked these days, leaving your email address all the more likely to end up on spam lists. Then, there's the fact that it's nearly impossible to do anything 100% privately.
There's a number of ways to tame your Gmail and Outlook inboxes, but sometimes you need something more drastic: a disposable email address. Ranging from simple Gmail tweaks on your main address to make filtering easier to an 100% anonymous email address, disposable email address are a great way to bring back some of the privacy of paper letters and help you keep your inbox tidier by default.
In this tutorial, I'll show you everything you need to know to start using disposable email addresses.
Why Would I Use a Disposable Email Address?
The idea of disposable email address conjures up images of black hat hackers and the underworld of the internet that most of us steer away from. But there's a number of legitimate reasons you might want a disposable email address—reasons many on our Tuts+ team use them daily. Here's a few:
- You want to signup for a store loyalty card, but would rather not get emails from the store advertising new products. Use a disposable email address, and you'll never have to see those emails—and if the store gets hacked, your real email address won't get stolen.
- You just coded an awesome web app, and want to test it thoroughly before releasing it to the wild. Get 100 disposable email, use them for dummy accounts, and test away.
- You want to signup for another account with a web app—perhaps you want another IFTTT account to automate a second Twitter account you run for your site. Both of those will require a different email from your default, so rather than managing another email inbox, just use a disposable email address.
- You want to write a fully anonymous email to the editor of a newspaper—with paper mail, you could do this by mailing a letter without a return address from a postal dropbox, but a disposable email address is one of the few ways to do so today.
That's only a few of the many reasons you might consider using a disposable email address. Now, here's the apps and tips you'll need to start using them.
Using a Disposable Email Address
The most obvious way to get a disposable email address would be to make a new email account with Gmail or any other free email service, but that's a lot of trouble for just one new email address. It'd work if you'd like one email you give away to companies, and another you use for personal communications, but if you want more accounts than that, disposable email addresses are a better option.
Here's some of the best ways to get a disposable email address and use them simply.
Ever wanted to know who actually gave away your email address when you notice spam showing up in your inbox? Now you can, with custom email addresses in Gmail. Gmail doesn't offer anonymous disposable email addresses, but you can add a period anywhere in your email address, or append a plus sign to the end of your email and add any text you want after it to make a new email alias.
For example, if you were signing up for MegaCorp, Inc.'s newsletter, don't enter
firstname.lastname@example.org. Instead, add a plus to the end of your email and type whatever you want after it. For example,you could send an email to
Now, when spam mail comes, click the tiny down arrow next to To me:. It will display where the email is from, and whom it was sent to, along with other details. You can then see which email alias it was sent to. So, if you receive a promotional offer about toys and you look at who it was sent to and see
email@example.com, you know who gave away your email address. The +megacorp tells you that the MegaCorp, Inc. newsletter gave away your email address. Time to unsubscribe!
These same email aliases give you a great way to automatically filter your incoming emails, even if the services you signup for don't spam you. You could setup custom Gmail filters for each of your email aliases, and have emails from those addresses automatically archived with particular labels.
Do note, of course, that these Gmail email aliases aren't private, no more so than your normal email address. But, they're a perfect option to see how people got your email, and to automate filtering of your email no matter what list you're on.
Mailinator is built on a unique concept: anyone can access any inbox, as long as you know its email address. You literally can come up with any inbox name you want (
megacorpnewsletter123467, say), add
@mailinator.com to the end, and use it to in any email address field, say to signup for an online newsletter.
You'll then go to the Mailinator website, enter the new email address, click the green Check it box, and the inbox will open—no password required. You'll see any emails that have been sent to that address, and may even notice emails you didn't signup for if someone else has used that same email address before. The email inbox interface works the same as you'd expect. You can read and reply to emails, download any attachments, and more. It's full-featured email, where all emails you receive are public to anyone who knows the email address.
Mailinator isn't private at all—the address isn't tied to you, but any replies to it are public—but it is an incredibly simple way to get an email address for anything you want, making it perfect for a fully anonymous email address (albeit one where any replies you may receive are public) or for testing out your new web app. You could even setup Mailinator on your own domain as an even better way to test out your own services.
Want to use a disposable email in the comforts of your own email app, perhaps on your smartphone? Meltmail is a disposable email forwarding service that will automatically forward any mail received to your email address. You'll get a private address, with the filtering and convenience of Gmail aliases, in the email app of your choice.
Your new email address will only last for between 3 and 24 hours, though, so you won't want to use it permanently. It's a great tool to try out new services and see if you like them with a temporary email address, and then you can switch the account to your normal address if you decide you like it. If not, your account will disappear a day later along with the email account you used to make it.
Airmail is another private email service that is quite similar to Mailinator, though with more privacy. You click a button, and get a random email automatically along with a unique code that, together, let you view any emails that address receives online without a password.
To get a new email address, just go to the Airmail site and click the Get Temporary Email button. Seconds later, an inbox view will load with your new randomly assigned email address and the unique access code in the address bar. You'll need to make note of both—or just bookmark the page with both codes in the address—to be able to see any emails you receive.
For example, say the email address I was randomly assigned was firstname.lastname@example.org, and in my browser's address bar, it showed the address as getairmail.com/tutsyw/INGX. In this case, the first code is the address of the email (with a domain that's also assigned randomly, which isn't included in this address), and INGX was my unique code. In the future, to access the mailbox, just type out the same address you used to access the website, and you'll be able to access your email—though this will only work up to 24 hours after you last visited the page, after which time the emails will be deleted.
It's a great option for random email address, though it's worth noting that the site isn't SSL encrypted so your communications still aren't fully private, and the extra steps you'll need to take to get an address means it's far from the best service for testing out random accounts on your new app.
Gmail isn't the only traditional email service that offers disposable email addresses. Yahoo! Mail has disposable email addresses built in, and they're really unique addresses, not just the email aliases that Gmail offers.
Yahoo Mail disposable email addresses consist of a base name and a keyword. All the addresses you create will be structured as email@example.com. The base name can only be set once and must be unique—all your addresses will share the same base name. You are then allowed to create up to 500 keywords, giving you up to 500 unique email addresses in your one account.
To setup your base name, log in to your Yahoo account, click the Settings icon on the top right of the page, and then click Security. There, you'll find a Create Base Name option; select it, then choose a private name to use at the beginning of your disposable email addresses. After you have created a base name, click Add to add your keywords for specific addresses. You will then be able to choose whether to block spam and use filters by default on that address, and which inbox to forward the email to.
You can then use the new addresses as you would any other disposable email address, and you can even choose the address in the Yahoo! Mail app when you're composing a new email, if you want.
It's worth remembering that your Yahoo! email addresses aren't 100% private—they're more private than Gmail aliases, of course, but they're still tied to your primary email account. They're great for most disposable email address uses, though, and give you more privacy than Gmail with the same benefits of having your emails in one inbox, and the simple ability to filter them as you'd like.
That's far from an exhaustive list of services that offer disposable email addresses, but the tools here are plenty to restore a bit of privacy and security to your email. You won't want to use disposable email addresses for everything, but with options like those that Yahoo and Gmail offer, you can make your email quite a bit more productive with custom filters centered around the disposable email addresses you use for particular services.
If you have any questions about using a disposable email address, feel free to leave a comment below.