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Beginner’s Guide to Disposable Email Addresses

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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 messages 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. Solutions range from straightforward Yahoo disposable email addresses, to simple Gmail tweaks on your main email address to make filtering easier, to a 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.

how to create a disposable email address and use it
How to create disposable email addresses and begin using them. (graphic source)

In this tutorial, I'll show you everything you need to know about disposable email addresses, and how to to start using disposable email addresses in multiple popular emails systems like Gmail, Yahoo, Mailinator, and more. 

What is a Disposable Email Address?

Let's start by explaining what a disposable email address is.

Nearly every service requires you to provide an email address. Yet, the problem of spam and unwanted email messages is increasing. Every time you provide your email address, you increase the likelihood of receiving even more spam if the company you provide your information to is hacked or sells your email address. Also, numerous users of disposable email addresses are concerned with privacy as much as spam.

Disposable email addresses can help solve the problem. By providing a different email address each time you sign up for services and keeping a record of those unique email addresses, you can tell how your information is getting to spammers.

Many disposable email addresses forward messages to your real email address. A few disposable email services make the disposable email only available for a short time. 

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 are a number of legitimate reasons you might want a disposable email address—reasons many on our Tuts+ team use them regularly. 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 instead, 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 addresses, 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 drop box, but using a throwaway email address is one of the few ways to do so online 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 create disposable email addresses and start using them.

How to Create a Disposable Email Address and Begin Using It

The most obvious way to create a disposable email address would be to make a new email account with Gmail, Yahoo, 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 make disposable, temporary, or throwaway email addresses and how to start using them in seven popular email systems: 

1. Gmail - Generate Temporary Email Address Aliases

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 my.name123@gmail.com. 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 my.name123+megacorp@gmail.com or my.name123+456789@gmail.com

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 my.name12.3+megacorp@gmail.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!

Gmail Disposable Email Address
Receiving mail with a Gmail disposable email address.

These same email aliases give you a great way to automatically filter your incoming emails, even if the services you sign up 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 disposable email addresses 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.

To learn more about Gmail filters, review this tutorial:

2. Mailinator - Public Throwaway Email Addresses

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 in any email address field, say to signup for an online newsletter.

Here's how to use Mailinartor to create a disposable email address: First, go to the Mailinator website, enter the new email address, then 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 Disposable Email Address
Check any mailbox any time on Mailinator.

Mailinator isn't private at all—the address isn't tied to you. Any replies to it are public—but it is an incredibly simple way to get a disposable 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 set up Mailinator on your own domain as an even better way to test out your own services.

3. Airmail - Randomized, Disposable Email Addresses

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 lets 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 copy the URL 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 tutyw@grandmasmail.com, and in my browser's address bar, it showed the address as getairmail.com/tutyw/INGX. In this case, the first code is the address of the email (it does not include the randomly assigned domain name), and INGX was my unique code. In the future, to access the mailbox, just type out or copy the URL from the browser's address bar 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.

Airmail Disposable Email Address
A random disposable email address in Airmail.

It's a great option for creating 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.

4. MailDrop - Quick Temporary Email Addresses

Another public option for a free temporary email address is MailDrop. This service provides throwaway email addresses that are cleared after 24 hours of inactivity.

To get a MailDrop email address, simply type a user name in the blank in the upper right in front of @maildrop.cc. Then, click the GO > button to see any messages sent to that email address.

For example, if I typed the user name web-designer in the blank, my temporary email address would be web-designer@maildrop.cc.

Maildrop Disposable Email Address
A temporary email address using Maildrop.

There are limits on the messages a MailDrop inbox can receive. Each MailDrop inbox is limited to receiving ten messages. The size limit for received messages is 100k. Plus, any attachments to a message sent to a MailDrop inbox are stripped from the message and thrown away. So, MailDrop is not a good option for sharing files. 

It's also important to note that MailDrop inboxes are not private. Anyone with the email address can see the messages in the inbox.

5. Abine Blur App - Secure, Disposable Email Addresses

Abine is a company dedicated to privacy. All their products are designed with that goal in mind. Blur is no exception.

Blur is available as an extension for Firefox or for Android and Apple devices. It creates masked email accounts on-the-spot for when you need to enter your email address into an online form. Masked email addresses provided by Blur cannot be traced back to you.

Abine Blur Disposable Email
Use anonymous email addresses from Abine Blur to hide your real email address.

After you've filled out a form using an anonymous email address provided by Blur, you can log into the site and check for messages sent to your masked email addresses. You can also forward messages sent to an anonymous email address to your real email. If you find that a particular anonymous email address is being bombarded by spam, simply turn the forwarding off.

Abine Blur is designed to keep more than just your real email information private, though. It can also help you store passwords securely. And, the premium version can also mask your phone number and credit card number. You can even use a masked credit card number to make an online purchase.

Information stored using Blur is extremely secure. It's encrypted with your password. Even Abine can't access your data.

6. Mailsac - Disposable Email Addresses for Testing

Mailsac bills itself as a service that provides anonymous email addresses that can be used for testing. Like many of the other services, the emails are public if you simply use the generator located on the site. Mailsac also gives you the option to create a private account.

To use a free email address, simply type in your user name in the blank on the email generator.

Mailsac Disposable Email Address
Setting up a disposable email address with Mailsac.

Click the Check the mail! button to see any messages sent to that email address.

You can use MailSac to avoid getting spam in your regular email address, to sign up for online services, or for testing. However, it's important to remember that messages received through the public version of MailSac are not permanent. Messages will be deleted from public inboxes as soon as three days after they are received, although this may vary.

Mailsac is open source through GitHub. You can view the API documents and API access is available for paid accounts. Because it's scalable and can use popular protocols such as POP3 access, it's a great choice for testing.

7. Yahoo! Mail - Unique Disposable Email Addresses

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 basename-keyword@yahoo.com. The base name can only be set once and must be uniqueall 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 Settings on the drop-down menu. 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.

Yahoo Disposable Email Address
How to create a Yahoo disposable email address.

You can then use the new Yahoo disposable email addresses as you would any other disposable email address. 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 temporary 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.

Conclusion

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.

We've already answered the question: what is a disposable email address? If you have any more questions about using a temporary email address though, feel free to leave a comment below.

Editorial Note: This post was originally published in 2014. It has been comprehensively revised to make it current, accurate, and up to date by our staff—with special assistance from Laura Spencer.

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