How to Send Self-Destructing Messages in Gmail

The art of the ephemeral email

What to Know

  • Start a new email, then select the Confidential Mode icon (the lock and clock). In the app, select the three vertical dots > Confidential Mode.
  • Choose how long you want the message to last and whether or not it requires a passcode in the options window. Select Save.
  • Compose your message and send it as normal.

Some messages are meant to be private. The longer they sit in your inbox, the more likely it is they’ll end up in the wrong place or with the wrong set of eyes on them. Gmail has a solution straight out of a classic spy movie: self-destructing messages. Here's how to do it.

How to Send a Self-Destructing Email Using Gmail

The self-destructing email feature is available on both the Gmail mobile app and the web interface. Here's how to create one in the browser-based Gmail.

  1.  Open your browser and sign in to Gmail.

  2.  Select Compose, then begin writing a message like you normally would.

    Gmail Compose button
  3. When the Compose window opens, select the lock and clock icon at the bottom of the window to to enable confidential mode.

    Gmail Confidential Mode icon

    Select the lock and clock icon again to turn confidential mode off.

  4. A new window will open to let you tweak the settings for your message. Choose how long you want your message to last before it expires.

    Confidential mode expiration time
  5. At the bottom of the window, Gmail lets you choose how it will handle the message on other platforms. It can either email or text a password to the recipient. When you’re done, select Save.

    Confidential mode expiration save button
  6. Write and send your Gmail message as you normally would.  

    Gmail compose mail with confidential enabled

How to Send a Self-Destructing Message Using the Gmail App

These instructions use Android, but iOS should be very similar.

  1.  Open your Gmail app.

  2. From your inbox, tap the (+) in the lower right of your screen.

  3. Your screen will switch to Gmail’s Compose screen. Tap the three vertical dots > Confidential mode.

  4. Gmail will open the Confidential mode settings. Start by setting how long you want your message to last.

  5. Choose whether or not you want Google to send the recipient a passcode in a text message, then tap Save.

    Gmail app Confidential mode
  6. From there, compose and send your message as you normally would. Gmail will take care of everything else.

What to Do When Receiving a Self-Destructing Email on Other Providers

What happens when you're using a different email provider, and you receive a self-destructing message from someone on Gmail? The answer is pretty simple; you don't actually get the message. Instead, you'll find a link to the message in your inbox. Check out the steps below to see how it works.

Instructions below are for Yahoo, but the process should be similar on other email services like Outlook and Apple Mail.

  1. When you first open your inbox and see a confidential (self-destructing) message from Gmail, it'll look exactly like a normal message. Open it as you normally would.

    Gmail confidential message in Yahoo inbox
  2. You won't actually see the message. Instead, you'll see a note from Google saying this is a confidential message and telling you who sent it. It'll have a link to let you access the message. Select View the email.

    View the email button
  3. A new tab will open, or your browser app will open on mobile. In the new tab, you'll see a message letting you know which email address the message was sent to. If you own the address, you can request the code needed to open it. Select Send Passcode to get the code.

    Send passcode button
  4. Back in your inbox, wait for a new message from Google, then open it to find the passcode for your message.

    Google verification code
  5. Copy or memorize the code, then return to the message tab in your browser to enter the code.

  6. With the code entered, the browser tab will log you in and display the message for you. When you're done, select Sign Out.

    Gmail Sign Out
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