Use Gmail Filters to Conquer Mailing Lists and Junk Mail

Closeup of printed words on a page, phrase Divide and Conquer

A little-known feature in Gmail lets you add a period (.) or plus sign (+) to your email address without changing where the email goes. In other words, is exactly the same account as, as is, and so on.

By using these modifiers you can set up filters in Gmail so that emails from different sources get handled in different ways, including a simple blocking feature. It’s a battlefield out there, and with Gmail filters on your side it’s easy to emerge victorious.

Ready to get started? Follow the steps below and get filtering the easy way.

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How Does It Work?

The two modifiers listed above are both basically ignored by Gmail.

That means that Gmail doesn’t care where you place a period in your email address, or if you place one there at all. If you initially signed up for Gmail with a period in your username, you could move or remove it and keep getting emails as you have been.

The plus sign works by going at the end of your email address. Anything you place after the plus sign will be ignored by Gmail. So, you can place a period anywhere in your email address without issue and a plus sign at the end, followed by anything you want.

While Gmail might not care about these modifiers when pushing email into your inbox, filters and rules in Gmail are a lot more sensitive. You can tell a filter or rule to look for those periods and plus signs and perform specific actions on them.

In the case of rules and filtering, there is a world of difference between ScrubChamp and scrub.champ.

The Fix for Mailing Lists

The method behind this is pretty simple. First, the easiest way to start using the plus sign is to add it to the end of your email address with the name of the mailing list or service you’re signing up for after it.

For example, you would renew your subscription to Cat Fancy Magazine with the email address All the correspondence sent to this email address will still come to, but now you have a way to filter these emails and apply rules to them.

If you still want to receive the emails but don’t want them in your inbox, you can easily tell Gmail to archive any emails that come to the +catfancy-modified email address. Conversely, if you’re really excited to see if Scottish Folds are in this season, you can make these emails stand out so you never miss them. (OK, enough about cats, on to another example.)

See Who Sold Your Email Address

Using a unique +modifier at the end of your address for each different site does one additional bit of good for you. By following this email modifier system, you can see if an email address you used for one service is being used for spam purposes.

All you need to do is see what email address your spam is being sent to. If you’re getting it sent to one of your +modifier accounts, it’s time to start deleting all messages from that account and then, writing specifically from that account, notify the site that you’re receiving spam.

Duplicate contacts killing your productivity? See how Scrubly can help in this 100-second video.

This also helps you see if emails from banks and other important services are really from who they say they are. If you used +MyBank at the end of your Gmail address for your bank and you received an email that wasn’t addressed to this specific account, then you know it’s a fake.

Nice Guy Tip: If you want to protect parents, grandparents, and anyone else who is more likely to fall victim to a phishing scam, have them use this system for their messages.

Personal vs. Professional

While this is mostly about mailing lists and junk mail, one quick tip for using the period in your Gmail address is using one email address for both professional as well as personal. You can have all professional emails sent to while all personal emails go to

Now you can set up rules and filters based on the presence of the period, easily showing you what is personal and what is private.

SEE ALSO: 7 Google+ Hacks You Need to Know

How to Set It Up

Once you have some emails coming in with modifiers attached to them, it’s time to set up some rules and filters in Gmail. We covered the basics of setting rules in Gmail already, so if you’re not familiar with them, go check out that link for details.

The basics are pretty simple. On the far right of the search box at the top of your Gmail window, click the down arrow. This will bring up the advanced search feature. Here, in the “To” field, enter your email address with the + modifier included.

Gmail Advanced Search window

Next, click the Create filter with this search link at the bottom of the box. This will open up a list of options (called “Rules in other applications”) that you can apply to all the emails that come in to the address you typed in.

Gmail Create Filter window

If you want the email to stand out, you can star it and mark it as important. If instead you’re now getting junk mail at this address and you want those to disappear, check the Delete it option.

RELATED: Send Email from a Different Email Address in Gmail

Since you’re dealing with emails as they come into the server, these filters will carry through to any email client you might use locally as well. Now, get out there and start signing up with your email address the smart way!

More from Google on how to use filters.

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