Gmail Filters - The Ultimate Guide

What would you do if you logged into your Gmail account and saw 17,000 unread emails? You’re probably sweating and wondering how to get through them all, and you aren’t alone.

The University of Loughborough conducted a study where researchers followed 30 government employees and learned that about 83 percent were more stressed when using email. Plus, the stress levels peaked when inboxes were full. Likewise, irrelevant messages interrupted work and were harder to deal with, and those focused on completed projects were calming.

Most people have to use email, so managing the system better is crucial. Organizing and decluttering are vital, but that still takes effort and time. If you use Gmail, you can create filters to help you!

What Are Gmail Filters?

Gmail filters are automation rules that help redirect emails when they get to the inbox. This saves you from sorting and managing them manually.

You could redirect newsletters from specific senders to a separate inbox, for example, or send specific sources directly to the trash. Gmail also lets you add labels in different colors and include important markers to save space, reduce stress, and focus on what matters.

Creating a Filter Using Gmail

There are two primary ways of creating Gmail filters. These include:

Search Bar

In the Gmail search bar, enter an email address or keyword to filter and tap the gray triangle. A dropdown menu appears to help you refine the conditions. When you’re ready, tap “Create filter.”

Determine what the filter should do. You could have all emails with a particular word from a certain email address go to an “updates” folder instead of the primary inbox. All emails that meet the criteria go to that area and never touch the inbox. You can read them when you get a chance.

Click the “apply filter to matching conversations” box so the pre-existing emails matching those conditions are also moved.

Settings Menu

When using Gmail, tap on the gear-like icon at the top right. Choose “settings” from the dropdown menu. Tap on the “filters and blocked addresses” button to show what filters you’ve already applied. Click on “create a new filter” to start.

You see a dropdown menu like before and can follow the same steps as in the search bar option.

Actions You Can Perform with Gmail Filters

Here’s a list of what you can do with Gmail filters:

  • Mark as read – This marks incoming emails as read already.
  • Skip the inbox – Archive emails to prevent them from appearing in the inbox.
  • Apply a label – Add specific Gmail labels to your email.
  • Star it – Gmail automatically stars the email.
  • Delete it – The email goes directly to the trash.
  • Forward it to – Automatically forward that email to a separate email address.
  • Always mark as important – You can mark specific email series as important automatically.
  • Never send to spam – Those email series never go to the spam folder.
  • Categorize as – Tell Gmail to add specific incoming messages to a category, such as Social, Primary, or Updates.
  • Never mark as important – Gmail will never mark those filtered emails as important.

Deleting and Editing Filters

To delete or edit a filter, click the gear icon, go to settings, and choose filters and blocked addresses. View a list of the existing filters and look next to each one to see delete and edit options.

When you click “edit,” you see a dropdown menu and can make changes. Tap “continue” to move to the next dropdown to modify the actions that the filter takes. Click on “update filter” to complete the process.

Deleting filters is easy. Tap the “delete” button next to the appropriate filter, confirm that you want to delete it, and you’re finished!

Advanced Filter Actions

You’re probably an expert on editing and creating your Gmail filters and want to progress to the next level. Here are some advanced options:

Import and Export Filters

If you often switch between Gmail accounts and need the same filters, you can use the import/export feature. 

Navigate to the filters and blocked addresses area and click the checkboxes to choose your filters. Tap on “export” to generate an XML file. You may edit this in a text editor or save and import it into your second Gmail account. 

Importing is just as easy. Go to the filters and blocked addresses section, tap the “import filters” option, upload the XML file, and tick the checkbox for “apply new filters to existing email” to get started.

Precise Filters Using Operators

Gmail supports various operators to help you search efficiently. You can also save the searches as precision and powerful filters. Here’s a brief rundown of the operators Gmail supports and their functions:

  • OR – This finds emails that contain one of two expressions or terms. Here’s an example: Office OR Depot shows emails containing either word.
  • AND – By default, Google combines search terms with the invisible “and” operator. If you type in Office Depot, it finds every email containing Office and Depot.
  • + (Plus Sign) – This searches for a term just like it’s typed. If you use +flights, Gmail only searches for emails that have “flights,” so “flight” is not returned.
  • “” (Double Inverted Commas) – This searches for phrases and isn’t case-sensitive. If you search for “the prison break was,” you only see emails that contain that specific phrase.
  • () (Parenthesis) – This searches for terms as the group. Here’s an example: subject: (Carl Marx) searches subject lines for both Carl and Marx, even if it’s not a phrase.
  • (Minus Sign) – This searches for emails not containing a specific term. You want to find the email pertaining to Winnie-the-Pooh and not Eeyore, so you use –eeyore.

Must-have Filters in Gmail

Now that you know more about filters, here are the ones you need in your arsenal:

Auto-delete Unwanted Emails

It’s generally easier to prevent emails from going to the inbox than to deal with them once they’re already there. You could use the block button in Gmail or a smart tool, such as

Sometimes, spam email senders don’t honor the unsubscribe request. Likewise, you might be unable to block certain senders, even if you wish. You could even find those pesky emails that slip past the spam filters and still get into your inbox. It’s all annoying!

Using a filter can help you get around those scenarios. You can easily follow these steps:

  • Create a filter that focuses on the sender’s email address.
  • Tell Gmail (through the filter) that it should automatically move those emails to the trash. 

You never have to see them!

Mark as Read

While all email is equal, some should be read immediately, and others don’t have to be. Therefore, it’s crucial to make less-important emails as “read” quickly so that you can turn your focus on the ones that matter.

Here are the steps to take:

  • Create a filter that focuses on keywords or the sender’s email address.
  • Tell Gmail (through the filter) that it should automatically mark them as “read.”

Move Emails to Categories

Those not already using the tabbed inbox on Gmail should try it! Tabbed inboxes help you organize things into tabs, such as Updates, Social, Primary, etc. Therefore, you can go to that section when it matters and ignore it otherwise.

It’s easy to enable tabbed inboxes. Click the gear icon in the Gmail window and tap “configure inbox” when the dropdown appears.

Click the tabs to enable and press “save.”

Once you’ve done that, you can create a filter focusing on specific keywords or a sender’s email address. Choose “categorize as” so that Gmail moves them to a particular tab.

Automatically Add Labels

Gmail labels are one of the most powerful tools to help you organize your inbox. However, you can use the filter option to automate label creation easily. That means you may mark emails that you should follow up with or make them important.

To automate the label creation process:

  • Create a filter that focuses on keywords or a sender’s email address.
  • Use “apply a label,” picking one from the dropdown menu that appears.

Automatically Empty the Spam Folder

It’s great that you can move emails to the trash, and Gmail does its job by filtering out obvious spam messages. However, you’ve still got to go through and manually delete those periodically. Now, you create a filter that automatically deletes any email Gmail sends to that spam folder! Here are the steps to take:

  • Tap on the gray triangle in the Gmail search bar.
  • Find “has the words” in the dropdown menu and type “is: spam.”
  • Click the “Create filter” button.
  • Utilize the “delete it” filter to confirm the creation of that filter!


Companies everywhere use email as a way to talk to clients and employees. You cannot get rid of it, but you could work smarter! Using Gmail filters is the best way to cut through all the noise and get down to the important messages. 

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