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How Do I Get Rid of Gmail Tabs? How to Regain Control and Find the Email Gmail Might Be Hiding From You

Gmail just turned on some kind of tabbed inbox feature. It’s randomly putting mail into different “categories.” How do I turn that off?

Full disclosure: that was me asking the question, some time ago.

While I was out on a trip, Google enabled a new “tabbed” inbox. My first reaction?

How do I turn this thing off?

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The “tabbed inbox” is Gmail’s attempt to organize your incoming email into categories or tabs. Unfortunately they often miss-categorize email, leading to messages being easily overlooked and missed. You can turn category tabs off in the “Inbox” tab of Gmail settings by unchecking all the category tabs listed.

Gmail’s tabbed inbox

Here’s what I’m referring to:

Gmail's Tabbed Inbox
Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox (Click for larger image.)

Above the inbox is a series of tabs, one per category:

  • Primary
  • Social
  • Promotions
  • Updates
  • Forums

When this was first enabled on my account Gmail had “helpfully” categorized all of my email, distributing it among the various categories.

Not only did I not need or want the help (I can manage my email very well on my own, thank you), Gmail’s categorizations were wrong. As I update this article some seven years later, categorization has not improved. I believe it remains one of the most common reasons Gmail users miss email messages: they’re placed in the wrong category.

I turned it off, and I strongly recommend you do the same.

Turning it off

Click on Gmail’s gear icon in the upper right, then click on Customize underneath “Inbox type”.

Gmail inbox settings
Gmail inbox settings

The “magic” is right there: “Deselect all categories to go back to your old inbox”. Uncheck everything you can.

Tabs to enable in Gmail
Tabs to enable in Gmail

Click on Save and you’re back to your single, manageable Inbox, without Gmail’s “help” trying to guess what should go where.

Gmail settings

This top level setting has changed over the years, but you can also control this using normal Gmail settings.

Click the gear, click Settings, click See all settings, and then click the Inbox tab:

Gmail settings - Inbox
Gmail settings – Inbox (Click for larger image.)

The process is the same: uncheck all of the categories you can and you’ll get your inbox back. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the Settings page and click Save Changes when you’re done.

About change

I’m all for change, but I’m also all for choice. I’m very grateful that Gmail has made this an optional feature.

The issue is simple: the feature doesn’t work for me. Honestly I don’t see how it works for anyone. I’m convinced that rather than helping organize or prioritize email, it leads to more missed or lost email instead.

It certainly doesn’t fit the way I handle email. I also don’t want to give up control to Gmail to make its bad categorizations.

With inboxes overflowing, I could see this might be a useful addition — if it worked.

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21 comments on “How Do I Get Rid of Gmail Tabs? How to Regain Control and Find the Email Gmail Might Be Hiding From You”

  1. Eerie, while I was reading this article, I got an email notification of an email from Google: “Welcome to the New Gmail Inbox”, Coincidence? Of course, but a coincidence from Google kinda makes you wonder ;).

    Reply
  2. Leo, did you have the tabs long enough to get ads? They show up in the Promotions tab and are not e-mail but are in the e-mail list. They have an “x” on the right-hand edge so you can delete them. I’m thinking that is what’s behind the tabs–another way to put ads in front of us. And thanks for describing how to remove the tabs–my are going, going, gone.

    Reply
    • I originally thought that the promotions tabs *was* ads. Until I discovered legitimate emails therein. Angered me, to be honest, and contributed to my actions to immediately turn it off.

      Reply
  3. I’m finding it useful at work. A couple of times an hour I have to stop what I’m doing because the Inbox tab is showing Inbox(1). Usually it’s somebody selling something, but I have to look in case it’s some urgent work. Now that the “selling something” mails are going into the Promotions tab, I’m only having to check every couple of hours.

    But I’ve turned it off at home – I like to see EVERYTHING, as soon as it comes in.

    Reply
    • The problem is “Promotions” is getting more than just the “selling stuff” emails. For example I believe there’s a high probability that my newsletter is going there. I haven’t touched on it, but it’s VERY frustrating from an email publisher’s perspective for just that reason.

      Reply
  4. I have to sign into so many places with google + gmail and lately I have to sing in again and again
    because my password is invalid, No it isn’t I have not idea why at google and gmail is ,but other
    sites it is not. I am elderly and severe pain in my hands so I am careful which key I click. I hope they
    are happy how much pain and trouble they are causing. May have to leave after 6 years with them.

    Reply
  5. I wouldn’t mind the tabs so much if they allowed you to name them yourself. Their choices just don’t fit what I’d select. I felt like the proverbial square peg being pushed into the round hole before I figured out how to disable them. Nit picky? Probably. But if their categories annoy me and other categories are a better fit, I should have the option to create them.

    Reply
    • I had the same initial reaction. I assume the reason is that if you created your own categories, you would also have to create rules about how to assign them. They probably don’t want to support such a complex feature.

      Reply
      • I’m not sure how that is really complex. You already have rules settings and even Outlook Express had some degree of that capability/

        You can define the folder by who sent it, keywords and where it should go (while normally used for spam control there is no reason it wouldn’t work the other way, I would think). I think you probably already have the tools you needed.

        Reply
  6. It appears that the gmail Android app doesn’t allow you to turn off that feature in the app, even if turned off on gmail server (according to my wife, I don’t use it because I hate threaded conversation mode which you also can’t turn off in that app. I moved to K-9 mail on Android).

    Reply
  7. Thank you so much for this helpful info! I was very annoyed that my gmail just started appearing this way and didn’t know what to do. It might work for some, but for me it was just a time waster requiring extra clicks. I’d rather have my mail all in the same place initially.

    Reply
  8. It is not surprising how many people refuse to read the help files on their device. Most help files are very good at explaining different features and possible problems.
    Of course if everyone read the documentation and used the info provided, Ole’ Leo would have nothing to do.

    Reply
  9. You can also click on the + at the right=hand end of the tabs to bring up the window to change this setting. The + disappears if you turn off all the new tabs.

    Reply
  10. It’s a brilliant idea. I’m subscribed to a number of newsletters, mailing lists, etc. My personal family & friends emails go into Primary; funny newsletters, jokes etc, etc facebook, etc into Social; Ebay, TradeMe, Grabone, Living Social etc into Promotions; bills, auctions, etc into Updates; and serious newsletters (Like Leo’s, Office Watch, Neat Net Tricks etc into Forums). Never again is my new phone bill lost among today’s offers for cheap meals, discounted phones, and the like. I would like some control over the number of tabs & the names of the tabs but otherwise I feel it’s a big improvement for those of us who get lots of daily emails and don’t want to battle with Rules. Perversely, I won’t use it at work, (we have Outlook anyway) but work email is only two types: business (for immediate action) and spam/UCE (for immediate deletion). I do use Rules at work for folder redirection and other things but struggle with their peculiarities. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

    Reply
  11. Gee Leo, I think you should really just get used to the change and accept it… just like you tell us to do with LozeDoz8…

    Reply
  12. Is it possible that Google has programmed the tabs to work like their spam filter? In other words, the more you use the tabs and correct what it got wrong, the more you train the filter to filter your email correctly? If so, I could see that becoming very useful, like the poster who is glad that his phone bill no longer gets lost in the ads.

    Reply
  13. Tabs be gone,
    tabs are for browsers not email unless they decide to give me an option like Thunderbird to have concurrent open sessions aka log in to more than one email account and have a different one in each tab

    the first time they started changing things around a while back
    I logged on through a very slow connection
    this gave me enough time to click the option to load basic HTML view and set it as default view

    now the only time I use standard view is for the times I need to manage more than a few items
    eg. bulk delete is hard to in basic HTML mode because the little check box for select all is not available and each one must be manually selected before delete

    other than that I’ll be sticking with basic HTML for normal daily usage

    Reply
  14. Yahoo allows each email message to be opened in a separate tab, but they don’t pre-sort the messages into tabs beforehand.

    Reply

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