How to Recover Your Forgotten Gmail Password

As one of its earliest services, Gmail remains the cornerstone of Google’s online presence. So when you forget your Gmail password, and I don’t want to overstate things here, it’s basically like you’re an Internet ghost haunting the halls of your former life.

Okay, it’s not that bad. But you’ll want to change your password and gain access to your account as quickly as possible.

Gmail’s Standard Recovery Procedure

  1. Head to the Gmail sign-in page and click the “Forgot Password” link.
  2. Enter the last password you remember. If you can’t remember one, click “Try a different question.”
  3. Enter the secondary email address you used when you set up your Gmail account to get a password reset email.

Gmail has a few different ways to confirm your identity and recover (or reset) your password. Thankfully, they’re all laid out in a nice little wizard that Gmail will walk you through step-by-step.

Starting the password recovery process is pretty easy: just click the “forgot password” link on the Gmail sign-in page. You’ll then be shown a asking you to put in the last password you can remember. If you can remember a correct password and you have a backup system set up, you’ll then be asked to continue in a variety of ways. If you can’t remember any of them, click “try a different question.”

The next option will be sending a code to a recovery email, which rather presumes that you have a secondary recovery email (which you set up way back when you created your Gmail account in the first place). Using this option will send you a link at your secondary email account (which doesn’t need to be Gmail), with a 6-digit code that will allow you to set up a new password and regain access to your account. Check your mail on this secondary account to see the code, then enter it to unlock a new password generator. Newer accounts may also have a phone number backup option—see below.

If that doesn’t work—like, say, you don’t have access to the account that you originally designated as a backup either—click “try a different question” again. Now we’re getting into older, less secure methods of account protection, like security questions such as “what’s your mother’s maiden name.” You should be able to answer at least one of these.

At this point, create a new password and confirm it. Now you have access to your account again. Here’s a primer on how to choose a new password that’s both secure and memorable.

Secure Your Account

After you’ve set up a new password, Google will prompt you to check the security settings associated with your Gmail account (and your greater Google account in general). We highly recommend adding a phone number and a current backup email, if you don’t already have these associated with your account. They’ll allow easy recovery through a 6-digit pin delivered by email or text message.

Though Gmail formerly supported security questions, it no longer allows you to add any new ones, only delete access to old ones. This is a measure put in place because security questions kind of suck at providing actual security. Your old one will still work as long as you don’t manually remove it on this page.

Once you’re into your Gmail account proper, head to the Google account Settings page by clicking your profile image (it’s just the first letter of your first name if you haven’t set one) in the upper-right corner, then “My Account.”

On this page, click “Signing in to Google.” Here you can check your recovery email and phone number again, and see which devices last accessed your account and from what locations. If anything looks out of whack with the latter, someone may be trying to access your account for nefarious purposes.

There are other options on the sign-in page you may want to explore. Setting up two-factor authentication is highly recommended, and if you use this Gmail account on your smartphone, you can get an authentication prompt there instead of manually typing in a password on the web.

Image Credit: Andy Wright/Flickr

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.