Disappearing messages on WhatsApp: What is it and how to turn it on?

Tips & tricks
8 mins
Disappearing messages with a countdown timer.

“This message will self-destruct”— is a long-held spy movie (and Inspector Gadget) trope. In the digital era, this privacy feature has come in the form of disappearing messages, with Snapchat introducing the concept as a novelty over a decade ago. 

Hot on the heels of Snapchat, WhatsApp, the world’s biggest chat app, added functionality where users can send and view disappearing messages and images. Soon, other messaging apps adopted the feature, allowing users to create self-destructing messages and content.

How do disappearing messages work?

The WhatsApp feature allows you to send texts and other media that will be deleted from the recipient’s app automatically—either immediately or after a while.

The main benefit of disappearing messages is preventing the recipient from having a copy of photos or messages you send. This helps keep your communications private—to a degree. There are ways the recipient can still retain copies of what you send, even if they disappear quickly, such as via screenshots or simply by taking a photo of the message with a different device.

Many popular privacy-conscious chat apps already have these features. Here are instructions on enabling disappearing messages on your favorite messaging app.

How to use disappearing messages in WhatsApp

To use WhatsApp disappearing messages, enter your chosen chat, then select the three dots in the top-left corner. Then select “Disappearing Messages” and choose how long your messages will stay in the chat. 

Disappearing messages can also be turned on in a group chat if one participant has turned the feature on. However, a group admin can change the chat settings so only they can turn it on. 

To enable disappearing messages in group chats, select the WhatsApp group chat, click on the group name, and look for disappearing messages. You’ll then get to choose how long the message stays on the chat before it gets deleted.

How do disappearing messages work on WhatsApp?

WhatsApp’s disappearing messages allow users to send messages that disappear in 24 hours, seven days, or 90 days after they’ve been sent.

Here are some useful tips on how disappearing messages work on WhatsApp:

1. Disappearing messages icon 

When disappearing messages are enabled, you’ll see a clock icon next to the person’s profile picture.

2. User control 

You can turn on disappearing messages for all your chats or specific chats. Messages, in this case, can include texts, photos, and videos. If you enable disappearing messages on a chat where it wasn’t enabled initially, only the latest messages you send will disappear.

In group chats, any participant of the group can turn on disappearing messages. However, admins of a group can change permissions so that only admins can enable disappearing messages.

3. Forwarded messages and message replies

Your messages might still stick around if the recipient quotes it in a reply, forwards it, or has auto-download enabled for photos and videos.

4. Unread chats 

Disappearing messages on WhatsApp will be deleted even if a recipient has not opened or read the message in the chat.

Why would someone turn on disappearing messages on WhatsApp?

Privacy could be the main reason why someone uses disappearing messages on WhatsApp. By enabling disappearing messages for specific contacts, your messages are automatically deleted after seven days—regardless of whether they’ve been read. 

WhatsApp says this feature will help “the conversation feel lighter and more private.”  Disappearing messages could also be a great way to interject some fun when communicating with friends or potential love interests.

How to recover disappearing messages on WhatsApp?

Unfortunately, disappearing messages will be deleted when their time is up. However, according to WhatsApp, you can retrieve disappearing messages if you’ve created a backup before the message is deleted. Disappearing messages will be restored together with the backup.

What about WhatApp’s View Once feature?

WhatsApp’s new View Once feature lets you send a picture or a video that automatically gets deleted after the recipient has opened it. It won’t be saved to the recipient’s photo collection even if they have auto-download turned on. If the recipient does not viewthe photo or video within 14 days, it will get deleted from the chat.

To use WhatsApp’s View Once feature, tap the symbol with a “1” after selecting the media file you want to send.

6 other apps that allow disappearing messages

Instagram vanish mode

Messages on Instagram’s vanish mode disappear once the recipient closes the chat window after viewing its contents. Vanish Mode only works for one-to-one conversations and can’t be toggled on for group chats, and the message sender is alerted if a screenshot was taken.

To switch on vanish mode, simply open an existing conversation (or start a new one) with someone, then swipe up on the bottom of the screen and release. You’ll know that vanish mode is enabled when the screen turns black, accompanied by falling “shush” emojis.

Telegram secret chat

Unlike some other apps, Telegram doesn’t have a mode solely for disappearing messages. Rather, it offers an end-to-end encrypted messaging feature known as Secret Chat. The screen looks like this:

Telegram Secret Chat


To create a Telegram Secret Chat, open the profile of the contact you want to start a chat with, tap on the three dots icon (…), then select “Start Secret Chat.”

Messages can’t be forwarded to others in Secret Chats,, and when you delete your messages, the app orders recipients them to delete it as well. Telegram also features an in-chat customizable Self-Destruct Timer, so you can set individual messages to disappear anytime between a minute to one week. Here’s what it looks like:

Telegram Secret Chat 2

Secret Chats are device-specific, so you won’t be able to access a chat on your computer if you started it on your phone. If you log out of Telegram or delete a Secret Chat, all its contents are gone for good. A Secret Chat only works for one-on-one chats, but you can start as many chats as you want with the same user.

Signal disappearing messages

Signal, one of the first chat apps to include this feature,uses a disappearing message timer to countdown before a message is deleted. You’ll know if a message has been sent to disappear if there’s a ticking timer icon at the bottom of the message bubble. This timer activates once a message issent.For received messages, the timer starts after you’ve viewed them.

Disappearing messages on Signal can be enabled for any chat, even for groups, and can be managed by anyone in the chat. The timer syncs on your account across all devices.

You can toggle on Signal disappearing messages by going to your Signal Settings > Privacy > Disappearing Messages. Select a time (max four weeks), then tap “Save” for Android or “Set” for iOS.

Signal Disappearing MessagesSignal Disappearing Messages 2

Snapchat default messages

Known for offering an ephemeral experience, Snapchat’s messages and Snaps are, by default, instantly erased once both users have opened and closed the chat. 

Snapchatters who prefer to keep their chat messages from disappearing can also set their chats to be deleted 24 hours after viewing instead. All Group Chat messages will be automatically deleted after 24 hours, whether people read them, and unopened chats are also deleted after 30 days.

Facebook Messenger secret conversations

Messenger is Facebook’s popular instant messaging app, through which users can text, send photos and other media, and call other Facebook contacts. However, Messenger conversations still aren’t fully encrypted by default—and won’t be for at least a few years.

Facebook Messenger Secret Conversations

Enter Messenger’s Secret Conversations. This opt-in feature creates an end-to-end encrypted chat between two users, giving both a unique device key to verify that the messages are secure. Unlike regular Messenger, you can also set a timer to delete the message automatically, and a padlock icon will be displayed next to your contact’s name to the chat as a Secret Conversation.

At the moment, Secret Conversations are only available in the Messenger app for iOS and Android and are device-specific; you won’t be able to initiate nor view them on Facebook chat, messenger.com, and on your desktop or any other device that you didn’t link to initially.

To start a Facebook Secret Conversation, tap the draft new message icon from the home tab, tap “Secret” in the top right, and select your intended recipient. You may also tap the timer icon in the text box to set the messages to disappear. A Secret Conversation will also have a slightly different appearance, with a black/grey message bubble.

Gmail confidential mode

Google Confidential Mode

Disappearing messages aren’t just for social media and message apps—Gmail has an equivalent feature known as confidential mode. In confidential mode, you’ll be able to set expiration times for email messages and even revoke access at any time. Email forwarding, copying, printing, and downloading will all be disabled while in confidential mode

You can enable Gmail confidential mode on either your computer or mobile device in the following ways:

For computers, first, open up Gmail on your browser, click “Compose,” and click “Turn on confidential mode” in the bottom right of the window. You’ll then have the option to set an expiration date and passcode.

For Android and iOS, first, open the Gmail app > Compose > More . . . > Confidential mode, and turn it on. You can then choose to set an expiration date and passcode.

Should you use disappearing messages?

There are several advantages to using disappearing messages. It’s a way to keep your conversations and archives tidy by auto-deleting any messages that aren’t important. This feature adds a layer of security for the privacy-conscious, as there’s a lower risk of having your conversation intercepted or disseminated. And by setting sensitive messages to disappear, you won’t have to worry as much if your device falls into the wrong hands.

Disappearing messages have their downsides. You would prefer to keep records for situations involving financial transactions, scams, or online abuse. And in terms of privacy, while screenshots are blocked on specific apps, recipients may still be able to get around these measures by taking photos or making copies of their content using a different device or specialized software.

While there’s no surefire way to guarantee your communications stay between you and your sendee, the general rule is that you should only share sensitive or confidential information with someone you already know and trust. 

FAQ: About disappearing messages

Is it rude to turn on disappearing messages?
Can the other person see if you turn on disappearing messages on WhatsApp?
Does disappearing messages delete for both sides?
What are the disadvantages of disappearing messages on WhatsApp?
Does WhatsApp notify you when screenshots of disappearing messages are taken?
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