Online dating is, in a word, hard — but so is dating in person. Ironically, or perhaps completely fittingly, the process of searching for someone to love (or even just like, tbh) can be the absolute worst. That’s why we’re always trying to save you time and energy by ranking the best online dating sites in general, the best dating sites for introverts, the best dating apps for college students, and, hell, even the best sexting apps for those who just want to “date” from home.
Even with our tips and recommendations, online dating will require that you spend some energy, so at the very least, you don’t want to be spending a bunch of money too, especially if you’re newer to the apps and sites game. Testing out a free version can be a great way to get a sense of what you want out of online dating, but for some dating apps and sites, the free version may actually be all you need.
What dating sites are free?Part of the reason why so many people turn to online dating is that creating an account can be simple and completely free. Getting the benefits of having an account, though, is where things can get a little dicey.
For websites like eharmony and Match, you can technically use them for free, if you don’t mind being unable to message or match with people (though Match’s free features have recently become a tad more lenient).
The good news is, spending $40 a month is not requisite for finding success in love. In many cases, apps and sites offer at least the barebones of matching and messaging entirely for free. Features like seeing people who’ve already liked you, sending messages without matching at all, and profile boosts are where you’ll need to pony up. Though these can be convenient time savers, they don’t necessarily increase your chances of meeting that perfect person. Even with purely paid sites, dating takes time and energy.
The benefits of using free dating sitesSome people simply want to test the waters of online dating without investing a lot, which is completely valid and says nothing about how serious you might be. Connecting with someone can be much better when you’re open and vulnerable with your emotions — the same does not need to happen with your wallet.
Expensive sites do offer free trials, but seven days isn’t enough time to find someone or get a sense of what a website has to offer you. Even if dating is high on your priority list, we’re willing to bet you have more to do with your day than smash refresh on your matches page. That’s why using a dating website with plenty of free options can take the pressure off. Plus, if you don’t have the greatest experience, there’s no sunk-cost fallacy business you have to contend with.
To make the free dating game even easier for you, we did the research and compiled a comprehensive list of the best free dating apps and sites. Enjoy the lowdown on what type of person each one is best suited for. (And if you land a hot date out of this, we expect a thank you.)
Note: It’s almost impossible to find a dating site or app that doesn’t have some sort of paid upgrade feature, but these are the sites where the free option gives you almost everything you need for the full experience. These aren’t like Match(Opens in a new tab) or eharmony(Opens in a new tab) where you need to pay to do basically anything.
Best free dating app for serious relationships
Free features: See all potential matches, send and receive likes, send and receive messages One month of OkCupid Basic: $34.99 Three months of OkCupid Basic: $23.33 per month Six months of OkCupid Basic: $17.49 per month One month of OkCupid Premium: $44.99 per month Three months of OkCupid Premium: $29.99 per month Six months of OkCupid Premium: $22.49 per month The gist: OkCupid(Opens in a new tab) is a seriously hip LGBTQ-friendly app that has won the hearts of millennial and mature singles alike. I’ve said this a million times before and I’ll say it again: OkCupid’s advertising is outstanding. They deserve endless applause just for that, but I realize many people on dating apps care about more than aesthetics. Good thing OkCupid is so much more than that, taking compatibility factors into account that other sites haven’t even thought of.
Who it’s good for: This is the place for, well, pretty much everyone who takes dating seriously, but still wants to have fun. Though OkCupid’s advertisements may have “DTF” plastered all over them, the site’s intentions and matchmaking process are no joke. We also want to mention that OkCupid(Opens in a new tab) and its user base are pretty liberal. The ads with same-sex couples are an obvious giveaway, but OkCupid has snuck in other little features to weed out more conservative-minded people. For instance, they’ll ask questions about whether you’re for or against the defunding of Planned Parenthood or same-sex marriage and if you feel obligated to help fellow human beings — all as a way to tell right off the bat if your potential match leans left or right. (This can help you avoid awkward date conversations in the future.) Liberal ladies found that this worked to their advantage, as OkCupid released statistics showing that liberal-leaning answers to those questions made you significantly more likely (like, more than 80% more likely) to find love on the site. People interested in non-monogamy will also be happy to know that once you set that as a preference, the site will only show you other people interested in non-monogamy (which is 100% more groundbreaking than it should be).
Making a profile might take some time and genuine effort, but that’s what you want if you’re looking for something real. You’ll fill out a questionnaire with your answers and how you would like your ideal match to answer. This makes the application-building process a lot more fun than other apps since it feels like an online quiz. It asks a range of questions, from simple stuff like if you smoke and drink to more intimate things like how many dates you typically wait before sleeping with someone. Pro tip: The app says the more questions you answer, the better your matches will be. The deeper you go, the more accurate your profile is — and in turn, OkCupid(Opens in a new tab) will have a way easier time finding matches for you.
The downsides: While building your profile can be fun, it can get tedious — so it’s probably no surprise that this isn’t the site to use if you’re looking for something quick and casual. Also, though OkCupid has a super robust user base (around 30 million users), the variety of results won’t be nearly as good if you’re not in a well-populated area(Opens in a new tab). For city dwellers, this is fine, but singles in smaller towns may want to opt for a different app.
The bottom line: OkCupid(Opens in a new tab) is the perfect happy medium for people who don’t want anything to do with trendy swiping apps but don’t want to feel like they’re desperately looking for marriage. OkCupid genuinely wants dating to be a good experience for you. Its multi-faceted matchmaking and modern vibe help you avoid feeling like a loser talking to people online.
Best free dating app for hookups
Free features: 100 right swipes per day, view and chat with matches, send one Super Like per day One month of Tinder Plus: $13.49 Six months of Tinder Plus: $40.50 ($6.75 per month) 12 months of Tinder Plus: $54 ($4.50 per month) One month of Tinder Gold: $22.49 Six months of Tinder Gold: $67.50 ($11.25 per month) 12 months of Tinder Gold: $90 ($7.50 per month) One month of Tinder Platinum: $26.99 Six months of Tinder Platinum: $81 ($13.50 per month) 12 months of Tinder Platinum: $108 ($9 per month) The gist: We’d look like total frauds if we didn’t include Tinder(Opens in a new tab). As much as we bitch about this swipe-happy app, it’s just too popular and works too well to leave it off the list. It has its obvious negatives, but the user-friendliness, instant connecting, and massive potential match pool make it most people’s first download choice when they need a quick hookup or confidence boost. Though it’s technically in the “dating app” category, it’s true not everyone’s intentions on the app are to find a serious relationship — but it’s definitely possible. Whether you love it or think it’s trash, it’s going to be one of the best for the foreseeable future, and those are just The Facts.
Who it’s good for: Tinder(Opens in a new tab) is the place you go to find someone to flirt with ASAP. Everyone and their mother is on Tinder, and the wide variety of people means you’ll never not be able to find someone close. Tinder is great for finding a quick hookup with someone nearby where you live, and it’s especially handy if you’re looking for a vacation fling or a local to show you around while you’re traveling. It’s pretty much online dating without the commitment: You can use it when you’re bored, ignore it for three weeks, and come back to find new matches and a new crowd to swipe through.
This isn’t to say that Tinder is only used for finding a one-night-stand or friends-with-benefits situation, though. A lot of people are truly on Tinder to find a real relationship, and it’s likely that you know at least one couple that met on Tinder (if you don’t, just look at these mushy Tinder success stories(Opens in a new tab)).
Because you’re making your swiping decisions based on someone’s photos and a tiny bio that’s usually just a Parks and Recreation quote, Tinder gets a lot of shit for being superficial. But let’s be honest with ourselves, guys — photos are still the first thing we’d notice on any dating site, even the ones that are supposed to be super deep and connection-oriented. And if you’re only looking for a casual encounter, this speedy, no-frills process is exactly what you want.
The downsides: You mean, other than the obvious fact that you’ll probably get carpal tunnel from having to swipe through so many profiles? Well, there is no real matchmaking process, so Tinder will suggest literally every single person in the age range and distance radius that you set.
There’s a disadvantage to the whole swiping-based-on-photos thing, too: Because true matchmaking is nonexistent, the face of that hottie who you matched with might be the only thing you end up liking about them. Matching based solely on physical attraction is just asking for awkward conversations, horrendous disagreements, and unsolicited dick pics down the road. You’ll be lucky if you avoid being messaged something totally raunchy and uninvited, but most users are nice humans and will state their intentions in their bios.
The bottom line: Say what you want about Tinder(Opens in a new tab), but it gets the job done. Everyone shits on its shallow matching, but that fast-paced action is exactly what many young people want. If it didn’t work to some extent, Tinder’s user base would have gone downhill long ago. Each time you open Tinder it’s a complete toss-up, meaning your next match could be your future spouse — or it might just be some rando asking if you’re DTF. Love is a gamble, after all.
For Those Simply Looking For Sex
Best free dating app for long term relationships
Free features: 8 likes per day, see who liked you one by one, unlimited messaging, most compatible pairings, filter basic preferences One month of Hinge+: $29.99 Three months of Hinge+: $59.99 ($19 per month) Six months of Hinge+: $89.99 ($14 per month) One month of HingeX: $49.99 Three months of HingeX: $99.99 ($33 per month) Six months of HingeX: $149.99 ($24 per month) The gist: Hinge(Opens in a new tab) has the modern feel and no-patience-required matching of Tinder but with the relationship (rather than hookup) mindset that sites like eharmony(Opens in a new tab) or Match(Opens in a new tab) offer. Pretty much everyone is on the same page and knows that this app isn’t just for sex, but there’s no pressure to rush into marriage either. It’s chill, it’s legit, and traditional swiping apps should be worried.
Who it’s good for: Hinge is the place for people who want a real relationship but don’t want to commit to a full-fledged dating site with extensive questionnaires. Hinge calls itself the app “designed to be deleted” because you’re meant to find a relationship so you can stop using dating apps.
While Hinge first started by showing you Facebook friends of friends, their algorithm has been getting smarter and smarter, and is now able to surpass friends of friends as a predictor of compatibility. This means you won’t be matched with someone all wrong for you simply because you have a mutual acquaintance. Rather, Hinge will help you get to know the other person more deeply by having users answer prompts to show off personality and interests.
The downsides: Hinge only lets you send 8 likes per day, which is a slight bummer. But it means you have to be a little more selective and thoughtful about who you like, which is more conducive to finding a compatible relationship. Hinge isn’t meant for constant swiping — and everyone I know who uses Hinge (including myself) has never felt the need to upgrade past the free version. Sure, when you pay, you can see everyone who likes you at once and send unlimited likes, but having endless potential matches is overwhelming. If you’re trying to find someone you genuinely connect with, there’s no point in viciously rushing through every person in a 50-mile radius.
The bottom line: We love Hinge(Opens in a new tab). It’s a step up from hookup apps but the perfect level of serious for 20- and 30-somethings who want something real but don’t need anyone asking how many kids they want just yet.
Best free dating apps for millennials
Free features: View profiles, unlimited swiping, send reactions, private chats One month of Premium: $29.99 Three months of Premium: $59.99 Six months of Premium: $99.99 Lifetime of Premium: $149.99 The gist: If you combined Tinder and Hinge, then required women to make the first move, you’d get Bumble(Opens in a new tab). You create a profile with a bio, personal traits, and what you’re looking for, so people will know whether you’re looking for a relationship or something casual.
Bumble is a classic like-and-match dating app, but there are a couple of catches. In heterosexual pairings, women have to make the first move, and each person only has 24 hours to respond once the match has been made. (In same-sex couples, either person can initiate the conversation.)
Who it’s good for: Because women have to make the first move, Bumble is ideal for women who are sick of unsolicited messages from creepy dudes and for men who are tired of always having to make the first move. It’s also for people who want transparency in what kinds of relationships potential matches are looking for. Though the time limit on the chat feature can feel a bit pressing, it helps weed out who might be using the app for a “confidence boost” of matching without actually having any intention of following up.
The downsides: You have to be fast and active if you use Bumble since matches disappear after 24 hours if you don’t interact with them. This is especially rough for men seeking women because they can’t even start the convo if the match cuts it close to time. At least you know who’s really, really interested.
The bottom line: Bumble has a great free version that lets you be explicit about what you’re looking for. It’s ideal for women who like to make the first move, and it sits right in that sweet spot between hookup app and marriage app.
Best free dating app for queer men
Free features: Browse profiles, chat, share private photos, filter preferences, star favorites, block users, send your location when you’re ready to meet up One month of Grindr XTRA: $9.99 Three months of Grindr XTRA: $20.97 ($6.99 per month) Six months of Grindr XTRA: $29.94 ($4.99 per month) 12 months of Grindr XTRA: $47.88 ($3.99 per month) The gist: Grindr(Opens in a new tab) is the world’s biggest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people, helping singles get it on since 2009. At over 3 million daily users, it’s clear it has earned its place as one of the most popular dating apps out there. Though it’s kind of pegged as a hookup app, finding a lasting relationship on here isn’t impossible by any means. Just keep in mind that many users you’ll come across aren’t looking for anything serious.
What it’s good for: This is the place for gay people who can’t stand the heteronormativity of apps like Tinder or Bumble and is especially handy for those looking for a friends-with-benefits situation. Grindr(Opens in a new tab) users have no chill. It’s gay paradise and if you’ve been thinking that you’ve met every gay man in your area already, Grindr might be able to show you some newbies who you never knew existed. (Unless you’re in a small town, in which case you’ll probably see the same people recycled on your feed — but just wait until you go on vacation.)
Instead of swiping right or left to match, you’ll get a borderline infinite collage of people who are close location-wise, and honestly, it’s super jumbled and scary to look at. It can be a pretty speedy process if you want it to be, and most users just looking to hook up will let you know right off that they’re not trying to make small talk. That’s not to say it’s not for relationships — one of my good friends met his current boyfriend on Grindr(Opens in a new tab) — but at the surface level, it’s ideal for quick, casual encounters.
Grindr does promote the importance of practicing safe sex and has initiatives to work toward a safe, just, and inclusive world for all sexualities and gender identities. So, the app does a little more than help you find someone hot to hook up with.
The downsides: Grindr(Opens in a new tab) is NSFW. Messages will be freaky AF, and you’re 100% going to receive a ton of unsolicited (or solicited, if you asked) dick pics, so messaging on Grindr while you’re on the train or in line at the store isn’t quite as casual as other dating apps might be. You’re also going to get badgered for pictures as well, so if you’re uncomfortable with that, steer clear.
Grindr is hookup-heavy. It’s nice that most users are honest about their intentions (AKA no feelings mixups), but people looking for a serious relationship might get discouraged. We’re not quite saying this a downside, because for those who strictly want to hook up, this is heaven; it’s just something to keep in mind.
The bottom line: If you’re a gay man, an app that’s specifically for you is your place to shine. There are obviously gay men on Tinder, Hinge, and many other dating apps, but that’s probably their backup app, and you’re likely to circle through the same batch. No one wastes time on here, and if you’re in the mood and looking for someone ASAP, Grindr(Opens in a new tab) won’t steer you wrong. Just don’t expect to meet your date’s parents any time soon.
Best free dating app for queer women
Free features: View profiles, get matches, add friends, start chats, view events, join communities One month of HER Premium: Starting at $14.99 Six months of HER Premium: Starting at $59.99 ($9.99 per month) One year of HER Premium: Starting at $89.99 ($7.49 per month) The gist: Claiming to be the app that “introduces you to every lesbian you’ve ever wanted to meet,” HER(Opens in a new tab) is the award-winning mix of dating and social media that lets you meet girls you know are girls, as it is solely for lesbian, bisexual, and queer women. The language is inclusive — it’s not a lesbian site aimed at a male fantasy, thanks to the fact queer women created it — and it’ll help you widen your dating pool beyond the circles you already know IRL.
Who it’s good for: This is the place for queer, bisexual, trans, and lesbian women to go when they’re over men pretending to be women online or they’re tired of being asked for a threesome by straight couples. The fact that it’s made by queer women for queer women was a much-needed addition to the online dating world, and knowing that it’s a safe space is really nice. Another refreshing aspect is that HER(Opens in a new tab) goes way past being a hookup app — that is, without adding pressure to find a romantic partner. While it can be used to couple up and find local matches that you never knew existed, you can also get involved in local LGBTQ events, read LGBTQ news, and make friends through its social-media-like feed.
The downsides: HER(Opens in a new tab)’s user base isn’t as large as that of mainstream apps like Tinder, so you might not have as many options as you’d like, especially if you live in a smaller town. A lot of queer women are still on apps like Tinder and Bumble, and unfortunately, on those platforms you might run into straight girls saying that they’re “interested” in women just to find friends or a threesome. Right now, you’ll just have to choose between HER’s peaceful lack of straight presence and smaller variety of users or Tinder’s heteronormativity and unbeatable number of users.
The bottom line: The number of users might not compare to other apps just yet, but HER(Opens in a new tab) is making serious strides toward becoming a total boss of an app (and toward taking a ton of queer lady users away from Tinder). The low-pressure atmosphere is super inviting, and the fact that you can do anything from find a girlfriend to find friends to attend an LGBTQ movie night makes it unique for multiple reasons. It just rocks, OK?
Best dating app with free chat
Credit: plenty of fish / apple
Free features: View and sort matches, send and receive unlimited messages, search for specific characteristics Three months of Premium: $62.80 ($20.94 per month) Six months of Premium: $94.23 ($15.70 per month) 12 months of Premium: $125.64 ($10.47 per month) The gist: Though it’s not the most attractive setup, Plenty of Fish(Opens in a new tab) is an underrated choice for people just dipping their toes into the world of online dating. As a tried-and-true option that’s been around for over 15 years, the 35+ crowd might be more familiar with Plenty of Fish than they would be with newer apps. The advertising, lengthy questionnaires, and profiles are extremely traditional, making this a safe bet for non-millennials, divorcees, and single parents who are not in the mood to mess around. Plenty of Fish is part of the Match group, so you know they mean business with their algorithm.
Who it’s good for: This is the place where the older crowd can avoid the non-serious people and find other singles their age. Chemistry is the name of the game here, and the multiple questionnaires are no joke. This isn’t a quick five-second setup like other apps, but that’s only because Plenty of Fish truly wants you to dig a bit deeper so that they can give you the best quality matches. Not only does POF attempt to match you with people who you’ll statistically get along with (based on how you’ve both answered its questions), but it also wants to match you with people who are looking for the same thing as you are.
In the “meeting goals” section, you’ll specify whether you’re looking for something long-term, looking to date but nothing serious, etc., and then Plenty of Fish will try to match you with others who answered similarly. The idea is to eliminate the awkward “What are we?” conversations and set you up for success by pairing you with people who share your priorities. Once you’re set up, this app does want to get you actually talking and connecting with who’s out there — that’s why users can send others nearby a like or a message to see if there’s actually chemistry beyond physical attraction.
The downsides: The user interface is not the most attractive we’ve ever seen, but considering POF has such a large number of users, I guess we can ignore the subpar aesthetics. Since the profile building takes some time, we’d suggest answering all of the questions on a desktop, but doing the actual swiping and matching on the app. In terms of the actual app use, the unlimited messaging can be nice, but people can send you messages without matching, so if that’s not your vibe, this probably isn’t the app for you. This can also contribute to a more hookup-dominant culture of the app, so prepare for that as well.
The bottom line: If a site’s janky aesthetics don’t bother you, POF(Opens in a new tab) offers a wide variety of potential mates. Regardless of whether you’re super picky with your type or have no idea what you want, there’s pretty much no way you won’t come across a few people who you find interesting. If you’re only looking to hook up, definitely stay away from POF — but if you’re looking to settle down, POF’s matchmaking has got your back.
Leah is a shopping reporter at Mashable, where she covers shopping trends, gift ideas, and products that make life easier. She graduated from Penn State University in 2012 and is watching horror movies or “The Office” when she’s not shopping online herself. You can follow her on Twitter at @notleah(Opens in a new tab).