How to Clear your Browser Cache

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When you call IT to fix a computer problem, the first thing they’ll ask is: “Did you turn your computer off and on again?”

The suggestion might seem simplistic and irrelevant to beginners, but when the exact cause of the problem isn’t known, technology can oftentimes benefit from a simple restart. And when it comes to browsing the web, the same principle often applies.

If you’re having issues with a website you visit, or things just don’t look quite like they should, the first step in troubleshooting is to clear your browser cache. Here’s how.

What Exactly Is a Browser Cache?

Modern browsers have a lot of tricks for making your Internet experience appear as fast and smooth as possible, and caching is one of the most common and useful techniques for doing so.

Whenever you visit a website, all the files that comprise that page are downloaded to your computer. Your browser will save some of the downloaded files in temporary storage. Saved files can include text, style sheets, scripts, images, and other multimedia.

The next time you visit that website, your browser will check to see if you have the needed files already saved in your cache. If the website’s files haven’t been updated, your browser can just use the temporarily saved files to display the page you’re viewing, so you don’t have to wait for them to download all over again. Your browser only needs to download them again if the files have been changed or updated.

Without your browser’s caching abilities, navigating from page to page would take a lot longer, since every single file would have to be downloaded separately each time. Caching saves a lot of time and bandwidth, since websites will often use the same scripts, stylesheets, and other files across their entire website.

Why Clear Your Browser Cache?

While caching makes browsing the web a lot faster, it can also cause a few issues.

While your browser cache is called “temporary” storage, it can actually hold onto files indefinitely until it runs out of space, or the files are deleted manually. Your browser cache can quickly fill up with loads of files, taking up space on your computer, so it’s good to empty it out periodically. Most browsers have settings you can configure to automatically empty out the cache on a regular basis.

Your browser cache can also be a security risk, since the saved files can reveal your browsing history if accessed. Anyone with access to your computer can also see your browser cache, which will make apparent every website you’ve visited since the cache was last cleared.

Your browser cache can also cause issues when there are changes to the website, but your browser loads files from your cache instead of downloading the new ones. This can become an issue especially while you’re working on your own website, so you’ll often need to empty your browser cache otherwise you may not see the changes you’ve made.

Here’s how to empty the cache in Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer.

Forcing a Reload

Let’s face it: emptying the browser cache can be a pain. You could accidentally wipe out your saved passwords and other data you want to keep, and it’s time consuming to keep emptying the cache every time a change is made.

So before we go ahead, let’s try to force the browser to reload the page without relying on the cache.

It doesn’t always work, but it only takes a second to try. Here’s how:

  • On Linux, press the F5 key
  • On Windows, press CTRL + F5 together
  • On Mac, it’s CMD + R together

Still no luck? Read on.

Clearing the Browser Cache

The procedure for clearing the cache is slightly different on every operating system and browser. Here’s how to do it on the most popular browsers:

Using Chrome:

  1. Click the menu icon.
  2. Click More Tools > Clear Browsing Data. (Alternatively, instead of steps 1 and 2 you can press Ctrl+Shift+Backspace in Windows or ChromeOS.)
  3. At the top, after Obliterate the following items from…, choose the beginning of time.
  4. Check off Cached images and files and any other items you would like to clear.
  5. Click the Clear browsing data button at the bottom.

Using Firefox on Windows:

  1. Click the menu icon.
  2. Click Preferences.
  3. Click the Advanced menu option on the left.
  4. Click the Network tab.
  5. Under the Cached Web Content section, click the Clear Now button on the right.

Using Internet Explorer:

  1. Press Ctrl+Shift+Delete, or from Internet Explorer click the Gear Icon > Safety > Delete browsing history.
  2. Uncheck Preserve Favorites website data.
  3. Check Temporary Internet files.
  4. Click the Delete button at the bottom.

Using Safari:

  1. Click the Safari menu.
  2. Click Empty Cache.
  3. Click Empty.
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