What’s a browser cache? How do I clear it? Why would I want to?

"Clear your browser's cache" is the first response that tech people often give if you encounter web page problems. We'll look at why that is and how to clear the cache.

The browser cache comes up in more of my answers than questions, but when I recommend it, the direction probably causes even more questions. Even when following instructions to empty the cache, many people aren’t clear on what this piece of magic really is and why clearing the cache would do anything at all.

Let’s review the browser cache, what it is, and why it exists. Along the way, we’ll review the steps to clear it in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome, and try to dream up some reasons why that sometimes helps.

What’s a browser cache?

The browser cache exists because of a basic assumption made by the folks who design browsers: the internet is slow. Perhaps more correctly, your internet connection is slower than your computer.

What that means is that it’s faster to get something to display from your hard disk than it is to get it by downloading it from the internet. Even with today’s faster internet speeds, that still holds very true.

When current browsers were designed, people noticed that many web pages contained the same elements and many sites had these all over their pages. For example, if you look at this page, you’ll see a logo at the top. It’s actually at the top of every page on this site. So the thinking was why download the same logo for every page? Why not just download it once and then keep it so we can use it again?

The cache is nothing more than a place on your hard disk where the browser keeps things that it downloaded in case they’re needed again. For instance, when you first visit a page on this site, the browser will download the logo so that it can be shown. Every time that you visit a different page on the site, the logo doesn’t need to be downloaded again; as long as the same logo is displayed, it’s already here.

The cache has a limit of how big it can get and you can usually configure how much space to set aside for it. Essentially, when the cache gets full, the items in it that haven’t been used in a while are discarded to make room for whatever new items you’re looking at now.

There’s a little more to it than that. For example, there are ways for me to update the logo on my site and have that override whatever is in your cache so what you see is always up-to-date. But by and large, that’s all it is: a place to keep things locally so that you don’t always have to download the same things all over again.

And it’s all transparent to you.

Until something breaks, of course.

And that’s where “clearing the cache” comes in.

For reasons that I simply can’t explain – other than by saying “stuff happens” – the cache can sometimes get confused. This seems to happen to most browsers and at random times. What you’ll see are partially loaded or badly formatted web pages, incomplete pictures, or in some cases, the wrong picture in the wrong place.

It’s not always a caching problem, but because it happens often enough, “clear your browser cache” is often one of the first diagnostic steps that you’ll hear from people like me.

Here’s how.

Clearing Internet Explorer’s cache

Examples are Internet Explorer 11; older versions are similar.

Click the Tools menu or click the gear icon in the upper right of the Internet Explorer window, then the Internet Options menu item. In the resulting dialog box, under Browsing History, click the Delete… button:

Internet Options

In the resulting Delete Browsing History dialog, it’s the Temporary Internet files and website files item that specifically refers to the browser cache. You can select or deselect other items as you see fit.

Once you’ve done so, click the Delete button:

Delete Browsing History

Your browser cache is now empty.

Here’s a short video walking through the steps for Internet Explorer:

Clearing FireFox’s cache

Examples are version 25.0.1. Older versions are similar, although some of the specific options have changed.

Click the Tools menu (you may need to press the ALT key to make it appear) and click the Privacy tab.

Firefox Privacy Tab

Click the Clear your recent history link in the middle of the dialog.

Firefox Clear Recent History

In the resulting dialog, ensure that the Cache item is checked and that Everything is selected in the Time range to clear drop-down menu.

You can check other items to be cleared at the same time.

Click Clear Now.

Your browser cache is now empty.

Here’s a short video walking through the steps for Firefox:

Clearing Chrome’s cache

Examples are using Chrome version 31.0. Previous versions will be similar.

Click the menu icon at the top right of Chrome and then click History1:

Chrome History on Menu

On the resulting page, click on Clear browsing data…

Clear Browsing Data Button

Then in the resulting dialog ensure that “Empty the cache” is selected (others are optional, but we’ll focus on only the cache here):

Clear Browsing Data Dialog

Do also make sure that the Obliterate the following items from: drop-down menu is set to The beginning of time to clear the entire cache.

Click Clear browsing data.

Your browser cache is now empty.

Here’s a short video walking through the steps for Google Chrome:

 

An empty cache

Your browser cache is empty – so what?

An empty cache means there’s no confusion. As you visit web pages hereafter, the browser will download fresh copies of everything that you see on each page. Effectively, you’ve simply forced your browser to rebuild its cache from scratch as it loads or re-loads web pages. Any cache-related issues should be cleared up.

Until the next time.

This is an update to an article originally posted : April 18, 2009

Footnotes and references

1: Thanks to several readers who pointed out this slightly quicker way than the one I had previously employed.

There are 45 comments:

  1. Roberta Schatz Reply

    Browser cache is easy to clear, what about the hidden files as in Content.IE5? especially when one of the files is corrupt and unreadable? Virus scan and Antisyware cannot clean it and I can’t run CHKDSK all the way through or Defag until I do a complete Chkdsk. I have gotten right up to the Content.IE5 folders but as soon as I try to delete one the PC freezes up. Can I do something else to get rid of IE5? Thank you, Roberta.

  2. ed reid Reply

    You could make frequent use of Ccleaner.

    It may take too long though if you hear the Feds battering down your front down and shouting Catch as cache can!

  3. MmeMoxie Reply

    Leo, if, I am not mistaken, there is another part to ‘controlling’ the Cache. Deleting the Temporary Internet Files does a great job, but most users are unaware that there is a ‘setting’ that helps ‘control’ the Cache, so it doesn’t get TOO big!

    It is in Internet Explorer’s Options, on the first page, under Browsing History. Look at the button that says, ‘Settings’. By Default, Internet Explorer sets this setting quite high, usually way into the 1500MBs and higher, when all that is really needed is no more than 250MBs. I know that making sure my setting is set at 250MB, I can do lots of surfing and my PC doesn’t slow down much, at all.

    There is also a ‘setting’ in Firefox. It is a little harder to find. Open up the Tools option, at the top of the browser. Click on the Advanced button, then click on the Network button. On that section, you will see where you can ‘set’ the amount you want to ‘cache’. I also, set my Firefox at 250MB. It simply works and keeps me going with both Internet Explorer and Firefox.

    • Tom Reply

      I regularly set my cache to be only 50 meg and don’t see any significant performance issues. In addition I set the days to 5. I manage 20 computers at a small company and set up all of the computers this way. Most of my users don’t understand the cache concept and these settings help to keep the computers from bogging down. I haven’t had any performance complaints yet.

  4. Anne Reply

    I use Firefox, but I also have Internet Explorer installed, but never use it. My question is this: Why, when I clear my private data every time I close Firefox, there are cookies, temporary internet files, and data in Internet Options? I’m assuming Internet Options is connected to IE, but I don’t use IE. So, I’ve made it a habit to clear both Firefox and IE’s Internet Options.

  5. Nicholas Gimbrone Reply

    One reason that the cache becomes corrupted (bad content, out of date content, etc) is because the cache validation settings on the browser may be (inappropriately) set to allow this… in fact, this is the default setting in IE. The safe (dare I say correct ;-) setting is to set IE’s frequency to “every time I visit the web page”. The default setting of “automatic” allows an infrequently changed file to be used in an out of date state.

  6. Just J Reply

    Hi Leo

    In response to “MmeMoxie”, apart from being correct about that particular setting. They have opted for quite a large cache.

    I don’t really know why per-se, but I opt for a much smaller cache at around 50MB instead.

    Can you elaborate on this a little? i.e. Would there be performance issue’s or anything else to consider at either end of our spectrum’s?

    I never play with the cache unless I’m in a tight disk situation. At some point unless you’re visiting LOTS of different web sites every day, a super-large cache doesn’t really buy you anything. How small is too small varies depending on your usage: visit one or two sites a day and a tiny cache will do. The only drawback to a too-small cache is performance, but I can’t tell you whether 50MB’s too small for you or not.

    Leo
    22-Jul-2010

  7. Ken B Reply

    Sometimes, you may just want to “clear the cache” for the current page, rather than the entire cache. In Firefox, for example, you can hold down the shift key when you click the “reload” button. I’ve used that numerous times when, for example, a page’s CSS isn’t correct. A simple “reload” reloads the page, but any resources that it refers to, such as external CSS or Javascript, may still come from the cache.

  8. David Powell Reply

    One other reason why you might clear the browser cache is (apparently) for general computer speed-up. One commentator said that this (for Internet Explorer specifically) was the single most beneficial way to improve a sluggish computer. He rated it as often more effective than disk defrag or registry cleanup, where so many efforts are focused. I put it to the test on my wife’s old Celeron. Low physical memory, but plenty of disk available. It works!! Why? That’s what I thought this article might answer. The proponent of this tactic asserted that it’s effective even when IE’s not your favoured browser. I’d like to know the science behind this hocus-pocus.

  9. Mountain Lady Reply

    Back up to that “Delete Browsing History” menu. What harm will be done if I click on the bottom “Delete All” button?

  10. Pierre, Ontario, Canada Reply

    So now you have to show us how to do it (Clear Cache safely) in Google Chrome…..

    Click on the wrench icon in the toolbar (Chrome's wrench), click on Tools, click on Clear Browsing Data…

    Leo
    25-Sep-2010

  11. Bombay Granny Reply

    For Mountain Lady: I always click on the Delete All button, because I DO want to delete all the things that are listed there. I try to do this at least once a week, even more often if I’ve visited lots of new websites. In three years there was only one thing deleted that I didn’t mean to delete, and a Google search found it again in no time.

  12. Lorij Reply

    Thanks, I am trying to become more efficient using M-Cliqe,
    I am becoming more computer savy and a less afraid that I will break something. Thanks for your help.

  13. Robert Harris Reply

    Cache is actually stored copy of a web page that remains in your computer so that your browser can load it whenever needed. And it is well known that browser cache plays an important role in browsing the web. It stores the text, pictures, sounds and objects on the Internet and helps the browser to get them back from its cache whenever you need to go back to the same pages in the net. There is no doubt that browser cache increases the speed of browsing the web.

    Clear cache:
    In Internet Explorer, all that you need to do is to go to ‘Tools’, then to ‘Internet Options’ in the Menu Bar and click on ‘Delete Files’. When you see the pop-up, select ‘Delete all offline content’. Then go for ‘Clear History’. On the top you would find the ‘Content’ tab. Click on ‘Auto Complete’, then ‘Clear Forms’ if at all you need to delete it once for all. Now the browser cache is cleared from Internet Explorer.

    {link removed}

  14. Gale Townsend Reply

    Leo, You ‘might’ -?- want to update the pic for IE on this: It now has a ‘Preserve Favorites website data’ that -at least in mine- is automatically checked when you select DELETE HISTORY in the front box. This Preserve Favorites…’Keep cookies & temporary Internet files that enable your favorite websites to retain preferences and display faster.’ The reason I said might -?- was because perhaps this should be ‘un’clicked and we shouldn’t preserve this data in some instances…. G

  15. Sheila Reply

    Thanks again, Leo! I’ve landed on your page a few times before and you’ve always had the right answer to fix everything! I cleared my browser cache, Yaahwhoo! (Actually, I just now learned what it was!)

    Honestly, you’re the best.

    :)

  16. CF Reply

    Thanks! Clearing the cache worked for me. Now I can get to my bank’s internet page to pay my bills!

  17. Tony Reply

    Leo, my problem is my IE is absolutely unresponsive, therefore I can’t follow your suggestion. When I click Tools, almost everything is grayed out – I can’t click Internet Options, therefore I can’t delete anything from my cache. Thanks in advance for any further guidance.

    Meanwhile I’m thankful I downloaded Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome in the early stages when my IE was actually working.

  18. Barry Karas Reply

    11-02-2011

    What does RECENT mean in clear recent history?

  19. Mark Jacobs Reply

    @Barry
    Recent in Firefox is any time you choose it to be. When you click Clear recent history, there is a pulldown which asks you how far back you want to clear.

  20. Suzanne Reply

    I did this once recently in order to access my verizon account (their tech help said to do it). But I must have selected delete cookies (maybe?) because I now want to revert to signing in to my email without typing the username in (auto-fill?).

    Not sure how to accomplish this, and that is why I ended up here! My social network site keeps me ready to roll (recalls my username and password and autofills as I press the enter key) but I have lost the ability on hotmail.

    How might I refresh this ability at that site?

    I just now selected “keep me logged in” but that is not exactly what I had before. I dont want to go to hotmail to find my page already open, I was hoping to begin typing my username and see it appear by itself.

    Crazy as it may seem, I had been using yahoo simply because I did NOT have to type in my whole email address as my username, but only the part before the @ symbol.

    Now that I have you, let me ask you a million questions! First I will go check the faq’s or fill in the search bar.

    My initial question is “how do I get auto-fill to work on my hotmail again?” (I really did read the article.)

  21. Wayne Talmadge Reply

    @Suzanne
    It sounds like it was your browser remembering the password before. Here’s another article on Ask Leo! with information on getting the autofill back… including some very good reasons NOT to do it!
    How do I log into hotmail automatically?

  22. Norman Reply

    Will clearing a browser cache delete any emails that got stored there, and not by the server ? Or or all web based e-mails only stored automatically on their server ?

    Web based email services store email on the server. Your browser cache is just a temporary location on your computer in an attempt to make all web pages faster by not downloading the same things over and over.

    Leo
    17-Apr-2012
  23. jacob Reply

    why would anyone use internet explorer? it’s the slowest and messiest explorer there is

  24. Mike Reply

    Wonderful, your website, Leo!
    If only I had more time to dive into it.

  25. Dusty Reply

    Hello, I followed the steps above. Cleared cache, turned of image auto resizing, and tried adjusting the graphics in the Control Panel, but it doesn’t have a slider – it only shows a scoring of 3.5 on a 1.0-7.9 scale. I still get the red x’s on any website I visit. And most of the time, the icons won’t load either, such as the download button, the close button on pop-up windows, etc. I have Norton and their website’s “virtual” support didn’t help me at all. By the way, is there a better web browser than the Internet Explorer? If so, which one(s) do you recommend? Thanks for all you’re doing to help others!

  26. Doclocke Reply

    I’ve used Opera for many years, specifically because its cache is much-better designed than those in the other browsers you mentioned. If you do lots of downloading of web videos, and wish to save them to your hard disk or other media, Opera’s cache is an excellent choice. All you have to do is clear the cache before starting a download, and then when it’s done, move the download from there to a folder on your hard drive, or any removable media you choose.

    • Bill Reply

      Easier? open up program and clear the cache then go to the directory and move the file instead of just telling it where you want it saved in the first place. I think not.

  27. Lee Reply

    To clear the cache in Chrome all you have to do is click on history and your there….. you don’t have to click on settings, first.

  28. Bonita Reply

    It works for Android also, giving a slight performance improvement. Since I use C Cleaner, I never bother with clearing my computer’s browser cache.

  29. James Reply

    Firefox is actually pretty simple. Leo’s got a few extra unnecessary steps. Just click on the Firefox menu in the top left corner. Click History. Click Clear Recent History. It remembers your settings from last time you cleared it, so there is nothing to set.

  30. Joseph Salcetti Reply

    How come, when I wanted to buy and download your Guide to Routine Maintenance, I clicked on the “Buy” symbol and all I got was a blank page?
    Sure would appreciate how I could get your maintenance manual.

  31. Mark Jacobs Reply

    There’s an even faster way to do it in Firefox. After clicking the alt key, click on History then from the pulldown select Clear Recent History to get the dialog to clear the Cache and other History elements.

    And for all three browsers, an even quicker method than that is the shortcut key combination Ctrl+Shift+Del which brings you directly to the Delete History dialog box. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this also works for Safari and Opera)

  32. Dyrkness Reply

    Watch out when deleting cookies. Your password and user names may be removed on sites that you have not had to enter them in a while and may have forgotten.

  33. Sarah Reply

    1) If a website shows in your temporary internet cache the user must have visited the site at one point in time, correct? This could not be an advertisement, or pop up attached to something else? For example: something@twitter.com Must be from person visiting Twitter?

    2) Every website listed in the temporary internet cache is showing as:
    cookie:computeruser@yahoo.com or cookie:computeruser@webtrends.com
    (how do I know it it is an email account or just a website?)

    • Leo Reply

      1) No, it could be a popup or advertisement. It could even be a popup that had been blocked, depending on the browser and the speed and technology used to block the popup.
      2) It’s not necessarily an email address. It may be, but that nomenclature is constructed from information that might not be related to email at all.

  34. JEAN RAVEN Reply

    I am trying to understand why IE5 is o important. In my view its an old browser and not supported or even secure but somehow its a necessity. Ive read that the temp can be cleared but not the folder. This is a mystery to me and I would like to know why. Again, what is so important about ie5 folder, is it sentimental value to Windows? ????? thank you.

    • Leo Reply

      If it’s the name of a folder that’s all it is – a name of a folder. It does NOT imply that IE 5 is actually running or installed. My guess is that rather than having to deal with the side effects and hassle of renaming that folder with every new version they simply stopped renaming it when IE6 came out. IE11 likely uses that IE5 folder. As I said, it’s only a name and doesn’t imply anything.

  35. ayaan Reply

    my pc is not able to download any browser like opera explorer chrome when i click on dowload icon than it says low memory than i it will stop downloading everytime i have just explorer 6 which is not working properly

  36. tina Reply

    Question. What is clear cached data? Should I do this? Will I loose anything important?

    • Leo Reply

      It’s simply a performance optimization, as stated in the article. You can clear it without loss.

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