Clearing Your Browser History (and your online tracks)

Category: Privacy

A reader asks: “How do I clear the list of sites visited in my web browser? There are some nosy people in my vicinity and I don't want them to be able to see what web sites I have visited.” Read on for my advice on how to clear browser history...

Cleanup in Aisle 451

How does one clear the list of websites visited? Well, that depends on which list you mean. There are several crumb trails that can reveal your Web whereabouts to others who might be snooping around your computer. Let's look at some ways to clear your digital tracks with the most popular browsers.

First, there's the address box (up near the top of the screen), where you type in web addresses (URLs) of sites that you want to visit. Those addresses accumulate in the dropdown box that shows below the address bar as you enter addresses or search terms. This can be very handy or very embarrassing, depending on who's watching over your shoulder and where you've been.

And then there's the browser history, which logs the date, time and Web address of every page you have visited. A lot of people are not aware that this history log even exists, so if it's YOU that's spying on your colleague, spouse or child, it's the first place to look. In the Chrome, Edge or Firefox browser, just press Ctrl H and your SearcH istory panel will appear. With Safari on a Mac, click History, then Show All History.

Fortunately, it's easy to clear out the address bar entries and the browser history. On Chrome, you'll see a "Clear browsing data" link on the History tab. Click that link, and a popup will give you an array of options for clearing browsing history, download history, cookies, cached images, passwords, form data, and site settings. You can even choose a date range that lets you select just history items from the last hour, day, week or month.

Microsoft Edge hides the history management page deeper. After pressing Ctrl+H, click the "..." icon at the top of the History popup, then click "Clear browsing data". From there, it works the same as Chrome (see above).

Firefox users, click on the menu icon on the far right, select Histoty, then Clear Recent history. Select what you want to delete (Browsing & download history, Form & search history, Cookies, Cache, Site settings, Offline website data) and a time range (last hour, 2 hourts, 4 hours, last day, or Everything) and hit the OK button. That's it -- tabula rasa, squeaky clean.

All three browsers have a "Clear browsing data on close/exit" feature, which wipes out the history each time you close the browser.

NOTE: I generally do NOT recommend that people delete their cookies. They're useful when it comes to customizing your browsing experience at many sites, and can save you the trouble of re-entering information on web forms. Security tools (and pundits) that identify cookies as "threats" are silly and should be avoided or ignored.

Feeling Fabulous?

For most users, that should erase all traces of where you've been hanging out in the digital domain. But there are a few more things to consider.

  • If you have a Google Account, you may want to see what data has been collected there and take action to delete some or all of it. See my article
    Here’s What Google Knows About You (and how you can delete it). Similarly, you can manage your Microsoft account data and your Facebook privacy settings.

  • Do you have a software-based firewall? If so, it may have some caching built in. Check the firewall options to see if there's a way to clear the history and/or cache. The same goes for certain browser plugins. Poke around in the settings to see if there's a "clear my tracks" option.

  • If your computer is at work or school, your employer/administrator may monitor all Internet access. If you're not sure about this, or about your employer's Acceptable Use Policy, check with them. Or just don't go there at work. You know where... ;-)

  • Finally, if you have any spyware or viruses on your system, all bets are off. These things are designed to violate your privacy and it's common for them to report your browsing habits back to Malware HQ.

    Do you try to manage or delete your online history or accouhnt data... or do you let it ride? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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    Most recent comments on "Clearing Your Browser History (and your online tracks)"

    Posted by:

    13 Dec 2022

    Is the 'Private Window' in Safari as good as deleting your history?

    Posted by:

    13 Dec 2022

    The advice given is excellent as many older and casual computer users don't know about cleaning out the browser cache.

    In addition to this, the ultimate cleaner that has NEVER in years caused me a problem by removing something I needed is called "PrivaZer", and it's free.

    This is a work of digital art and as such fully deserves you DONATE to the gent who built AND maintains AND regularly IMPROVES it - and then get the easier update download method as his thanks.

    Go to the site, read up on this, and maybe give it a test drive. The first full system clean may take a bit, but will be faster going forward.


    Posted by:

    13 Dec 2022

    I like the idea of preventing websites from knowing where I've been. For years I've used Crap Cleaner
    (CCleaner Free from There's paid prescription versions, but the free version works well for me. Aside from just clearing cookies it keeps your system temp files and cache emptied. It also has other useful tool, such as "view installed programs" which shows the date of latest updates, installed size, and let's you uninstall any programs you don't want. I run the cleaner at shutdown and at startup. Yes, no one knows me when I come back, but login passwords are still saved in the browser. I know I'm anonymous when my online services send me email notices that an unknown device is accessing my account. My computer seems to run quicker from regularly clearing out all of that accumulated crap. It only takes a few seconds to run when there is less than a gig to clear.

    Posted by:

    Paul R
    13 Dec 2022

    All I do to remove browser lists is shut down and reboot.

    Posted by:

    13 Dec 2022

    Like @Kelvin, I'm a (free) CCleaner user. For me, one of its best features is the one that lets you decide which cookies you want to keep. It also lets you delete System temporary files, among other things.

    Posted by:

    Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
    13 Dec 2022

    The question that (presumably) inspired this item was:

    A reader asks: “How do I clear the list of sites visited in my web browser? There are some nosy people in my vicinity, and I don't want them to be able to see what web sites I have visited.”

    Bob did a very good job of answering the question, but I have another suggestion that I think will better solve the root problem:

    If this is a home/personal computer, set up an account for each person who is allowed access, then log out of your account whenever you're not using it (or lock the screen when you're away). Unless I'm mistaken, browser data is account specific, not global, so that should keep prying eyes out of your business.

    If this is a computer owned by your employer, and you have your own user account on it, make sure it's locked whenever you're away. If it's a shared workplace computer, never do anything on it that you don't want others you work with to know about (you probably shouldn't do such things at work anyway).

    Alternatively, most popular web browsers support In-Private sessions. When you close the In Private windows, all data from that session is deleted. By using an In-Private window, you don't have to worry about deleting your browsing history.

    I hope something I mentioned here helps others,


    Posted by:

    13 Dec 2022

    If you just want to remove certain websites from the browser history list you can, at least in Firefox.

    Open History, (from the top line of your browser .. not using ctrl H) select Show all history, and type your entity into the history box (top right,) highlight the results and hit delete. You can just do one entity at a time this way, and keep all the ones you want.

    Posted by:

    Paul S
    13 Dec 2022

    Paul R: Shut down followed by reboot doesn't clear what Bob is talking about. You can do some manual things as Bob describes or an "automatic" cleanse as several have described. Deanna of spotlighted PrivaZer back in 2019:

    Posted by:

    Brian B
    13 Dec 2022

    In Google Chrome (others browsers I believe have similar) If you open an Incognito Window to browse, none of the visited sites appear in the address bar drop down menu, or the Ctrl H browser history. Nothing is stored. I find this method of maintaining privacy is better that all these so called privacy apps such as Ccleaner, Privazer etc. No matter which one you use to wipe your browser, if you then another to run the same wipe, it will find more that the previous didn't. I've tried this method, and without fail, and in any order, the last check will find things that the others have apparently missed. Try it for yourself, run you favourite cleaner, and then run another to see the result.

    Posted by:

    Hugh Gautier
    14 Dec 2022

    Now, for a real kick in the gut Edge doesn't close down when you close it. It stays up and running in the background unbeknownst to the user. How do I know, well I use CCleaner after shutting down the browsers. I'm asked a question do I want Edge to shut down or run in the background, I'd already closed it but it remained up, therefore I forced it to shut down.
    I don't take too kindly on anyone or thing watching what I'm doing after I get off of the internet. This program is like the keylogger which is used by those who would do us harm. I try staying as far from the Edge browser as I can and even though I hadn't used it it was running without me bringing it up. That is bad news as far as I'm concerned. I'm using Windows 10 Pro, I have disabled OneNote and Skype. I don't use the "cloud" and don't need it having a 20TB SSD drive for my storage device. This drive is on a switchable USB HUB so when I'm done I can turn the power to the drive off with the hub just after I've safely removed the drive.

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    Article information: AskBobRankin -- Clearing Your Browser History (and your online tracks) (Posted: 13 Dec 2022)
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