Should You Reset Your Web Browser?

Category: Browsers

Internet Explorer... Firefox... Google Chrome... Sarari... all web browsers misbehave in mysterious and frustrating ways occasionally. You could spend hours trying to troubleshoot the problem, but sometimes the Reset button is the answer. Here are my tips on when (and when NOT) to reset your browser...

When and How to Reset Your Browser

When struggling with a web browser that's not doing what it should, sometimes it’s better to just reset it to the "factory defaults" that are known to work. However, that may come at a price. But let's talk about the problem first, and then move on to solutions.

Symptoms of a borked browser may include browser lock-ups, Web pages that do not display properly (or flash on screen and then disappear), very slow rendering of Web pages, and add-ons that do not function as expected. You may also have unwanted toolbars or notice that your search function has been hijacked. If you are being redirected to a page that you didn't request, that's almost certainly a sign of a malware issue affecting your browser. Generally, problems start shortly after a new add-on or software package is installed.

Reset Your Browser

When do you need to reset your browser? Most often, a reset is needed because add-on software is causing a problem. Sometimes add-ons don’t play well together, and finding the subtle conflicts between add-ons is a detective job for professionals. Some add-ons are Trojans concealing malware, and it's not always obvious how they get there.

See my related article about foistware: Downloading? Watch Out For These Danger Signs.

If you like to tinker with browser settings you may have caused the problem yourself. For example, the wrong font size combined with a text-magnification factor of 150% can produce very weird results. It can be very time-consuming to review and adjust a lot of settings; a reset may be easiest way out.

If you've recently installed or uninstalled software, the Windows registry could have been damaged, causing browser oddities or malfunctions. Viruses and other types of malware can also do this sort of damage. And sometimes, cosmic rays from outer space may be to blame. (Only half kidding - see Do Computers Get Tired?)

Dangerous Curves Ahead...

When you reset a browser, you may lose some data stored in it that’s important to you, or be forced to restore it from backup files. Most people have customized their browsers with extensions, add-ons, themes, font changes, and other setting tweaks. Many people have stored usernames and passwords in their browser’s vaults. Most folks don’t realize how convenient cached images, files, and browsing history are until these things vanish. Depending on which browser you use, some of this data will not survive a reset.

Generally, I will try searching online for a solution to a browser problem before I reset everything. I look for an authoritative source; ideally, the browser’s developer. That would be the official user or support forum provided by Microsoft (Internet Explorer), Google (Chrome), Mozilla (Firefox) or Apple (Safari).

If your problem is an unwanted toolbar, or you suspect the problem is related to recently installed software, first try removing the offending item(s) via the Control Panel (for Windows) or delete the program from the Applications folder (Mac OS X). It's also a good idea to run a scan with to check for and remove malware. See my list of Free Anti-Virus Programs you can use for that task.

Just be cautious about advice from self-appointed experts who urge you to “try this and see if it works” unless you see that several people have done that and it did work. If I don’t find a credible solution I will reset my browser.

Hitting the RESET Button

Actually, there is no big red button, sorry. But here are brief instructions for resetting Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Apple’s Safari browser for desktops. I’ve included lists of what each browser keeps and deletes during a reset, and provided a link to the official low-down on resetting for further details.

Internet Explorer: Microsoft, of course, makes it complicated, with different instructions for different versions of Windows and Internet Explorer.

Starting in the desktop IE, click on the gear icon and select Internet Options. Click the Advanced tab and then click the Reset button at the bottom of the menu. IE will warn you, “You should only use this if your browser is in an unusable state;” just ignore that.

By default, IE’s Reset permanently erases browser, privacy, security, and pop-up settings, and any stored passwords. You have the option to “delete personal settings” which include your preferred home page and search providers, and the temporary files, browsing history, and cookies specific to your user profile. Add-ons will be disabled but not removed from IE, so you can re-enabled them if you wish.

For users of Windows 7, Vista, and XP Microsoft provides a wizard you can download and run to make resetting Internet Explorer easier no matter what versions of Windows or IE you have. For some reason, the instructions for finding and using it are hidden under “Automatically open the Reset Internet Explorer Settings dialog box” on this IE Reset support page.

Google Chrome claims it “gives you the option to reset your browser settings in one easy click.” But it takes four clicks and some scrolling to get to the Reset button:

  • Click the Chrome menu (three horizontal bars) in the upper-right corner of Chrome.
  • Click on Settings.
  • Scroll down to the bottom and click “Show Advanced Settings.”
  • Click on “Reset Settings.”
  • Click the Reset button, at last.

Here is what happens when you reset Chrome, quoted from the Google Chrome Reset support page:

  • Default search engine and saved search engines will be reset and to their original defaults.
  • Homepage button will be hidden and the URL that you previously set will be removed.
  • Default startup tabs will be cleared. The browser will show a new tab when you startup or continue where you left off if you're on a Chromebook.
  • New Tab page will be empty unless you have a version of Chrome with an extension that controls it. In that case your page may be preserved.
  • Pinned tabs will be unpinned.
  • Content settings will be cleared and reset to their installation defaults.
  • Cookies and site data will be cleared.
  • Extensions and themes will be disabled.

Saved bookmarks and passwords will not be affected by a reset. Extensions and themes can be re-enabled, you don’t have to install them again.

Mozilla Firefox’s Reset button is only three clicks away. Click on the three-bar menu icon, then Help, then “Troubleshooting Information” and there’s the Reset button in the upper-right corner. Alternatively, type “about:support” in the address bar to go straight to the Troubleshooting Information page.

A Firefox reset saves backup copies of your bookmarks, browsing history, passwords, open windows, tabs, and tab groups, cookies, Web form auto-fill information, and personal dictionary. These data are stored in a folder on your desktop labeled, “Old Firefox data.” They can be restored if desired by simply copying files from the “old” folder to the new user profile folder, overwriting the default files.

Unlike all the other browsers, Firefox deletes all extensions and themes during a reset; you’ll have to re-install those you want. Also purged are website-specific preferences, search engine preferences, download history, DOM storage, security settings, download actions, plugin settings, toolbar customizations, user styles and social features, according to the Firefox Reset support page.

Safari 7: Apple makes it pretty simple; just choose Safari > Reset Safari and deselect the item(s) that you don’t want deleted during the reset. Then click Reset. Only this isn’t really a reset; all of the items you can delete are personal data such as cookies, browsing history, bookmarks, etc. Safari’s configuration is not changed.

To summarize, if your web browser is not behaving, a browser reset can often cure your ills. But first, try removing any recently installed software. Next, run a malware scan. If that doesn't fix things, check online support forums for possible fixes. As a last resort, hit the Reset button.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Should You Reset Your Web Browser?"

Posted by:

Rex Farmer
15 Dec 2014

A critical IE problem (one of many) is that Internet Options won't open - despite numerous method attempts. Further, can't delete important IE files in order to try and re-install IE. Any suggestions?

Posted by:

15 Dec 2014

I find the free Mozbackup ( useful for saving extensions et al.

Posted by:

15 Dec 2014

Although "clear your browser cache" is the almost never correct recommendation from every web support line, it does have utility. I haven't used IE seriously in years, but I remember it used to get confused when cache got too big, and would start failing to find cached pages when you'd hit BACK. And Firefox (my primary browser) definitely gets slower when history gets too big. I trim history to just the last few weeks periodically and that speeds things up, without a full reset.

In Firefox: H, then View, By Date and Site, and click a heading ("October") and hit DELETE. Hint: it taking a while is a GOOD thing, gives you a hint that it's doing a lot of cleanup...

Posted by:

15 Dec 2014

Bob - curious, why not just 're-install' the program? (Thus overwriting bad files). The ONLY time I've had trouble with this is when I did it with World Community Grid and it gave me two separate instances which is only a problem when I re-boot. 95+% of the time there's never been a real problem. (e.g. Firefox is weird, so I reload it and it keeps all my old data). -- or have I just been lucky? Hope for a short terse reply. Thanks!

Posted by:

15 Dec 2014

This method recently helped me when a friends copy of IE refused to open certain web pages which would open fine when I tried them in Chrome.

I made sure to export the bookmarks (favorites) first so I could restore them back, then I reset everything and imported the bookmarks back. Problem solved.

Posted by:

15 Dec 2014

Small typo. "Symptoms or a borked browser may include browser lock-ups…" I'm wondering if you meant "of."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks, fixed now.

Posted by:

15 Dec 2014

Bob, I frequently, do a "Clean History", in my Chrome browser. It is amazing, how doing that simple cleaning, will straighten "things" out, with Chrome.

I also, have my CCleaner Pro, set to do a routine "cleaning" of the Internet Cookies, after I have used any of my browsers. This is not something that can be done, with the FREE version of CCleaner. This also, saves me from having "lock ups" of a slow browser.

For those of us, who have been on the Internet for a long time ... I think, most of us remember learning about the "Pre-fetch Cache" with Windows, especially with IE. While, I don't use IE, very much these days, I still remember what the "Pre-fetch Cache" can do and probably, still does, to this day.

What I get today, with Chrome, is the notice that Chrome does not have enough memory available, to "load a page" and that is when, I empty out my History. It usually works, but, when it doesn't I just close down Chrome. This seems to "re-set" Chrome, to where I can continue looking on the Internet.

Posted by:

15 Dec 2014

Reinstalling the browser doesn't help because your profile is not stored in the browser, or at least Firefox's isn't. Problems almost always come from a corrupted profile, not the program files.

Posted by:

16 Dec 2014

Dear Bob,

I no longer use Mozzila,Chrome. The only thing I use IE for now is viewing code when I am writing HTML for myself.

There is another Browser out now that many people don't know or have not heard about its called Maxthon. I have been using it for several years now and I just simply love it.
It i a very good browser,Like all browsers it has it ups and downs.You should give it a try and tet it out.

The web address to download it is

Please let me know what you think about it good or bad.

Thank you
Jimmy Bowen

Posted by:

16 Dec 2014

I tend to set Explorer to delete temporary files at exit -- same , or, similar in Opera, and Firefox, and Chrome.
I rarely have to do much else, but I run a malware scan regularly, and it helps.
Worst problems can be seen from downloads- TV WIZARD, is a real nasty, and I recommend downloads from their maker, or, Major-geeks, personally, to avoid malware.

Posted by:

16 Dec 2014

My wife's computer running Firefox started having problems with displaying the programs from the internet. After much "soul" searching, I downloaded the latest upgrade from Firefox. Wow. it cleared up everything. Maybe I was lucky, but I shall keep up to date on the upgrades of Firefox.

Posted by:

16 Dec 2014

Nowadays, hackers are writing malware that waits for a certain time (Such as 1 million revolutions), or waits until you've downloaded more software before activating and bricking your PC. Your article about warning signs before downloading, but it really is important to keep downloads on a stack of discs or a USB or similar storage. Modern Black Hats are getting cleverer and cleverer, and their spambots (See comments for examples of spambots) and hacks are getting better.

Posted by:

17 Dec 2014

I've done many different things over the years to get various computers up and running. I never seem to use the same set of steps twice :) Anyway, I have never had good luck with the Chrome is like a magnet for trouble. Whenever my computer starts sounding like there is ghost in the machine, I run AdwCleaner to see what it can grab. When there is something serious going on, the computer won't let me update this program which is usually my first clue of trouble.

Posted by:

19 Dec 2014

Wow, It worked! I have a Vista computer which must be around 7 years old by now, but it has a lot of old programs and data on it which I can't or don't want to transfer to my newer machines. In the last few months I've started having trouble with IE, and it got worse and worse. I couldn't update programs like Java and Flashplayer - I would get "Internet Explorer can't access this website" or something similar. I could get on Google and other info sites, etc., but nothing to do with security. I figured it was malware but I have an anti-virus and I ran Malware bytes and every other AV program I could manage to download. At first I thought the computer was trashed, but then I discovered that Chrome still worked ok, although it was very slow.
So, after reading your post I tried the Reset! At first I thought I was screwed, because everything under settings, including Internet Options, was grayed out, except for Files and Safety. But I went to Safety and checked all the boxes and ran it, and when that was done, all the gray options were active. I then ran the reset, and voila'! It worked! So far I haven't found any sites I can't get to and it's faster than I ever remember it - ie; like new, I suppose. In fact the whole computer seems faster now. Thanks Bob!

Posted by:

19 Dec 2014

Bob, I have troubles with OPERA. It has started to be very slow, and the main problem is with opening FB. When I try to change any FB site, I have to do it immediately after I start OPERA. I am not successful if I try it when OPERA has been running for some time. That forces me to close and open OPERA round and round. There are no problems with other sites. Running FB under IE or CHROM is okay. I don't think I would have any malware here as I run Superantispyware and Spybot regularly, and AVG daily (that without any notification); I also clean registries. I was thinking about reinstalling OPERA, but I don't want to do it unless it is necessary because I am used to it and have quite many "quicks" of my favorite sites set. What do you think is the way to fix it? Thank you. :)

Posted by:

19 Dec 2014

I've found on occasions where one particular web site is misbehaving (e.g. certain features on the site stop working) that clearing the cookies just for that site fix the problem. I've used this trick a few times in Firefox. Less drastic than a full reset.

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