[TUNEUP] It Might Be Time to Reset Your Web Browser

Category: Browsers

Chrome... Edge... Firefox... Opera... Safari... 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

A few years ago, I was traveling at highway speed when my car flashed a transmission warning on the screen, and slowed me down to 20 miles per hour. The accelerator pedal was co-opted by the onboard computer, and I had no choice but to ride along the side of the road and take a nearby exit. I turned off the ignition, pondered for a moment, and then hit the Start button. Everything was fine after this "reset" and I continued on my way.

Your browser is your vehicle to traverse the World Wide Web. But when it unexpectedly sputters or grinds to a halt, sometimes it’s better to just hit reset, and restore 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 engine 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 under the hood" 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. There are also some experimental or "beta test" settings built into browsers that can be activated if you know how to do so. It can be very time-consuming to review and adjust a lot of settings; a reset may be easiest way out if you've caused a disturbance in the force.

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,” or apply an esoteric registry hack, unless you see that other 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. (Well, there is, but it doesn’t do anything.) Here are brief instructions for resetting Chrome, Edge, 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.

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

  • Click the Settings menu (three dots) in the upper-right corner of Chrome
  • Click on Settings
  • Click “Advanced” in the left sidebar
  • Click “Reset and clean up”
  • Click “Restore settings to their original defaults”
  • Click the blue “Reset settings” button

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.

Microsoft Edge: Since Edge is now using the same code base as Chrome, the process is almost the same. Here are the steps to reset your Edge browser settings:

  • Click the Settings menu (three dots) in the upper-right corner
  • Click on Settings
  • Click “Reset settings”
  • Click “Restore settings to their original defaults”
  • Click the blue “Reset settings” button

The same cleanup as described above for Chrome will take place. Saved bookmarks and passwords will not be affected by a reset. Likewise, extensions and themes can be re-enabled, you don’t have to install them again.

Mozilla Firefox’s Reset button is just a few clicks away. Click on the three-bar menu icon, then Help, then “Troubleshooting Information” and there’s the "Refresh Firefox" 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: Apple's Safari browser doesn't really have a reset option. You'll have to take a series of steps to remove browser history, cookies, cache, extensions, and plugins. Rather than re-invent the proverbial wheel, here's a Lifewire article that details all the steps.

Internet Explorer: For those still using IE Version 11, then 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.

To summarize, if your web browser is not behaving, a browser reset may 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 "[TUNEUP] It Might Be Time to Reset Your Web Browser"

Posted by:

21 Dec 2021

Could you provide the instructions to reset OPERA browser?

Posted by:

Brian B
21 Dec 2021

What happened to the comments?

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
21 Dec 2021

I was just going to as the same question (What happened to all the comments?)

Posted by:

22 Dec 2021

Somebody has reset the comments…

Posted by:

28 Dec 2021

Could you provide the instructions to reset the OPERA browser?
Thank you.

Posted by:

John Davies
30 Dec 2021

I may have missed something but when I refreshed my Firefox, I lost all my saved passwords!

Posted by:

08 Jan 2022

Request you provide the instructions to reset the OPERA browser, I really do not know how to do it.

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