GUIDE

How to Clear Cookies on Windows, Mac and Mobile

This article explains exactly how to clear cookies on Windows and Mac computers, as well as on smartphones and mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads.

Before we get into the details (and provide you with step-by-step instructions), let’s have a quick look at what cookies are and why you may decide you’d like to clear them out periodically.

What Are Cookies?

Cookies, in this context, are not sweet treats with raisins or chocolate chips. They are, in fact, tiny text files that are downloaded to your computer (or mobile device) the first time you visit a website. They are kept updated on subsequent visits. Each time you visit a website, it checks for the presence of a cookie. The site can then tailor your experience based on your past interactions.

It’s important to emphasise that cookies aren’t inherently a bad thing. It’s likely you benefit from plenty of them in your day-to-day web browsing. Examples include when Facebook remembers who you are without asking for your password time after time, or when Amazon remembers what you left in your shopping basket.

However, other cookies have less altruistic intentions. Some sites use cookies to store more information on you than you may feel comfortable with, AND share this information with third parties. Third-party cookies can also be created by adverts embedded on webpages.

While, broadly speaking, cookies only ever include information you’ve theoretically shared (where you’ve been and what you’ve looked at), many people view them as fundamentally invasive when it comes to privacy. Even if you’re largely comfortable with their use, a clear-out from time to time is generally a good idea.

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Why Not Just Disable Cookies?

It’s possible to set all modern web browsers to not allow cookies at all, but this strategy is flawed for most people.

Why? Because disallowing cookies can stop a lot of sites working properly. Difficulties with shopping sites, internet banking, and portals where you need to log on are highly likely if you don’t allow cookies at all.

When you clear your cookies and other browsing data, the websites you visit will treat you as if you’ve never visited them before. What this means in reality is that you’ll spend several days remembering and entering passwords before your day-to-day internet usage returns to normal.

For many purposes, cookies do speed you up and prevent you having to tell websites the same things repeatedly. As such, how often you clear out your cookies will depend on the personal balance you wish to choose between privacy and convenience.

When Should You Clear Out Your Cookies?

There are a couple of scenarios when an immediate “cookie clear-out” is warranted:

  1. If you become aware that you may have visited a suspect or compromised website and you want to make sure that whatever it stored about you is cleared out ASAP.
  2. If errant cookies are causing you problems and stopping sites working properly. This sometimes happens because of a website problem, but also frequently comes up for people who develop and work on websites. Sometimes a cookie clear-out is required to ensure you see the correct and most up-to-date version of a webpage.
  3. If you need to do a thorough history clear-out because you wish to hide where you’ve been online from others you share a computer with. (Hey, we’re not here to judge…)

Aside from these scenarios, regularly clearing out cookies and browsing data is good housekeeping in any case – despite the few days you’ll probably spend re-entering passwords afterwards.

How to Delete Cookies

We’ll now cover how to clear cookies, platform by platform and browser by browser. Doing so takes just seconds, and only requires you to know where to find the relevant options.

How to Clear Cookies on Safari (Mac)

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Open Safari, and go to SAFARI > PREFERENCES > PRIVACY > MANAGE WEBSITE DATA. Click “REMOVE ALL” to remove all existing cookies. Alternatively, you can select single (or multiple) cookies to selectively remove the ones you want.

Alternatively, to remove all of your browsing history, including cookies, go to HISTORY > CLEAR HISTORY, and click “CLEAR HISTORY” again to confirm. It’s possible to choose whether to remove just your recent history, or everything you’ve ever browsed on your Mac.

How to Clear Cookies on Google Chrome (Mac)

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Open Chrome, and go to CHROME > CLEAR BROWSING DATA. From the menu that appears, you can choose the timeframe from which you wish to clear your data, and which types of data to remove – this can be just your cookies or your entire history.

How to Clear Cookies on Firefox (Mac)

Open Firefox, and go to FIREFOX > PREFERENCES > PRIVACY. Click the “Clear All Current History” link and a menu will appear asking exactly what data to delete.

You can opt to only delete cookies, or select any or all other parts of your historic browsing data.

How to Clear Cookies on Google Chrome (Windows)

Open Chrome. Click the Tools button (which looks like three vertical dots), then select MORE TOOLS, and then CLEAR BROWSING DATA.

From the menu that appears, you can choose the timeframe from which you wish to clear your data, and which types of data to remove – this can be just your cookies or your entire history.

How to Clear Cookies on Firefox (Windows)

Open Firefox and click on the Menu button, which looks like three horizontal lines. Select HISTORY > CLEAR RECENT HISTORY. Use the “Time range to clear” option to choose how much history you wish to delete, and the “Details” option to determine whether just to delete cookies, or to delete all your browsing history and other related items.

How to Clear Cookies on Microsoft Edge (Windows)

Open the Microsoft Edge browser and click MORE > SETTINGS. Select “Choose what to clear” under the “Clear browsing data” option. Select whether you just wish to delete cookies or other browsing data, and then click “Clear.”

Microsoft Edge also gives you the option of clearing your cookies and other browsing data every time you exit the browser. You may wish to make use of this, but take note that it could slow down your day-to-day browsing, as discussed earlier in this article.

How to Clear Cookies on Microsoft Internet Explorer

Open Internet Explorer and go to TOOLS (the icon looks like a cog) > SAFETY and then DELETE BROWSING HISTORY. If you only wish to delete cookies, select “Cookies and Website data,” then click “Delete.” If you’d rather clear all your history, you have the option to do so.

How to Clear Cookies on iPhone and iPad (iOS Safari)

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From your device home screen, tap “Settings.” Scroll down and tap “Safari.” Then, scroll down and tap “Clear History and Website Data.” Finally, tap “Clear History and Website Data” once more to confirm.

How to Clear Cookies on Android

Tap into Chrome on your device and tap the settings button (three vertical dots). Go to SETTINGS > ADVANCED > PRIVACY > CLEAR BROWSING DATA. Select “Clear cookies, site data” via the checkbox, and tick any other data types you wish to clear, then tap “Clear” to complete the process.

Clearing Browsing Data: A Word About Cloud Services

Some cloud services, including Apple’s iCloud and Microsoft’s Cortana, can store browsing history in the cloud for use across all your devices. While this is a useful feature, it can mean clearing out this data requires you to make sure you remember every device you have the data on!

You may wish to check out this article for the fine detail if you use iCloud. Alternatively, if you use Cortana, this article should help.

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Clearing History and Cookies on Other Browsers

If you use other browsers not mentioned here, the process will be similar to that described above. It’s usually quite easy to find the options. Remember that you’ll need to clear history from all the browsers you use for maximum privacy.

As mentioned above, clearing cookies isn’t essential but it’s a sensible regular practice for anyone who cares about their privacy. As you can see, it only takes seconds, so it’s well worth doing frequently.

Image credit: faithie/shutterstock.com


Ben Taylor Ben was a geek long before "geek chic," learning the ropes on BBC Micros, before moving on to Atari STs and IBM compatibles. He was "online" using a 1200bps modem before the Internet was even a thing. Now, after two decades in the industry, he writes about technology for various publications, operates a few websites of his own, and runs a bespoke IT consultancy based in London.

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