“Did you try clearing the cache?” comes the voice of Tech Support over the phone.

“Ummm…no?” you mumble in reply. “I hit the refresh button and F5, but that didn’t work.”

Clearing the cache? you think to yourself. What does that even MEAN?

If you have a website and have tried to find out why the changes you or your Web company made aren’t showing up, you’ve probably been advised to clear your browser cache. But how do you do that, and why would it fix the problem?

How to Clear Your Cache

First, let’s cover how to clear your browser cache step-by-step, then we’ll go into what it means. Clearing your cache is sometimes referred to as deleting your Temporary Internet Files. These mean the same thing.

The method you use to clear your cache depends on your Internet browser and device (desktop computer or mobile). Here are instructions for the most common options.

Note: For some browsers, you can choose to delete all of the cached files, or just those from the past day or week. Clearing out all the cached files can free up storage space on your computer, but sites you’ve been to before may load more slowly the first time you revisit them.

Google Chrome

On a Desktop or Laptop

1. Open Chrome
2. Click on the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of your screen
3. Choose More Tools, then Clear Browsing Data
4. Check the box next to Cached Images and Files. You can choose to clear out all of your browser’s cached files (this may mean some sites you revisit will load a bit more slowly next time) or you can just clear out the files for the past day or week.
5. Click the Clear Data button

On Android

1. Open the Chrome app
2. Tap the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of your screen
3. Choose History, then Clear Browsing Data
4. Check the box next to Cached Images and Files
5. Tap Clear Data

Apple Safari

On a Mac

Use this keyboard shortcut: CMD + ALT + E

On an iPhone or iPad

1. Tap the Settings icon on your home screen
2. Choose Safari from the menu
3. Tap Clear History and Website Data. This will erase your browsing history, too.
4. If you want to keep clear your website data but keep your browsing history, choose Advanced from the menu, then Website Data
5. Tap Remove All Website Data

Mozilla Firefox

On a Desktop or Laptop

1. Open Firefox
2. Click on the three horizontal lines in the upper-right corner of your screen to open the Menu
3. Choose Preferences, then Privacy & Security
4. In the Cookies & Site Data section, choose Clear Data. Check the box for Cached Web Content.
5. Click the Clear button

Internet Explorer

On a Desktop or Laptop

1. Click the Start button in the lower-left corner of your screen
2. Choose Control Panel, then Internet Options
3. Under Browsing History, click the Delete button
4. Check the box for Temporary Internet Files, then click the Delete button

Why Do I Need to Clear My Browser Cache, Anyway?

The browser cache is a folder (also known as the Temporary Internet Files folder) that is used to store webpage content for quick viewing. This content can include images, scripts and other elements—all of which take time to load when you open the webpage.

By storing these elements in the cache, the browser can pull them up quickly from memory, rather than having to download everything on the webpage every single time it’s viewed. Without the cache, browsing the Internet would go at a snail’s pace compared to the lightning-fast experience we expect.

So what does that have to do with changes not showing up right away on your website?

The goal of every webmaster is to make sure their site loads as quickly as possible. For every second it takes a webpage to load, the number of site visitors that hit the “back” button increases exponentially. You literally can’t afford to have a slow website.

A best practice to increase site speed is to include instructions in the website’s code about how often the cache should update. For elements on a website that don’t change often, Google recommends a minimum cache time of one week and preferably up to one year.

So, if you’re not seeing the update right away on your site, it may mean that you’re seeing the saved version of the site from the cache, not the “real time” version.

Once you clear your cache, the browser will stop using the saved version and instead download the newest version fresh, including your updates.

Is Clearing the Cache the Same as Refreshing the Page?

No. Hitting the Refresh button or F5 will reload the webpage, but you’ll still be pulling up the version of the site from the cache.

Why does refreshing the page show your changes sometimes but not all the time? It could be that the elements you changed weren’t stored in the cache. Or, the page may have been set to update the cache whenever there was a change.

Is Deleting Cookies the Same as Clearing the Cache?

No, but they’re closely related, as they both have to do with storing website information to make your browsing experience faster and easier. The browser cache stores information about the webpage itself (images, scripts) while cookies store information about your site behavior and IP address. Cookies allow a website to remember your preferences, like automatic form fills, your location, items in a shopping cart, or saved passwords.

Because they’re related, some browsers allow you to clear the cache and clear the cookies at the same time. You’ll usually check the boxes for the ones you want. Keep in mind that clearing the cookies means your browser will likely sign you out of any accounts, like your Google Account, that you’re signed into. Make sure you can get back in before clicking the Clear Data button!

Do you want to know more about leveraging your cache to make your website screaming fast? Need a new website or help with the one you have? Contact 360ideas today!