You know the feeling. You open up your browser to head to your favorite website only to see an ugly toolbar taking up space. And instead of your usual home page, your browser starts with a random search page for a company you've never heard of.
How did that happen? Even more important, how do you get your browser back to normal? None of the settings to fix it is where you'd think it would be. It's beyond frustrating!
Not only do unwanted toolbars and plug-ins squeeze the fun out of going online, they can make your computer less secure. Some outdated plug-ins make it easier for viruses and spyware to sneak in through security holes that your browser would normally plug.
Luckily, you can remove these annoying programs. And most of the time, you can get rid of these programs without re-installing the entire browser.
First, you need to know how these things get on your computer in the first place.
How unwanted toolbars and plug-ins get installed
Some free programs you find online include add-ons like toolbars and plug-ins. This helps the developer of the program make some money, but it's a pain for you.
Most of the time, these add-ons are labeled and you can choose not to install them.
Note: If a program I recommend in my Downloads section includes an add-on, I let you know in the write-up so you can avoid it.
However, some people speed through the process of downloading or updating a program. It's easy to click OK to everything without realizing you might be downloading a bunch of extras.
Sometimes these add-ons are even hidden away in the "advanced install" option, which many folks don't even bother to check.
The only way to stay safe is to be vigilant. While you may skip parts of a program's terms & conditions, be sure to read every screen. Installing toolbars onto your browser is a big business, but avoiding bait-and-switch tactics just requires a few extra seconds of reading.
Already dealing with an unwanted toolbar?
Remove a toolbar step by step
You might think that deleting the free program that the add-ons came with will solve the problem. Nope. Toolbars are separate programs, so you have to go after them individually.
To get started, you can uninstall the toolbars and plug-ins in the same place you'd remove any Windows program. I'll show you how to remove all traces of unwanted programs in this tip.
You'll need to look for the toolbar name - such as Ask or Babylon. Sometimes, the toolbar is listed under a company name, so check program install dates for things installed most recently. Remove any names you don't recognize.
However, uninstalling a toolbar won't always remove it from your browser, and many toolbars don't show up in the program list anyway. So, you have to take another approach.
1. Hunting down an unwanted toolbar
After you've opened your Web browser of choice, you'll have to navigate to your browser's add-on page. Once you're there, go to the next page for what to do there.
Don't see your browser on this list or the instructions don't match up to what you have? Time to upgrade. Click here to find the right browser for you.
Click the gear icon in the upper right corner and select "Manage add-ons."
You'll end up at the Toolbars and Extensions screen. Read on to learn what to delete.
You can find Firefox's option menu by clicking on the 3 bars located to the far right of your browser.
Then click the add-ons button to navigate to the add-ons page.
Then click Extensions to see what's installed. Some toolbars also end up under Plugins.
Click the three lines to see Chrome's option screen. Then mouse over the "tools" icon and click the "extensions" button.
That should've brought you to a page that looks like the one below. Click the Extensions link to see what's installed.
Click the Safari drag-down menu and select the preferences option.
Now click the "extensions" tab and your screen should look something like this.
OK, we found your add-on page.
2. Avoid friendly fire
If you've been following along, you should see a menu showing every add-on installed in your browser of choice. Don't delete everything just yet, though, because many installed add-ons are actually pretty useful.
Instead, go through each add-on to see if it matches the toolbar you installed. When you find it, select it and click the Remove button, Disable button or trash icon, depending on the browser.
Try not to delete add-ons from Microsoft, Adobe, or any other company that you recognize.
3. Trial and error works
If you're worried about deleting the wrong thing, all add-on pages feature a "disable" button which temporarily shuts the add-on down without uninstalling it. You can re-enable it later if you find it's something you need.
Practice a little trial and error by disabling and re-enabling add-ons that look suspicious until your unwanted toolbar is gone. After you've identified your target, hit the delete button and kiss the toolbar goodbye.
4. Erase everything, back to square one
Ready to throw up your hands in despair? Not yet! This final step will, at the very least, get rid of your unwanted toolbars.
A browser reset will restore your browser to its default settings and get rid of any unwanted extras.
The catch is that your browser will also wipe out your personal settings. This includes your homepage, bookmarks, saved passwords and add-ons.
The most important thing to save is your bookmarks and passwords.
For bookmarks, head to your bookmark management area - this tip tells you where - and export them to a file on your desktop. You can re-import them later.
For passwords, put them in a free third-party password manager. It safely stores your passwords in an encrypted file. You can access them no matter what computer you're using.
In case of browser emergency, follow these steps
To reset Internet Explorer, click the gear icon at the top right corner and select Internet Options. Go to the Advanced tab and click the Reset button.
In Firefox, click the Firefox button. Choose Help>>Troubleshooting Information. Click the Reset Firefox button at the top right corner.
In Google Chrome, click on the three-line icon in the upper right corner. Select Settings and then click on the "Show advanced settings" link at the bottom. Scroll down to the bottom and click "Reset browser settings." In the dialog box that appears, click Reset.
To reset Safari on a Mac, click Safari and choose the "Reset Safari..." option from the drop-down menu. A warning dialog will pop up, showing you the items that will be removed. Click Reset to complete the process.
You'll soon have your browser back and toolbar free.