How to block pop-ups and annoying auto-play videos

Restore the peace and quiet in any web browser.

This story has been updated. It was originally published on February 14, 2018.

You follow a link to an article—and suddenly your speakers blare. Pop-ups appear on screen, you accidentally run your mouse over an ad that bursts into life, and an inescapable autoplay video follows you as you scroll down the page. You have to shut up these distractions before you can actually see the content you want.

Luckily, the most popular web browsers have settings that will help you silence the unwanted noise. And if they don’t do the trick, you can employ third-party add-ons to take control. Here’s how to restore peace and quiet in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Microsoft Edge.

Google Chrome

Google’s browser comes with a strong first line of defense: the ability to mute specific tabs. When a page starts playing sound, a little speaker icon will appear on that page’s tab, next to the “X” on the right. If you see that icon, right-click on the tab and choose Mute Site. This will immediately shut up the page and turn the noisy icon into a silent speaker with a line through it.

You can also use this option as a preemptive strike, muting a page before it begins making noise. Once you do, any pages that share the same domain (such as popsci.com) will launch with the mute option turned on. To unmute, right-click a muted tab and choose Unmute Site.

Autoplay

To really get ahead of noisy intrusions, you’ll need to prevent videos from autoplaying. For several years (since version 64), Chrome has automatically disabled autoplay unless the video is muted or the user has expressed a specific interest in watching it.

Despite this precaution, some autoplay videos might still sneak onto your screen. To block them, you’ll have to tweak Chrome’s settings. Unfortunately, there’s no specific setting for autoplay, but there is one that will stop all sites from playing sound. Click on the three dots in the upper right corner of your browser window, hit Settings, Privacy and security, Site Settings, and scroll to the bottom to find Additional content settings. Click that to expand the list and click on Sound. Finally, select the bubble next to Don’t allow sites to play sound. With this enabled, videos may still play, but they’ll be silent, and if you want to hear sound on, say, YouTube, you’ll have to right-click the tab and select Unmute Site.

If you don’t want videos to play at all (maybe you’re worried about old embeds turning into content that’s not safe for work), you’ll have to download a third-party Chrome extension like AutoplayStopper or Disable HTML5.

Notifications

When a website sends you a notification, Chrome will display it on screen. This lets apps like Gmail, which run on the web, get in touch with you. While this is a good idea in theory, in practice it lets all sites bother you with interruptions and alerts. However, they will ask for your approval first.

[Related: 5 Google Chrome tips that will make browsing easier]

As sites request to send you notifications, you can deny them individually. Or you can automatically deny all of them and opt out of these requests entirely: Go back into Chrome’s settings, find Privacy and security, open Site Settings, and click on Notifications. Then use the bubbles at the top of the page to generally set how sites can send notifications, and the options lower down to further customize how alerts work.

Pop-ups

Persistent pop-up window are a pain. To suppress them, start by opening Chrome’s settings. Click Privacy and security, then Site Settings, followed by Pop-ups and redirects. Finally, click the bubble next to Don’t allow sites to send pop-ups or use redirects.

Should some pop-ups still get through, enlist the help of a third-party extension. Two of the best in the business are Pop Up Blocker for Chrome and uBlocker. Both function similarly: they will let you browse sites without interruption and send you notifications when they squish pop-ups.

Mozilla Firefox

To silence pages in Firefox, find the tab playing audio (it will say Playing) and move your cursor over it to display an audio icon. Click on that icon once. Click a second time to allow audio once more. Alternatively, you can achieve the same result by right-clicking on the tab header and choosing Mute Tab.

Autoplay

That solution will stop tabs from surprising you with music and other unexpected sounds—but the videos generating the noise will continue to play. To shut down autoplaying videos as well, go to the main Firefox menu (three lines in the top right), click on Settings, Privacy & Security, and scroll down to Permissions. Find Autoplay and click the Settings button to its right. Finally, choose Block Audio and Video from the dropdown menu at the top of the dialog box.

Notifications

Like Chrome, Firefox lets sites pepper you with alerts—after asking if you want to allow or block notifications for each site. You can also change your mind about these permissions. To revoke them for specific domains, open the Firefox menu like you did before, choose Settings followed by Privacy & Security. Go down to Permissions, find Notifications, and click the Settings button to its right. The next dialog box lets you see and manage the websites that have asked to send you notifications.

If you want to shut down these requests before they happen, Firefox lets you do that too. From the same notifications settings dialog window, just check the box at the bottom next to Block new requests asking to allow notifications.

Pop-ups

Firefox can shut down most pop-up windows for you. To block them, open the Firefox menu and click Settings, followed by Privacy & Security. Find the Permissions heading and tick the box marked Block pop-up windows.

If sites manage to bypass Firefox’s built-in protection, download a third-party add-on to keep a lid on pop-ups. The straightforward Popup Blocker Ultimate should be able to deal with any pop-ups that Firefox misses, and Strict Pop-up Blocker, which is even simpler to use, won’t allow any kind of pop-up through.

Apple Safari

If a site plays audio in Safari, you’ll see a speaker icon appear in the address bar. Click the icon to mute the current tab, or use Option + Click to mute all background tabs (the tab you click will retain its current state: muted or unmuted). You can use the same actions on the speaker icons visible on the right-hand side of individual tabs.

Autoplay

To deal with autoplaying videos, go to the menu bar at the top of the screen, click Safari, and choose Preferences, followed by Websites. Click Auto-Play, scroll down to When visiting other websites, and choose Never Auto-Play from the dropdown menu next to it. You will also see a list above the When visiting other websites option, which you can edit to exclude certain sites from this blanket ban.

You can also set autoplay options for specific websites. Open a site in your browser, click the Safari menu, and choose Settings for This Website. A dialog box will appear, with a dropdown menu next to Auto-Play. Use this to choose between all videos playing automatically, no videos playing automatically, or only muted videos playing automatically.

Notifications

To display notifications and push alerts, websites must ask you for permission. You can turn them all down in one fell swoop: Open the Safari menu and choose Preferences, then Websites, and finally Notifications. Here, untick the box marked Allow websites to ask for permission to send notifications. In the same menu, Safari also lets you change the notification permissions for individual sites.

Pop-ups

Safari should automatically deal with most of the unwanted pop-up boxes that try to appear. To make sure pop-up blocking is active, open the Safari menu, choose Preferences, click Websites, find Pop-up Windows, and choose Block or Block and Notify from the dropdown menu in the bottom right.

[Related: 5 advanced Safari tips to level up your browsing]

Because Safari doesn’t have as many extensions as Chrome and Firefox do, you’ll find fewer add-ons for dealing with the pop-ups that Safari misses. However, Adblock does work with Safari. In addition to blocking pop-ups, it will help you manage unwanted ads and other distractions—just remember to whitelist your favorite sites so they can still get ad revenue.

Microsoft Edge

Last but not least, in the browser built into Windows 10, an audio icon appears on the header of any tab playing sound. You can mute pages by either clicking this icon or right-clicking the tab and selecting the Mute tab menu option.

Autoplay

If all you remember about Microsoft browsers is the clunky old Internet Explorer, you may be pleasantly surprised by Edge. It has added more features since its initial rollout, including the ability to limit autoplaying videos. Click the main Edge menu (three dots in the top right), find Settings, Cookies and site permissions, and Media autoplay. You have only two choices in the next dropdown menu: Limit and Allow. Limiting autoplay means videos may still play depending on how you’ve used the page in the past and whether you’ve interacted with any media.

Notifications

Like in other browsers, sites must ask for permission before they can show notifications on your screen. And if you’ve already granted a particular site permission, you can always change your mind. Hit the menu button in the top right, click Settings, and then choose Cookies and site permissions. Scroll down to Notifications and turn the toggle switch off next to Ask before sending. This will block all notifications. You can also manage which sites you want to whitelist and receive notifications from.

Pop-ups

Edge also has an integrated pop-up blocker. Go back to the Cookies and site permissions menu mentioned above and click on Pop-ups and redirects. Your browser probably already blocks them by default, but if the toggle switch next to Block is off, turn it on.

If you’d like to back up Edge’s built-in pop-up defenses, you’re limited by the fact that young Edge doesn’t have many add-ons (you can browse through the existing ones here). One of the few you might consider is Adblock, which we mentioned in the Safari section. This can block any pop-ups that Edge can’t, and it will also stop other distracting ads—though you should allow sites you want to support through the filter.

David Nield
David Nield

David Nield is a tech journalist from the UK who has been writing about gadgets and apps since way before the iPhone and Twitter were invented. When he's not busy doing that, he usually takes breaks from all things tech with long walks in the countryside.