How to get rid of the giant ads blocking your favorite websites

You'll never have to look for that elusive "X" again.
Person in a suit and tie sitting outside in front of their computer, looking frustrated.
If you've ever spent more time than you wanted trying to find that "close" button, you know how he feels. Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

In ancient times (i.e. the early 2000s) scammy websites would automatically open multiple windows with ads, which you then had to close one by one. It was obnoxious, which is why now every major browser stops sites from opening new windows by default. But websites found a workaround to show you ads or get you to sign to their newsletter: the overlay.

You’ve surely seen them, even if you never had a word for it before. Overlays cover up what you’re trying to read, watch, or access, generally asking you for an email address or some other piece of personal information. Most times their purpose is relatively harmless, but sometimes these boxes have dark patterns: deliberately confusing design that manipulates users to collect their personal information.

Fortunately, you can remove overlays by editing the HTML code of a webpage. You can do this manually in your browser if you want, but it’s a lot easier to use an extension especially designed for the job.

The single-click option: BehindTheOverlay

BehindTheOverlay is free and works on Firefox and Google Chrome, which should also allow Edge and Opera users to download and install it. The extension is extremely easy to use: just click its icon whenever you see an overlay and it should disappear. 

[Related: 5 browser extensions that will keep you from drowning in tabs]

If you prefer, you can also use the app’s keyboard shortcut to trigger the extension: Ctrl + Shift + X on Windows, or Cmd + Shift + X on MacOS. If you’re a Chrome user, you can ditch the default key combo and set up your own. Head over to the extension settings page by clicking on the puzzle piece icon in the top right corner of the interface and choosing Manage extensions, or by typing Chrome://Extensions into the address bar. Click the three-line menu in the top-left corner of the screen and in the emerging sidebar, choose Keyboard shortcuts. Find the BehindTheOverlay extension and click the pen icon under it to edit the shortcut. 

This is a minimalistic tool but this level of simplicity has its downsides. There’s no way to automatically remove overlays, and if the extension doesn’t work on a particular site there’s not a lot you can do. Still, BehindTheOverlay works in most cases, which is why it’s worth trying out first.

The automated but finicky option: PopUpOff

PopUpOff is also free and works on Chrome, Edge, Opera, and Firefox. It requires more configuration than BehindTheOverlay, but rewards you by automatically disabling these obnoxious layers. This extension also allows you to set a default approach for every website you visit: Aggressive, Moderate, or Dormant.

The Aggressive mode will remove basically anything that follows you as you scroll. In some cases, this could even remove page elements such as headers, which is why there’s also a Moderate option. This is the extension’s default and tries to only remove the annoying layovers. Finally, there’s Dormant mode, which does nothing and it’s useful when the extension seems to be breaking the website you’re looking at.

PopUpOff is certainly the kind of tool you’ll need to spend some time tweaking, but once you’re done overlays will be a thing of the past and you won’t even think about them anymore.

Reading mode or Postlight Reader

Most modern browsers have some sort of reader mode: Firefox, for example, offers Reader View, while Microsoft Edge offers Immersive Reader, and Safari has Reader. This feature extracts the article from whatever website you’re looking at, allowing you to read without seeing any advertisements, sidebars, or other distractions. That includes overlays, meaning that reader modes are an overall great tool for avoiding them.

[Related: 7 things Safari can do that Google Chrome can’t]

Google, an advertising company, does not offer a reader mode in Chrome—at least, not without doing some digging through hidden settings. If you use the Big G’s browser, the Postlight Reader extension can add a reader mode to Chrome and even allow you to configure the font and text size of the article you’re reading.