private browsing

Private browsing in some form or another has been around for more than 10 years. It allows you to browse the web without leaving any traces behind. Now, just about every browser allows you to browse privately.

When you close a private browsing window or tab, all local browsing data such as your browsing history, cookies, and a record of what you downloaded is deleted. Private browsing mode also blocks some websites from tracking your search behavior.

We’ve talked about private browsing on Android devices and why you would want to use it. Today, we’ll show you how to use private browsing in the popular web browsers for Windows, Mac, and iOS.

Private Browsing In Google Chrome On Windows & Mac

Private browsing in Chrome is called Incognito mode. Opening an Incognito window in Chrome is done the same way on Windows and Mac.

Open Chrome and click on the menu icon (three vertical dots) in the upper-right corner of the window. Then, select “New incognito window” from the drop-down menu. You can also click “Ctrl+Shift+N” on Windows or “Command+Shift+N” on a Mac.

Select New Incognito Window in Chrome on Windows

A new Chrome window opens and you’ll see a little man in a hat in the upper-left corner of the window in Windows and in the upper-right corner on a Mac.

You can open new tabs on the incognito window, just like on a regular Chrome window. While in Incognito mode, you can still bookmark sites and download files. However, extensions will not work unless you mark them “Allowed in Incognito” on the extensions settings page in Chrome (“Settings” menu > “More tools” > “Extensions“).

To exit Incognito mode, simply close the window.

New Incognito window in Chrome on Windows

Private Browsing In Google Chrome On iOS

To use Incognito mode in Chrome on an iOS device, tap the menu button (three vertical dots) in the upper-right corner of the screen.

Tap the menu button in Chrome on iOS

Tap on “New Incognito Tab” on the menu.

Tap New Incognito Tab in Chrome on iOS

An tab opens saying you’ve gone incognito with a message about what that means. You can enter a website URL in the “Search or type URL” box or click the tabs button to create a new tab or close a tab.

You've gone incognito in Chrome on iOS

The Incognito tabs are dark gray and black. Notice on the left that the regular tabs are light gray and white. You can swipe back and forth between the Incognito tabs and the regular tabs.

To open another Incognito tab, click the dark gray “+” button that’s available when the Incognito tabs are showing.

To close an Incognito tab, click the “X” button in the upper-right corner of the tab.

Close an Incognito tab in Chrome on iOS

When you’ve closed all the Incognito tabs, the regular tabs display. Tap on one of the tabs to activate it. You can also tap the white “+” button to open a new regular tab.

Tap on a regular tab in Chrome on iOS

Private Browsing In Mozilla Firefox On Windows & Mac

Mozilla Firefox’s private browsing mode is simply called “Private Browsing”. Opening a private browsing window in Firefox is done the same way on Windows and Mac.

To open a private browsing window on either a Windows PC or a Mac, click on the menu button in the upper-right corner of the window. The button is three horizontal bars, also called a “hamburger” menu. Then, click “New Private Window“.

On a Mac you can also access the “New Private Window” option from the “File” menu.

You can also press “Ctrl+Shift+P” on Windows or “Command+Shift+P” on a Mac.

Select New Private Window in Firefox on Windows

The private window has a purple mask in the upper-right corner of the window and a message displays on the initial tab telling you about Private Browsing.

Firefox also has a feature called Tracking Protection that is supposed to guard you from being traced across multiple websites. However, websites can ignore this request and track you anyway. But it can’t hurt to have it on.

To exit private browsing in Firefox, simply close the private window by clicking the “X” button in the upper-right corner of the window.

New private browsing window in Firefox on Windows

Private Browsing In Mozilla Firefox On iOS

Private browsing in Firefox on iOS is similar to Firefox on Windows or Mac. You can open as many private tabs as you want and switch between private and regular browsing quickly and easily. But working with private and regular tabs is a bit different.

To open a new private tab in Firefox on iOS, tap the hamburger menu button at the bottom of the screen.

Tap the menu button in Firefox on iOS

Then, tap “New Private Tab” on the pop-up window.

Tap New Private Tab in Firefox on iOS

The top and bottom bars in Firefox turn a dark gray.

To open another private tab, tap the purple outlined tabs button with the number on it in the upper-right corner of the screen. The number indicates how many private tabs are open.

New private tab open in Firefox on iOS

Tap the “+” button at the bottom of the screen to open a new private tab.

Tap the new tab button in Firefox on iOS

A new tab opens and the number on the tabs button increases by one.

Now say we want to go back to a regular tab. We don’t need to close the private tabs to do that. Simply, tap the tabs button again.

Second private tab in Firefox on iOS

Then, tap the purple mask icon at the bottom of the screen.

Tap the private browsing mask icon in Firefox on iOS

The bottom bar becomes white and the mask loses its purple background. You are now viewing the regular tabs.

You can use the “+” button to open a new regular tab, just like you can for the private tabs.

Tap the mask icon to return to the private tabs.

Go back to private tabs in Firefox on iOS

To close all open private tabs, click the hamburger menu at the bottom of the screen.

Tap the menu button on the tabs screen in Firefox on iOS

Then, tap “Close All Tabs“.

Tap Close All Tabs in Firefox on iOS

A message displays briefly at the bottom of the screen saying how many tabs were closed and allowing you to “Undo” the action. The message does not stay available for long.

To go back to your regular tabs, tap the mask icon.

Two tabs closed with Undo button in Firefox on iOS

Private Browsing In Microsoft Edge On Windows 10

Private browsing in Microsoft Edge is called “InPrivate” and opening an InPrivate window in is easy. Simply open Edge and click the menu button (three horizontal dots) and then click “New InPrivate window“.

You can also press “Ctrl+Shift+P“.

Select New InPrivate window in Edge on Windows

An InPrivate window is indicated by an “InPrivate” box in the upper-left corner of the window. Also, each tab initially says “InPrivate” until you navigate to a website. The Search/URL box is on the tab rather than on the address bar.

You can open multiple tabs on an InPrivate window, just like you can on a normal Edge window.

To exit InPrivate mode, simply close the InPrivate window by clicking the “X” button in the upper-right corner of the window. If there is only one tab open, closing that tab will close the window.

InPrivate window in Edge on Windows

Private Browsing In Safari On a Mac

Private browsing in Safari on a Mac is done in a “Private Window”. To open a private browsing window, go to “File” > “New Private Window“. You can also press “Command+Shift+N“.

Select New Private Window in Safari on Mac

The location bar turns a dark gray in a Private Window. A message also displays at the top of the window. You can close this message by clicking the circular button with the “X” in it.

New private window open in Safari on a Mac

To exit the Private Window, close the window by clicking the red “X” button in the upper-left corner of the window.

Close Safari on a Mac

Private Browsing In Safari On iOS

Safari on iOS also offers private browsing. To open a private tab, tap the tabs icon in the lower-right corner of the screen.

Tap the tabs button in Safari on iOS

Then, tap “Private” in the lower-left corner of the screen.

Tap Private in Safari on iOS

The browser window turns black and a “Private Browsing Mode” message displays. Also, the “Private” button turns white.

To open a new private tab, tap the plus icon at the bottom of the screen.

Tap the new tab button, then the Private button in Safari on iOS

The new tab opens and the top and bottom bars turn dark gray. You can add multiple private tabs in Safari. To open another tab, tap the tabs button.

Tap the tabs button in private browsing mode in Safari on iOS

Then, tap the “+” icon again.

Tap the plus icon to add a private tab in Safari on iOS

To close a private tab, tap the tabs button (if the tabs screen is not currently active). Then, tap the “X” button on the private tab you want to close. To close all your private tabs, you must do so manually by tapping the “X” button on each tab.

You can also tap “Private” at the bottom of the screen to switch to your regular tabs.

Close a private tab and switch to regular tabs in Safari on iOS

Do you use private browsing mode? In which browsers? There are also special private browsing apps for mobile devices. Do you use any of these apps? Let us know in the comments.

Lori Kaufman

Freelance technical writer living in the Sacramento, CA area. A gadget and tech geek who loves to write how-to articles about a wide range of topics. Loves watching and reading mysteries, cross stitching, attending musical theatre, and is an avid Doctor Who fan.