When updates are applied to a WordPress website, the changes do not always show. Instead, a saved version of the old content shows.
The purpose is to improve site speed. The downside for the site owner is more processes to update the site.
To ensure the changes you apply to the website show on the front-end, the WordPress cache needs to be cleared occasionally.
There are multiple WP cache plugins, however, the size of the plugin files can be so large that they outweigh the speed performance improvements that caching should be providing.
For that reason, it is beneficial to know about the various steps involved to clear the cache in WordPress manually, mitigating the need for a large file folder for a caching plugin.
How to clear the cache in WordPress without a plugin
1. Clear your local cache
2. Perform server-side caching by deleting files contained in the “WP Contents > Cache” folder using File Manager or FTP
3. Purge the cache in your CDN account (if you use one). Alternatively, use SSH and a terminal emulator to run the WP-CLI command “$ wp cache flush”
WordPress Caching Explained
How many times have you experienced a glitch on any website, researched the solutions and read the advice to “clear your browser cache?”
Browser caches are controlled by cookies placed on your browser.
This is a local cache as the cookies are stored in your computer’s browser history.
Clearing that (or the individual cookies for a website) clears the local cache for that website, but only on your browser.
The local cache for every browser is a storage area for static files. It’s how browsers are able to load websites faster the second time you visit the same web page.
Rather than downloading all the static files from a page, browsers use the local cache on your computer (or phone history) to prevent re-downloading the same static assets.
The technical term for clearing the browser cache is referred to as client-side caching.
This is because the user needs to clear the locally stored data themselves.
You can’t do that for your users, but you can clear the cache on the server running the WordPress software.
When you build a website on WordPress, caching is used at the server level.
By default, WordPress is coded to use Object Caching. So, even if you do not have a WP caching plugin installed, your website will be using Object Cache.
Possibly more as plugins can be hardcoded to use the WordPress Caching API. Those that are, will have an additional cache folder inside the WP plugin folder on your server.
Details for deleting those are covered later in this WordPress caching guide.
What is Object Caching?
The simplest way to understand Object Caching is to understand how pages are loaded.
WordPress stores all the data of a website built on it on a database. To load the content, PHP scripts are used to communicate with the server.
The most used server query is
Rather than running a PHP script for every unique website visitor, the first time the query is run, WP executes the script, renders the result on the web page, then the Object Cache automatically creates a copy of the results generated.
The Object Cache is the static result to show the next visitors.
By using the Object Cache, it reduces the number of queries being requested. Less database queries results in a faster page load time.
The downside to that is WordPress is also dynamic.
The generated results from the first query can be different later, such as if your visitors are leaving comments, or you have a WooCommerce store that shows the number of items in stock.
When the query results change, server-side caching needs to be done to be sure visitors are shown the fresh results and not the static results from before the changes were made.
To clear the WordPress cache, you need to clear both client-side caching and server-side caching.
Client-side caching is your browser cache. Server-side caching is your hosting server running the WordPress software.
The steps involved for clearing the WordPress cache
Step 1: Clear your local cache
The methods to clear your cache differ by browser, but the steps are similar.
To clear the cache in Chrome…
- Click the three vertical dots in the top right of your browser
- Click on “settings”,
- Click “Security and Privacy”
- Click either “clear browser data” or “Cookies and other site data”.
The fastest method is to clear everything. If you would rather clear only the website cache for your WordPress website, use the “Cookies and other site data” option.
Scroll down and click on “See all cookies and site data”, then type your website name in the search field.
Click “Remove all shown” and that will clear the local cache for that single website.
Step 2: Perform server-side caching by deleting files contained in the “WP Contents > Cache” folder using File Manager or FTP
All WordPress hosting providers have different tools for different tasks. Check the support/knowledge base of your hosting provider to see what tools they offer, if any.
Not all have caching management. As an example, SiteGround hosting provides a SuperCacher tool within the control panel. Flywheel hosting uses a feature called Smart Refresh.
Other hosting providers have specific plugins bundled into WordPress installations to handle the caching. Some offer nothing!
Each tends to publish “how-to” articles or videos in the support section of their website.
If there are no tools provided, clearing the server cache can still be done by deleting the files manually, either in cPanel or using FTP.
You do need to be careful to only delete the contents within cache folders and not the cache folders in their entirety.
If you are uncomfortable editing files on a server, contact your web host. Most will handle server caching issues for you.
Clear the cache using File Manager in cPanel
- Log into your hosting account (yoursite.com:2083)
- Click “file manager”.
- Open the folder for your website
- Open the WP-Content Folder
- Open the “Cache” folder
Then open each folder and delete the contents stored inside them. Do not delete the folders.
Clearing WordPress cache with FTP
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and it offers a faster way to clear your cache folders in WordPress.
Using an FTP client such as Filezilla, log into your hosting account. Your login details are ftp.yoursitename.com, then your cPanel login credentials and the port number is 21.
Once logged into your site, the left side is your computer files, the right side is the files on your hosting server.
Select the root folder for your website, go to “WP content”, then “Cache”, then in the lower section, open the “tmp” folder and delete the files from within it.
As with cPanel > File Manager, do not delete any folders. Only remove the files contained inside the folders.
Check for other cache folders inside ANY plugin folder
The caching API is a core WordPress tool. Any plugin developer can use it, therefore, choosing not to install a specific WP cache plugin does not stop other plugins from storing cache copies.
Before logging out of cPanel or ending an FTP session, check your “plugins” folder for a Cache folder inside it. These are not limited to cache plugins.
Any plugin developer can use the Caching API for WordPress to help speed up load time.
As an example, the WP Enlighter plugin has a cache folder. To clear these, you need to go to WP Content > Plugins > Enlighter > Cache. Replace “enlighter” with any other plugin installed on WordPress.
Then delete the files in the tmp folder in there.
If you find a plugin is causing problems after deleting the contents inside the cache folder, go to your “plugins” folder and see if there is a cache folder for the plugin.
To delete the WordPress cache without a plugin, it is important to check for cache folders within all folders stored within wp-content.
When this throws a curveball is if you update a web page, clear the cache manually, but forget to check the plugin folders. Another cache can make it look like a caching conflict.
The reality is that there are can be additional cache folders stored elsewhere.
Step 3: Purge the cache in your CDN account (if you use one)
This step is only required if you have your WordPress site integrated with a Content Delivery Delivery Network (CDN).
The benefit of using CDNs is faster load time, regardless of where your visitors are loading your website from. The downside is that you need to purge more than one server.
This is because CDNs store cached copies of your static site files on multiple servers distributed around the globe.
Without a CDN, there is only a single cache on your hosting service.
To purge the cache on multiple servers, CDN providers have a cache settings feature. Using Cloudflare as an example, they have two options. A custom purge, or purge all.
Using Cloudflare, the steps to clear the cache are:
- Log into your Cloudflare account,
- Click on the website you want to purge the cache on
- Select “caching”,
- Click “configuration”.
- Select “custom purge” or “purge all”.
Selecting a custom purge requires the additional step of inputting the URL you want to clear the cache for.
As an example, if you decide to add a different header per page on WordPress, the static header URL would need to have the cache purged using the URL path in order for the new header image to update in the cache.
Using a custom purge, you can input the URL path for the header image. This would purge the cache of the static image, updating it with the new header image.
Failing to do that and relying solely on clearing your host server cache would likely result in your CDN loading the previous static version.
Most CDNs issue a warning prompt alerting you that your site will temporarily run slower.
For most sites, the drop in page load time will be barely noticeable by users. Sites receiving thousands of daily hits will slow until the cache is built back up.
For established websites receiving thousands of hits daily, it would be better to use the custom purge to only clear a specific URL, rather than delete the cache of your entire website.
Clear the Google cache of outdated content
Unless a no-index tag is added to your metadata, Google will include a cached version of your web page.
When you update important information, you may want to instruct Google to update the cached version of that page. You can do that in the Google Search Console.
- Login to your Google Search Console account,
- Select your website profile.
- Click “removals on the left
- Click the “New Request” button on the right
- Select the “Clear Cached URL” tab,
- Type in the page URL, select the option to “remove this URL only”, then click next
Once this is done, the page snippet will be cleared from the Google search results. Until the page is crawled again, the meta description will show a message “No page description available”.
It generally takes up to 48-hours for the page to be recrawled then the new information updated in Search, including an updated cache version.
Advanced users: Clear the Cache with WP-CLI
WP-CLI stands for WordPress Command Line Interface. It is most beneficial for developers who need to do a lot of maintenance.
For users managing multiple websites, familiarity with the WP-CLI commands can save time.
It should be noted that users should have moderate to advanced technical knowledge before running any commands.
To use WP-CLI, you need to enable SSH access on your web host’s server. Not all web hosting providers offer this.
The settings to manage Shell access is controlled in your hosting account. Not within cPanel.
Your hosting provider will have details on how to enable Shell access for your server.
If it is available, you need to use a terminal emulator such as PuTTY for Windows, or an alternative emulator for Mac.
Using your SSH access keys, you can start a remote session then run the following command line:
$ wp cache flush
Press enter and you’ll be shown a message reading: “Success: The cache was flushed.”
FAQs related to clearing the cache in WordPress without a plugin
Do I need to use a caching plugin for WordPress?
Caching plugins use the WP Caching API to make maintenance easier. The large file size of plugins can outweigh the speed performance benefit. Object caching is enabled in WordPress by default and can be managed on the server without caching plugins.
Can WordPress cache be disabled?
To disable caching in WordPress, open the theme folder in File Manager or FTP, then edit the wp-config.php file for your theme. Add “define (‘WP_CACHE’, false);” This is a time saver when developing your site so you can see changes in real-time. Remember to remove the code to re-enable caching.
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