How to Deactivate & Delete a Theme in WordPress (4 Ways)

Deleting old and unused themes can boost your website’s performance and make it more secure. But you might not know how to remove inactive themes from WordPress.

Fortunately, there are many ways to deactivate and delete themes in WordPress. This means you can find an option that suits your skill level. Plus, it’s also easy to clean up all theme-related content so that your new theme runs smoothly.

In this post, we’ll look at when to consider deleting a WordPress theme. Then, we’ll explore some key considerations and show you four ways to deactivate and remove themes. 

When to delete a WordPress theme

When you activate a new theme on your site, your previous theme is automatically deactivated. But if you navigate to your Themes page, you’ll see that the old theme is still installed on your site.

list of themes installed on a WordPress site

While your deactivated themes aren’t in use, their software is still on your site. The theme’s data continues to be stored in your database. 

That’s why, if you don’t need to use your theme again, it’s best to remove it entirely. With that in mind, here are some situations where it makes sense to delete a theme in WordPress:

  • You’ve installed a new theme, so you want to get rid of the old one.
  • You’ve installed a theme to try out, but you’ve decided it isn’t for you.
  • You have more than one default WordPress theme installed, and want to remove the extras.

Deleting inactive themes is a good habit since themes (and other software) can make your site more vulnerable to security threats. This is because the software gives hackers more opportunities to exploit and infiltrate your site. To reduce some of this risk, you can continue to update these inactive themes to receive the benefits of the latest fixes. But that just gives you another unnecessary chore to remember in the effort to keep a secure, well-performing site.

Plus, inactive themes still store files in your database, taking up space. This can make your hosting plan more pricey and slow down your website’s performance by bloating its database. 

When to NOT delete a WordPress theme

Although it’s good practice to delete unused themes in WordPress, there are some situations when it’s better not to delete your theme. Let’s look at three reasons not to remove your theme! 

The theme is a parent theme

Creating a child theme is a great way to apply custom functionality and styling to your theme without losing your customizations due to software updates. However, your child theme inherits its functionality and styling from its parent, so it’s not recommended to delete the parent. 

You’re unable to activate a child theme without its parent theme also being installed on your site. Therefore, if you delete the parent of your active child theme, it will cause it to break. Then, you may lose all of your hard work and customizations. 

The theme is used on a multisite network

What’s more, it’s best not to delete your theme if you’re on a multisite network. Multisite is a WordPress feature that enables you to manage multiple websites from the same WordPress installation, on the same server. All the sites share themes, plugins, and files.

If, at the top of your WordPress dashboard, it says the name of your website, it’s a single website.

website name circled in green at the top of the WordPress dashboard

But if it says My Sites, then your site is part of a multisite network. If this is the case, and your theme is active on another site on the network, then it’s best to deactivate it rather than delete it. 

If you delete a theme that another site is using, you could take down the website that’s using the layout or harm its user experience (UX). 

One helpful thing, however, is that only the network administrator can manage themes on the multisite network since they can verify which ones are in use and where. So, if you’re not the administrator, you won’t be able to remove a theme that’s in use somewhere else. 

You use it as a testing theme

It’s also a good idea not to delete your theme if you use it regularly for testing. Some developers and experienced WordPress users will activate a specific theme just for testing purposes. 

If this is the case, you’ll want to keep the testing theme installed so that it’s easy to access when needed. Otherwise, you’ll have to continually reinstall it, and you may lose progress on tests you’ve already run. 

What to do before deleting a WordPress theme

Now that you know a bit more about deleting a WordPress theme, let’s take a look at some important factors to consider before you get started. Keeping these tips in mind can prevent you from jumping in too soon and causing errors on your website.

1. Back up your site 

Before making any significant changes to your site, it’s always best to make a fresh WordPress backup. This way, should anything go wrong, you’ll be able to restore your content quickly and easily.

One of the easiest ways to back up your WordPress site is to use a plugin like Jetpack VaultPress Backup.

Jetpack VaultPress Backup homepage

Jetpack VaultPress Backup automatically saves file backups, database backups, and WooCommerce data like customer and order details. Better yet, copies are stored across multiple servers for extra peace of mind.

One of the reasons VaultPress Backup is so popular is its easy restore process. You can restore your entire site with just a few clicks on the mobile app or from your dashboard (even if you can’t access your site). 

Your first backup will begin automatically when you activate VaultPress Backup. You can see it by going to Jetpack → VaultPress Backup in your WordPress dashboard. Then, whenever you change your site, Jetpack VaultPress Backup will save all of your work. 

2. Run tests on a staging site

A staging site is a duplicate version of your website. The difference is that your staging site is inaccessible to the public. This makes it ideal for updating your WordPress theme, running tests, or applying customizations in private. 

If you have a staging site, it’s a good idea to delete the theme in this environment first to check for problems. You’ll then quickly know if you’ve made a mistake. 

By using a staging website, your live site won’t be harmed if anything goes wrong. Then, once you’re happy with the changes you’ve made in the staging environment (and you know they’re safe), it’s easy to push the changes live and make them accessible to your visitors. 

Some web hosts offer built-in staging functionality, so you might be able to set up your staging environment within your hosting or WordPress dashboard. 

Alternatively, the easiest way to create a staging site is to use a plugin like WP Staging.

WP Staging image with an illustration representing its functionality

Once you activate the plugin, head to WP Staging → Staging Sites in your WordPress admin area. Then, click on CREATE NEW STAGING SITE.

button to create a new staging site

Then, choose which database tables and files you want to include in your staging environment. Alternatively, you can leave the settings as they are. In this case, the plugin will clone your entire website. 

Next, click on Start Cloning.

settings for the WP Staging plugin

The plugin will provide instructions on accessing your staging site when the process is finished. Then, you’re free to use it to test changes to your website, including deactivating and deleting themes. 

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How to delete a theme in WordPress (4 methods)

Now that you’ve backed up your site and created a staging site, here are four simple methods to completely remove themes from WordPress. Additionally, we’ll explain how to deactivate a theme in WordPress.

1. Remove the theme using the admin dashboard

The simplest way to delete a theme in WordPress is to use the admin dashboard. This option is straightforward and suitable for all types of users, including complete beginners. 

Since this method requires access to the admin panel, it isn’t always possible. For instance, if you can’t log in to your WordPress site, you won’t be able to access your dashboard.  

Assuming you can access your dashboard, navigate to Appearance → Themes.

list of themes installed on a WordPress site

Here, you’ll see all of your installed themes with the active theme listed first. If you want to delete a theme, you’ll first need to ensure that it’s deactivated. 

You can deactivate a theme in WordPress by hovering your mouse over a different theme and selecting Activate.

option to activate a WordPress theme

Then, find and click on the theme you want to delete. In the bottom right-hand corner, you should see a small Delete link.

option to delete a WordPress theme

All you need to do is click on the link. Then, select OK in the popup form to confirm the action. It’s as simple as that!

2. Remove the theme via FTP

If you don’t have access to the WordPress admin area, you can delete your theme via File Transfer Protocol (FTP). To do this, you’ll need to connect to your site via FTP to access your website’s files.

First, you’ll need to choose an FTP client. If you don’t already have FTP software downloaded, FileZilla is a high-quality and free option.

FileZilla download page

Go ahead and download your FTP client. Then, enter your FTP credentials. Next, open the root directory of your site. This is usually a folder named public_html

Navigate to wp-content and click on your themes folder.

the themes folder viewed via FTP

Here, you can see a list of all your installed themes. If you simply want to deactivate a theme, just rename its folder to something like “twentytwenty-deactivated”. 

If you want to go straight to deleting the theme, you can do that too. The downside of deleting your theme via this method is that there’s no way of telling which theme is active on your website (unless you remember which one it is). That’s why it’s so important to back up your site before this next step. 

When you find the theme you want to remove, right-click on its folder and hit Delete.

deleting a theme via FTP

Then, you’ll be asked to confirm your choice. Once you navigate back to your WordPress dashboard, you should no longer see the deleted theme. 

3. Delete the theme via cPanel

cPanel is another helpful tool provided by many hosting providers within their account dashboards. If you don’t have access to the WordPress dashboard and prefer not to use FTP, cPanel is a great alternative. 

First, you’ll need to log in to your hosting account. Then, access the File Manager.

Look for the wp-content folder that you’ll find inside your site’s root directory. Next, select the themes folder.

viewing the themes folder in cpanel

Here, locate the theme folder that you want to delete or deactivate. If you want to deactivate the theme, rename its folder to something like “exampletheme-deactivated”. 

If you want to remove a theme entirely, right-click on its folder and select the Delete option. You’ll then be asked to confirm the action. 

4. Remove the theme via WP-CLI

The quickest way to remove your WordPress theme is via the WordPress Command Line Interface (WP-CLI). WP-CLI enables you to directly interact with your website using commands.

WP-CLI homepage with information

There are many actions you can perform with WP-CLI. For example, you’re able to update plugins, create new pages, and configure multisite installations. 

That being said, it requires a fair amount of technical expertise to use WP-CLI for site management. Therefore, this method isn’t recommended for beginners. 

You’ll need to install WP-CLI and access your site via the command line to get started. Then, you can view a list of all installed themes by using the following command:

$ wp theme list 

You can also be more specific if you only want to view inactive themes. In this case, simply type:

$ wp theme list --status=inactive

When you find the theme(s) you want to delete, enter the following command

wp theme delete themename 

Remember that instead of “themename”, you’ll want to enter the name of your theme, like “twentytwenty”. Keep in mind that you must use the name of the theme folder, not the name of the theme as it appears in your dashboard. So, you’ll need to write “twentytwenty” instead of “Twenty Twenty”. 

If you’re successful, you’ll see a message informing you that your theme has been deleted.

Additionally, you can use WP-CLI to disable a theme on a multisite installation. You’ll just need to enter this command, substituting the name of the theme:

$ wp theme disable twentysixteen

What to do after removing a theme from WordPress

At this point, you’ve successfully deactivated or deleted your WordPress theme. But before you move on to other tasks, it’s worth testing your site to verify that everything is running as it should. It’s also a good idea to remove theme-related content from your website. 

Test your site

The first thing to do is test your site once your theme has been deleted. This process is as simple as opening your browser and entering your website’s URL. Then, ensure everything is working correctly, and all content is loading.

Here’s a list of actions you can perform to test out the functionality of your site:

  • Make sure all internal and external links are working.
  • Verify that everything looks as it should without design abnormalities. 
  • Fill out any forms, including contact and subscription forms.
  • Try enabling and disabling cookies on your site.
  • Make sure you can navigate the menu. 
  • Check that you can access your site on a mobile device and that the content displays properly.  
  • Go through any checkout or shopping functionality, if applicable.

If you’ve deleted the parent of your active theme, you may find some (or all) of your CSS missing. So, your site will look unstyled, and you’ll need to restore a backup of your site or switch to a new theme. If you accidentally deleted the active theme, WordPress will have switched to one of your other installed themes. 

Remove theme-related content

Even though you’ve deleted your theme, you might still have content on your site that’s specific to the software. This might include elements like widgets, menus, images, or posts.  

You can reassign this content so that it works with your new theme or simply remove these components from your site. 

If there are widgets in the theme you deactivated, you’ll find them by going to Appearance → Widgets. Then, select Inactive Widgets:

editing widgets in WordPress

You can physically drag these into the widget areas in your new theme or delete them. To delete a widget, select it and click on the three dots to expand the toolbar. Then, choose Remove. 

Additionally, you can remove any posts or pages after deleting your theme by going to Posts or Pages in your dashboard. But you can also leave them as they are and continue to use them with your new theme if you’d prefer. 

On top of this, themes have different image settings, including featured images, sliders, and carousels. Therefore, you might need to resize these photos to fit your new layouts or simply remove them.

Frequently asked questions

While we’ve tried to cover all the most important aspects of deactivating and deleting themes in WordPress, you may still have some questions. We’ll answer them in this section!

Can I delete the default WordPress theme?

Yes. Like any other theme, if you’re not using the default WordPress theme, it’s simply taking up space. 

But keep in mind that often, switching to a default WordPress theme is highly recommended for troubleshooting common WordPress issues. For instance, it’s a good idea to change to a default theme when you encounter login errors.

This is because default WordPress themes are less likely to cause conflicts with the core software or third-party plugins. Therefore, you might prefer to delete all of your unused themes but hold on to a default theme for troubleshooting purposes. 

Should I delete unused themes?

You can just deactivate themes, but these will still be installed on your site, taking up unnecessary space. Therefore, deleting themes altogether is a great way to free up storage space, keep your database light, and reduce the likelihood of online attacks. As a result, you can boost your loading times and make your site more secure. 

What if a WordPress theme has no delete button?

You won’t find a delete button if you try to delete your active theme. Therefore, you’ll need to activate a new theme before deleting the previous one. 

You may also not see the delete button if you’re trying to delete the parent of an active child theme. In this case, you will need to switch to a different parent theme and try again.

What if I still can’t delete a theme?

If you’ve followed all the steps in this tutorial and still can’t delete your theme, it’s best to reach out to your hosting provider for help. This situation shows the importance of choosing a quality WordPress host with 24/7 technical support. Plus, it helps if your web host is easily accessible via a direct contact channel like live chat.

What can I do if I accidentally deleted a WordPress theme?

If you accidentally deleted a theme, there are numerous ways to restore it. First, you can restore your theme from a backup, assuming that you use something like Jetpack VaultPress Backup

Alternatively, you can download and install a fresh version of the theme by going to Appearance → Themes → Add New.

adding a new theme in WordPress

Then, search for new themes using the search bar in the top left-hand corner of the screen. Or, you can browse the list of WordPress themes. With this approach, it’s important to note that you’ll lose any customizations that you configured in your theme, like custom styles.

Delete your WordPress theme quickly and easily

If you don’t delete unused themes in WordPress, your site could be more vulnerable to security threats. Plus, theme files take up space on your server. Fortunately, it’s easy to deactivate and delete themes in WordPress, and by doing so, improve your web performance and reduce security risks. 

To recap, here are four ways to deactivate and delete a theme in WordPress:

  1. Remove a theme using the admin dashboard.
  2. Remove a theme via FTP.
  3. Remove a theme via cPanel.
  4. Remove a theme via WP-CLI.

Before you even think about deleting WordPress themes, it’s best to make a backup of your entire site. Jetpack VaultPress Backup automatically backs up all your site files, database tables, and WooCommerce data. Plus, you can restore your website from any location, even if you can’t access your dashboard. Get Jetpack VaultPress Backup today!

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Rob Pugh profile
Rob Pugh

Rob is the Marketing Lead for Jetpack. He has worked in marketing and product development for more than 15 years, primarily at Automattic, Mailchimp, and UPS. Since studying marketing at Penn State and Johns Hopkins University, he’s focused on delivering products that delight people and solve real problems.

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