Themes are one of the most fundamental concepts in WordPress and something that makes the platform so powerful. With over 10,000 themes available, there are a lot of choices – and a lot of themes that you’ve probably already used and decided weren’t for you.
If you’re like most WordPress users, you probably have at least a few themes on your site that haven’t been used in months, if at all.
After all, once you find a good theme, there’s not much reason to switch.
But what if you want to delete or uninstall those themes?
In this article, we will walk you through removing unused themes from your WordPress site.
We’ll also explain the differences between deleting, deactivating, and installing a theme to make sure you’re fully in the picture.
Let’s get deleting!
Why You Might Want to Delete a WordPress Theme
There are a few reasons why you might want to delete a WordPress theme.
Here are just a few:
You Were Just Testing the Theme
If you were just testing a theme but don’t want to use it on your live website, you’ll probably want to delete it. This is a pretty common scenario as most WordPress users experiment with different themes before finalizing their choice.
Hello! My name is Sujay and I’m CEO of Astra.
We’re on a mission to help small businesses grow online with affordable software products and the education you need to succeed.
It’s always a good idea to clean your site up from time to time. If you’ve been trying different plugins, themes, and other tools on your WordPress website, you probably have a bit of clutter.
Removing some old unused themes is a good way to clean up your site and keep your database clean.
If you have a new theme (like Astra) and want to delete other older themes that will go unused, it’s a good idea to remove them. In fact, it’s good practice to remove any old themes every time you switch to a new one.
Unfortunately, it’s common for themes to cause issues on websites, whether directly or through a conflict with a plugin or other site element. It’s also common for a theme to change any custom modifications you have made, such as CSS code.
You can usually tell if the error is caused by your theme by enabling debug mode.
This will display the error message at the top of the page. If the theme is the culprit, you’ll usually see its name listed in the error message.
If the theme is causing a problem, definitely remove it! If it was the source of the problem, the error message should go away.
Delete, Deactivate, or Uninstall?
What’s the difference between deleting, deactivating, or uninstalling a theme? Are they all the same? Not quite!
There are a few subtle differences:
- Deactivating a theme means “turning it off” and turning another theme on. There is actually no way to deactivate a theme directly in WordPress, you have to enable another one instead.
- Deleting a theme means removing it from your site via the WordPress dashboard, on the Appearance > Themes page.
- Uninstalling a theme takes deleting a step further. Many themes come with extra plugins, demo content, and other settings that are installed when you set up the theme. If you only delete a theme, these other plugins will still remain. So, uninstalling a theme includes removing the theme and any other addons that were installed when you set it up.
In general, it’s a good idea to delete themes that you aren’t using rather than deactivate them.
Why is that? There are at least five reasons.
First and foremost, you might want to remove old themes because they are a security risk. If you have a theme that hasn’t been updated in months or years, it won’t have been updated with fixes. So, if you have old themes installed on your website, definitely consider deleting them.
Themes are one of the larger items on a WordPress website. After all, a theme defines much of what the site looks like and how it functions.
For that reason, deleting old themes is a good way to reduce the size of your website, especially if you have a lot of older unused themes. As disk space is finite on many web hosting plans, deleting old themes is a simple way to reclaim some of that space.
Website size is also a major factor in how fast your website performs. As such, by removing old themes and any dependencies it may have, your website could potentially load more quickly too!
Extra themes can take up space in your database. The larger the database, the more work it has to do when serving pages. So, you may also want to remove old ones to clean up space and keep your database lean.
Some WordPress users just like to keep their websites neat and tidy, even if there is no discernible difference in performance. If you don’t want to have a bunch of unused themes on your Themes page, it’s perfectly fine to remove those that are cluttering up the place.
It also makes it easier to navigate, as you won’t need to scroll through various unused themes.
Now let’s finally delete (or uninstall) the theme.
There are many different ways you can do this.
…but first, wait! Don’t delete anything until you check these steps.
Make Sure You Aren’t Using a Child Theme
First off, make sure that you aren’t using a child theme. If you are using a child theme and then delete the parent theme, the child will stop working.
If you are on a multisite network, removing themes can be rather tricky. This is especially true if you have dozens or even hundreds of sites on your network.
Before deleting a theme, make absolutely sure that none of your sites are using it.
If you aren’t directly managing all of the subsites (for instance, if there are other webmasters), you will also want to communicate with them and make sure that the themes you want to delete aren’t used.
Sometimes an inactive theme may be used on a regular basis for testing purposes, so always be sure to ask first.
Make a Backup of the Theme
If the theme isn’t a popular one or otherwise might become unavailable in the future, you should make a backup. If possible, just download the original theme files from the place you purchased or downloaded them, like the Astra store or ThemeForest.net.
You can also use a backup plugin like UpdraftPlus. While this plugin is intended to back up your entire website, you can also choose to include themes in that backup.
If for some reason you can’t download the file from the original source, you can also manually copy the files from the WordPress Editor. But note that this is a time-consuming process and can take hours if your theme is large enough.
To do this, go to Appearance > Theme Editor and select your theme on the right hand side, then click the Select button.
Once you’ve switched to your theme, you’ll see a list of all of its files. To backup your theme manually, simply select a file, copy the contents, then save it in a file with the same extension.
For example, the first file listed will usually be style.css. Just copy the text inside the file, open a text editor, paste the text, then save the file as style.css.
Once you’ve saved copies of all the files, make sure they are arranged in the same folders as the ones in your theme. If so, you’ve now backed up your theme.
It will take a while but it’s a useful tactic if you have no other way of getting the files!
Finally, before making any major changes to your site, you should always back up your entire site.
This usually isn’t a problem if you’re just deleting a theme. However, sometimes the more complex themes (that come with other plugins and database entries) can cause unforeseen issues.
Thankfully, there are a ton of good backup plugins available for WordPress.
We recommend always having one installed on your site and using it frequently.
Four Methods for Deleting or Uninstalling a Theme
Gone through all the items above? Ready to uninstall or delete your theme? Let’s go!
There are at least four different ways to delete or uninstall a theme.
Delete or Uninstall a Theme Using the WordPress Dashboard
The easiest way to delete a theme is right in the WordPress dashboard. Simply go to Appearance > Themes.
As we mentioned above, you’ll need to first activate another theme before you can delete the currently active one.
To do that, select a different theme and click Activate.
The previously activated theme will now be listed along with all of the other inactive themes.
Scroll down and find it, then click on it. You’ll see a panel with information about the theme.
In the bottom right corner, there is a delete button. Click on it and then accept the confirmation message. Done!
Delete or Uninstall a WordPress Theme via FTP/SFTP or SSH
If you’d like to delete your theme via FTP/SFTP or SSH, you can easily do that too.
Once you do, find the wp-content/themes folder. Your theme will be listed here.
Simply click on the folder and select Delete.
Delete or Uninstall a WordPress Theme via the Command Line
This solution requires some technical knowledge. We won’t go too far into the details, but essentially you need to install WP-CLI and access your site via the command line.
Once there, run this command below to see a full list of your themes. Note that the $ is just the command line indicator and not a part of the command.
$ wp theme list
Once you are sure of the theme’s name, run this command to delete it, replacing twentytwentyone with the name of the theme’s folder (not the theme name itself) that you want to delete.
$ wp theme delete twentytwentyone
As we said above, this is a technical solution and shouldn’t be done by anyone that isn’t familiar with the command line.
Delete or Uninstall a WordPress Theme by Contacting Your Host
While contacting your host usually isn’t necessary to remove a theme, it may be useful if your theme is complex and includes other elements.
If you are having any trouble removing your theme, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your host, especially if you are on a managed hosting WordPress plan.
Removing Other Plugins and Content From the Theme
Some themes are more “platforms” than just themes alone. In addition to the theme, they may also include a number of plugins, demo content, and other files that are added to your site when you install it.
This means that even if you remove the theme via the process above, you’ll still need to remove extra WordPress plugins that the theme installed.
This will vary depending on the theme, of course, but you should be able to identify them by their names on the Plugins > Installed Plugins page.
You should also consult the theme’s documentation to see if there are any other elements you should remove.
How to Deactivate a WordPress Theme
We mentioned earlier the difference between deleting and deactivating your theme. If you only want to deactivate your theme, here’s how you can do it.
In WordPress, there is no way to just deactivate a currently active theme. You have to switch to another one. Otherwise, you’d have no theme at all!
First, go to Appearance > Themes on your WordPress sidebar.
Then, find the theme that you want to switch to. Note, this isn’t the theme that you want to deactivate, it’s the one you want to activate instead.
Click Activate on that theme to activate it. Nice job: you’ve now deactivated your previously activated theme!
While it’s pretty easy to delete your WordPress theme, it can unfortunately sometimes turn out to be a complex process with unintended consequences.
In those cases, it’s good to know that there are multiple ways to delete a theme on a WordPress site.
In this post, we walked you through deleting a theme on your WordPress site. It’s a fairly simple process as long as you follow the steps correctly.
Are you having trouble uninstalling a theme? Share it in the comments and we’ll see if we can help!