How to browse the web privately in Safari

Use Safari’s private browsing mode to surf the internet without having all of your information tracked and recorded. Private browsing prompts Safari to block websites from tracking your search behavior. The browser won’t remember any webpages you visit and your search history won’t get logged. Follow along with us to learn how to open Safari in private browsing mode on your iPhone, iPad and Mac.

A screenshot showing Apple's Safari browser running in private mode in iOS 15 on iPhone
Safari lets you surf the web privately with no histories and other data saved

How private browsing mode works

Browsing the internet in Safari’s private-browsing mode strengthens your online privacy. When surfing the web privately, website tracking is limited and none of your browsing history or login information is saved. This prevents others with have access to your device to view a list of websites you visited. Read: How to turn off Safari website tinting

Browsing certain websites privately in Safari ensures that those histories don’t pop up in everyone’s faces. For instance, you may want to perform a web search incognito or browse adult websites privately. As mentioned, private tabs don’t appear in Safari’s history. And to boost your privacy even further, private tabs also won’t show up in the list of synced tabs on your other devices.

  • Private browsing: Private browsing won’t remember your search history, show the pages you visit or reveal any automatically filled passwords. Private browsing also blocks some websites from tracking your search behavior.
  • Regular browsing: Public browsing isn’t private so it will in fact record your browsing and searching history, as well as your Autofill information like saved passwords.

Of course, Safari allows you to manually clear your browsing history and website data, including cookies, at any time. But with private browsing mode, you don’t need to do that because nothing gets remembered in the first place.

How to use private browsing in Safari for iPhone

To open a new private browsing tab on your iPhone or iPod touch, you must choose the Private tab group from the browser’s New Tab screen.

  1. Open Safari on your iPhone or iPod touch with iOS 15.0 or later.
  2. Touch the New Page icon in the bottom-right corner.
  3. Hit “” in the center of the tab bar at the bottom of the screen, then choose Private.
  4. Touch Done to start browsing the web privately.

When in private browsing mode, Safari appears black or dark instead of white or gray. Specifically, the URL field turns gray and uses white text. You will also see a message near the top of the private window saying “Private Browsing Mode”.

When opening multiple private tabs, Safari nests them under a group titled “Private”.

A screenshot showing a new private tab group in Apple's Safari browser in iOS 15 on iPhone
Switching to a private tab group turns on private browsing

To close a single private tab, hit the New Page icon to get thumbnails of all your private tabs, then swipe left each of the private tabs you wish to close. To exit private browsing mode, first touch the New Page button in the bottom-right corner, then choose Private. Now simply select a different, non-private tab group and then hit Done in order to switch to it.

How to use private browsing in Safari for iPad

Entering private browsing mode in Safari for iPad requires bringing the browser’s sidebar into view. The sidebar includes all the private tab options you need.

  1. Open Safari on your iPad with iPadOS 15.0 or later.
  2. Hit the sidebar icon near the top-left corner to open the Safari sidebar.
  3. From the Safari sidebar on the lefthand side, choose the option labeled Private.

Doing so creates a new tab in a group dubbed “Private”. You can open multiple private tabs in this tab group. Private tabs don’t leave traces in the Safari history nor do they appear in the list of tabs on your other devices.

To hide your private tabs and exit private browsing mode, switch to a different tab group from the Safari sidebar. Don’t worry, any open private tabs you have will reappear the next time you invoke the private browsing mode.

Forcing mobile Safari to always open in private mode

Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t provided a toggle in iOS/iPadOS to force Safari to always open in private browsing mode similar to macOS Monterey. Thankfully, there’s a simple trick that’ll let you do just that.

The trick is in creating a new private tab like you normally would and leaving it intact when you exit Safari. Doing so makes your private tabs persist across sessions, with Safari automatically showing your private tabs the next time you launch the browser.

A screenshot showing a private mode message in Apple's Safari browser in iOS 15 on iPhone
You’ll see a message when private browsing is enabled

If you exit private mode though, the next tab you open won’t be private. Safari will default to opening private windows each time you launch it.

How to use private browsing in Safari for Mac

You can open a new private browsing window in Safari on your Mac either by leveraging a dedicated menu option or invoking a special keyboard shortcut.

  1. Open Safari on your Mac
  2. Click Safari’s File menu, then choose New Private Window.

Doing so creates a new private window that has dark-colored borders, with the URL field set against the white text to distinguish it from regular Safari windows. You will also see a message near the top of the private window saying “Private Browsing Enabled”.

A Mac screenshot showing Apple's Safari browser on macOS Monterey with a regular window in the background and a private one in the foreground
Safari private browsing is distinguished with a darker look

To open a private window faster, hit Shift (⇧) – Command (⌘) – N on the keyboard.

Forcing desktop Safari to always open with a private window

You can also force Safari for Mac to automatically launch in private browsing mode.

  1. Open Safari on your Mac.
  2. Click the Safari menu, then choose Preferences.
  3. In the Safari preferences window, select the General tab.
  4. Click the menu next to Safari opens with, then choose A new private window.

Safari will default to opening in private browsing mode each time it’s launched.

A Mac screenshot showing preferences for Apple Safari on macOS Monterey with a setting to always open the browser in a new private window
Setting Safari for Mac to always open with a private window

A support document on the Apple website instructs people who don’t see this option to tick Close windows when quitting an app in System Preferences → General.

To close the current private window, simply close it. Switching to a non-private Safari window or opening one will also turn off private browsing temporarily until you click the private window again. Apple advises closing all private windows when you’re done using Safari’s private browsing mode in order to prevent other people from clicking Safari’s back and forward buttons to see pages you visited in the private windows.

What private browsing mode in Safari actually does

Wondering what all of the features of Safari’s private browsing mode are? Apple notes in support documents for Safari for iPhone, iPad and Mac that all of the following are true:

  • All of your tabbed windows are isolated from one another, so none of the websites that are open in your private window can see what other websites you might have open in the same window.
  • All of your login sessions and AutoFill information will be forgotten the next time the web browser is used.
  • Any of the webpages that you have open are kept out of iCloud so that other devices won’t have access to any of the webpages you have open in the private browsing window. Also, your recent searches won’t appear as suggestions when typing a search phrase into the URL field.
  • All of your search results from searches performed in a private browsing window are hidden and not stored.
  • Anything you download while in the private browsing window is not saved in your download history (downloaded items still end up in your Downloads folder or designated download location).
  • Private windows are not passed to other devices when Handoff is turned on.
  • All websites you visit are asked not to track you and Safari won’t remember cookie information from your current private browsing window when you begin your next browsing session.
  • Any plug-ins you have installed will also be limited to tracking your information from the private browsing window.

Use private browsing to surf the web anonymously

Your online privacy is important, and you should never give it up!

Most people won’t want to do all their web surfing privately. Browsing the internet publicly has its advantages, like better website personalization, the ability to view your browsing history and so forth. Read: How to reverse Safari’s polarizing redesign in iOS 15

Browsing certain websites privately in Safari ensures that those histories don’t pop up in everyone’s faces. Private browsing is useful even if you’re the only user of your device because you never know when you’ll be sharing a screen with someone in the future when you go surfing the web. For instance, you may wanna prevent others from knowing what you were looking up in the past such as when you were shopping for the holidays.

So whenever you feel like hiding all traces of your online activity in Safari, remember to switch to the private browsing mode before doing any web surfing.