Should you keep unused themes?

If your WordPress backend is like many others out there, your Themes section has a lot of clutter. Perhaps you’ve tried a theme or two along the way before settling on your current one. In addition, WordPress has default themes — Twenty Seventeen, Twenty Sixteen, and so on — taking up space. All together, many WordPress sites likely have at least half a dozen unused themes installed. Is it best to keep these or get rid of them?

The case for keeping themes

Many people could be considered “digital hoarders” — when it comes to digital files, they keep everything. And why not? As long as you have enough disk space, it doesn’t hurt to keep a copy of that PowerPoint slide deck from a presentation you made a few years back or an MP3 of a song you bought years ago but haven’t played in awhile.

It’s easy to have the same mindset with your online files. Gmail, for example, had a goal of “giving people more space forever” in its early days so users wouldn’t ever have to delete emails. A “digital hoarder” wouldn’t ever want to delete an unused theme, right? What if you want to use it again later on?

There’s some merit to thinking this way. If you’ve made any customizations to a theme, you’ll obviously lose those if you delete it. A child theme also needs its parent theme to work properly, so before you delete a theme, make sure it’s not a parent theme of a child theme you’re using.

The case for deleting themes

On the opposite end of the spectrum from “digital hoarders” are most internet security experts. The prevailing thought in this camp is every file on your website is a possible point of attack for a hacker. If any plugin or theme on your site is compromised, your website can be hacked. Therefore, deleting unused themes and plugins makes your site more secure. If a theme you deleted gets hacked, your site will be safe.

While theme and plugin hacking is rare, it can happen. We’ve discussed security before, and our advice remains unchanged. Your site is most secure when you’ve deleted unnecessary themes and plugins.

Which is the right choice for you?

Each perspective here has merit, so how can you balance these two opposites? Here are some ideas:

  • Keep any theme you’ve modified because you’ll lose the changes you made if you delete it.
  • Keep any child themes you’ve created (or had a developer create) and keep the related parent themes unless you’re absolutely certain you won’t use them again.
  • If your active theme is a child theme, be absolutely certain you don’t delete its parent theme. Thankfully, WordPress won’t give you this option in the Dashboard.
  • If you paid for a theme, don’t delete if you think you might want to use it again. Depending on how the theme vendor operates, you might not be able to re-download it.
  • If you’re not deleting a free theme you downloaded in your Dashboard, you can delete it if you don’t think you’ll use it again. There’s always a risk that the developer could remove it from, though, so you might want to keep any themes you think you might use again.
  • If you’re not using the WordPress default themes, it’s safe to delete them. You can always download them again later on. To do so, go to Appearance > Themes in your Dashboard and click the Add New button at the top.

If you decide to keep themes developed by a third-party, it’s a good idea to install a security plugin like WordFence. Code from any theme that isn’t active doesn’t get loaded when someone visits your site, but it’s still better to play it safe when it comes to your site’s security.

How to delete themes

If you decide to delete some of the unused themes on your site, go to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress Dashboard. Hover your mouse over the theme you want to delete and click Theme Details. Then click the red “Delete” at the bottom-right. Note that this option will not be available if you try to delete an active theme or the parent theme of an active child theme.