CSS Reset

Resetting browser default CSS

Whenever I start a new site and begin a new CSS file or CSS file set for the site, my first step is to include CSS to reset the browser CSS defaults.

Different browsers have slightly different default rendering. The default values for margin, padding and line-height differ between browsers. Removing the inconsistent default styling for elements in various browsers creates an equal starting point and allows you to explicitly set your own default settings that are equal in (almost) all browsers. By starting with an equal playing (or presentation) field, your CSS will not only look similar in all browsers, but your CSS file size will be smaller, and the number of aspirin you need to take to complete your site will be reduced.


Here is the code I generally use. I’ll explain it below:


body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, p, dl, dt, dd, ul, ol, li, 
pre, form, fieldset, legend, input, textarea, label,
blockquote, table, th, td {
		margin: 0;
		padding: 0;
		background-repeat: no-repeat; 
		font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; 
		font-size: 100%; 
		line-height: 1.4; 
		color: #333333; 
a, span {
		background-repeat: no-repeat; 
		outline: none;	

table {
		border-collapse: collapse;
		border-spacing: 0;

fieldset, img, abbr, acronym {
		border: none;
		text-decoration: none; 

ol, ul {
		list-style: none;
caption, th {
		text-align: left;
		font-weight: normal;

q:before, q:after {
		content: '';

input, textarea, select {
		font-family: inherit;

 /* declare your site defaults here */

In your conditionally commented CSS file for IE7 and less include the following:

input, textarea, select {

CSS explained

While you may not use all the elements listed, and you may want your defaults to be slightly different, the above CSS is a good starting point. You might as well include all these elements, because you never know if someone else coding the site, or a future developer, may use those elements.

The first call sets the margin and padding of all elements to none. You won’t have to declare margin and padding of 0 again in your CSS. I have seen style sheets with ‘margin: 0’ included over 100 times. By including this default CSS, you only have to declare margins when you are overwriting the new zero default. Also, you don’t have to remember to explicitly set the body padding and margins.

Different browsers also display h1-h6 differently. This CSS nullifies the browser default settings and makes them look like the rest of your code. This way you decide how you want to display your headings. Also, by declaring a font-size in percentages, we resolve the IE ems rendering issues.

There are some settings in the code above that are redundant or irrelevant and will have no impact, such as setting margins on inline elements. CSS does not penalize you for including properties that are not used. I include all the elements in the first line, even though some of the properties are not used on some of the elements.

The default value for background images is to have them repeat on both the X and Y axis. Generally, you don’t want background images to repeat. The CSS above sets the background-repeat to no-repeat.

Just remember to AVOID use the background shortcut. If you omit one of the elements of the shorthand (background-color,
background-position) you may inadvertently reset one of the properties to the default.

The call includes several optional/changeable items. Feel free to reset the font-family, color and line-height to your own preferences.

With font-family, include default fonts in the initial CSS browser reset. By declaring the fonts in this way, you will save a lot of characters by not having to declare default fonts elsewhere in your CSS. For example, if you declare your <h1> on your contacts page to have a unique font, you simply have to write something similar to:

#contact h1 { font-family: Hacknslash;} 

If the user doesn’t have the "Hacknslash" font, then it will default to Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif, since you declared that in your brower reset CSS.

I chose the grey of #333333 instead of #000000, because black on white can be hard on the eyes. This dark grey is less harsh. You can use whatever color your design requires.

Line height is also up to you. You’ll note that there is no measurement type such as em, px, pt or % included. You can use these measurements. Omitting the measurement sets a number that will be multiplied with the current font-size to set the distance between the lines, similar to declaring em or %.

Since links, spans, code and other in-line elements have no default margin and padding and inherit, I declare them seperately to not overburden the browser rendering engine. I’ve declared two elements in this case as I use a lot of background images in my links and spans and want to ensure that those background images don’t repeat. The outline: none; on the links removes the box you may see around links when the mouse is down.

Note that you should not use the global selector, *, because the browser may overwrite default styling that you want to keep, such as padding on buttons. Also, when the global selector is used, the browser than has to apply the style to every element, which is a heavy load for the browser.

Defaults bullets are removed from ordered and unordered lists. Bullets are placed in different locations in different browsers: Firefox vertically aligns the bullet to text bottom and Internet Explorer vertically aligns the bullet to text top. I like to not only control my bullets, but generally my <li>s are inline, have background images instead of bullets, or are otherwise styled.

The caption and table header declarations are included since browsers tend to center them, and tend to bold table headers. The quote declaration is included since Firefox, Opera and other compliant browsers add quotes to <q>, while Internet Explorer, up to IE7, doesn’t even understand the :before and :after pseudo-classes. (This is resolved in IE8).

Most of the rest of the CSS is self explanatory except perhaps the IE conditional comments portion. Browsers are notorious for rendering forms differently: the input, textarea, select font-size declaration tells IE7 and earlier to not enlarge fonts that are in form elements.

Remember to include your form elements in block level elements. For example, put <textarea> in a <p> element so that it inherits font-family correctly in Opera.

The last line, "declare your site defaults here", is a good spot to declare the other default fonts and colors for your site. If all your h1s are going to be a different color and font, then start with your general, non-classed declarations. Remember to include this Browser Reset CSS at the top of your CSS. In this way, you can use the cascade to declare your defaults without requiring classes. Otherwise, you would have to include additional specificity for things that really should be generally declared.

Other browser reset arguments

There is an argument to remove ALL the defaults, such as bolding of the <strong> element, italicizing of the <em> element, monospacing of the <code> element, etc. The argument is that you should start from scratch, and build up all your own CSS. Below are some additional statements you can consider including in your CSS browser reset:

address, caption, cite, code, dfn, em, strong, th, var { 
	h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6 { 

sup {
		vertical-align: text-top;

sub {
		vertical-align: text-bottom;

Published by

Estelle Weyl

My name is Estelle Weyl. I an open web evangelist and community engineer. I'm a consulting web developer, writing technical books with O'Reilly, running frontend workshops, and speaking about web development, performance, and other fun stuff all over the world. If you have any recommendations on topics for me to hit, please let me know via @estellevw.