How to disable a WordPress plugin when you can’t access the admin dashboard

Every once in a while you will have a plugin that causes your site to be completely unusable. To get your site working again you need to disable that plugin. But you can’t even get to the admin dashboard to do so.

Sometimes this isn’t even the plugin’s fault. It could be a misconfiguration on your part depending what the plugin is intended to do. Other times its just a badly made plugin that crashes your site because its not tested well before being released to the public. 

What ever the case may be, sometimes you need to disable a plugin but can’t do so from the admin dashboard because you can’t access it.

A website I was maintaining had this problem. It was getting more traffic than our hosting plan could handle, so it was not loading for a lot of our visitors. The website had important, timely community information that needed to be seen. An ad plugin displayed about 10 ads at once on the page. Disabling the ads would have been able to free up enough server resources to keep the site up. This would prevent it from loading those 10 ads for every visitor. It was so slow I was unable to disable the plugin through the admin dashboard. It had to be disabled using the steps below. The long term solution was to upgrade to a VPS hosting plan. As a temporary fix, disabling the ads freed up enough server resources to keep the website up until a hosting plan change could be completed.

Solution – Disable the plugin through cPanel

Thankfully the solution is quick and easy if you have access to your website’s cPanel. If you aren’t sure which plugin is the problem you will need to disable all of your plugins one at a time until the site is working again.

  1. Once you access the cPanel for your WordPress website go to File Manager.
  2. Find your wordpress plugin folders. They will most likely be in a folder called public_html. Then look for the wp-content folder. Next, find the plugins folder.
  3. Once you are in the plugins folder you will see a folder for each of the plugins on your website. Find the folder of the plugin you want to disable and rename it. I add -disabled to the end of the name. So if I wanted to disable the Elementor plugin I would find it’s folder and rename it elementor-disabled
  4. The plugin is now disabled and you can access your site again. 

To be clear, Elementor has never crashed my website or caused it to be inaccessible. I’m just using it as an example.

The same process can be used to disable a theme that has crashed your site. Although I haven’t seen a theme make the admin dashboard inaccessible. The problem seems more common with plugins. Using the steps above you would find the themes folder within wp-content and rename the folder of the theme you want to disable. WordPress will then switch to a default theme.  

Once you login to your WordPress admin dashboard and go to Plugins there will be a message that says, “The plugin [plugin name] has been deactivated due to an error: Plugin file does not exist.”

At this point you can delete the plugin or change the name of the folder back. If you go back to cPanel and change the folder to it’s original name the plugin will remain deactivated until you reactivate it.

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