There aren’t many online experiences worse than having your peaceful web browsing interrupted by the blaring audio of a video that’s decided to start playing all by itself. It’s rude and it’s unwelcome... and you can stop it, if you know how. Your choices are usually to either mute the offending tab or stop videos from playing automatically.
Chrome puts a little speaker icon on the tabs that are outputting audio, so you can find them more easily. When you’ve identified the tab, right-click on it and choose Mute Site—as the label suggests, this mutes the site completely until further notice. If you want to hear audio from this domain again, you need to pick Unmute site from the same menu.
This is a little different to how Chrome used to work in previous versions: You used to be able to click the speaker icon to mute that tab and that tab only, so other pages open on the same site would keep playing. For whatever reason, Google’s engineers decided to take away that option.
If you want to bring back the ability to mute specific tabs rather than entire sites, a couple of third-party Chrome extensions can help out. Mute Tab, for example, adds a mute button to the Chrome toolbar—tabs can then be muted with a single click, though you have to switch to the relevant tabs first.
By the way, Chrome now puts media controls in the toolbar by default—they’ll appear if a tab is playing music or something on YouTube, for example (the icon looks like a musical note). You can use this to pause playback rather than muting a site.
Mute Tab Shortcuts lets you use keyboard shortcuts for the job, meanwhile: Alt+Shift+M to mute or unmute the current tab, Alt+Shift+N to mute all tabs except the current one, and Alt+Shift+Comma to mute or unmute all tabs (if you’re on a Mac, Option replaces Alt).
As for other browsers, Firefox lets you use the speaker icon on tabs playing audio as a mute toggle switch, and you can also right-click any tab to mute or unmute it (unlike Chrome, this only affects the current tab rather than any instances of the same site). Firefox being Firefox, you’ve got a choice of add-ons as well, including Mute Tab (for muting all tabs or every tab except the current one) and Auto mute (so new tabs are muted by default).
The new Microsoft Edge, which is based on Chromium, works the same as Firefox rather than Chrome, with a speaker icon toggle switch and Mute Tab as an option if you right-click on a tab. Safari has the same options too, while also putting a speaker icon (and mute toggle switch) in the address bar.
This guide was originally posted on 2/2/15, and was updated 3/27/20 to reflect changes to how Google Chrome mutes tabs.