CSS Floats

Floating an element in CSS either to the left or to the right removes it from the normal document flow of its parent element, allowing text and inline elements to wrap around it.

Floating Elements

The contents of an element defines its height by default.

When floating an element inside its parent element using the float CSS property, that element would be removed from the normal document flow causing its parent element to collapse.

Here’s a sample HTML markup:

<div id="parent">
  <div id="one">One</div>
  <div id="two">Two</div>

When float: left is applied to the div element with an id of one, that element would be removed from the normal document flow and will be floated to the left corner of its parent element and the div with the id of two would then take the place of the div with the id of one to re-establish normal document flow.

If float: left is applied to both div element, both of them will be removed from the normal document flow and their parent div element with an id of parent collapses. Try inspecting that parent div element and you’ll see that its height property is 0.

Clearing Floats

To turn floats off and restore normal document flow, use the clear CSS property. For example:

<img id="img" src="http://via.placeholder.com/600x500">
<p id="p1">Paragraph 1</p>
<p id="p2">Paragraph 2</p>

If I apply clear: left, clear: right or clear: both to the p element with an id of p1, it will break into its own line.

Note: clear on an element only clears the floats before it in the normal document flow order, it doesn’t clear floats after it. The left and right values mean clearance of left floats and right floats preceding an element respectively. They don’t mean clearing floats before and after the element.

Containing Floats

To stop the parent element from collapsing when all of its child elements are floated, either:

  • Apply overflow: hidden to the parent element.
  • Apply float: left or float: right to the parent element itself.
  • Add any HTML element as the last child of a parent element and apply clear: both to it like so:
  <div id="parent">
    <div id="one">One</div>
    <div id="two">Two</div>
    <div style="clear: both;"></div>

The first one will work most of the time, but take note that some CSS3 properties like box-shadow will be clipped. The second one works also, but you need to consider that there will be a chain reaction, e.g. the body element collapses and needs to be contained as well while the last will always work, though you need to add an additional HTML markup every time.

Clearfix Technique

The clearfix hack is a popular way to contain floats without resorting to using additional HTML markup:

.clearfix:after {
  content: '';
  display: table;

.clearfix:after {
  clear: both;

This hack generates pseudo-elements and sets their display property to table which creates an anonymous table-cell. The :before pseudo-element prevents top-margin collapse while the :after pseudo-element is used to clear the floats.

Add the clearfix class to a parent element if any of its child elements needs to be floated.

Written on August 22, 2017