How To Drop a Column From a Dataframe

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When working with data, especially in the realm of data analysis or machine learning, one often uses dataframes to manipulate, analyze, and visualize information. Dataframes are two-dimensional, size-mutable, and heterogeneous tabular data structures that can contain data like a spreadsheet. A common task while preprocessing or cleaning data is the removal of unnecessary columns, especially if they do not contribute to analysis or might be causing noise. Whether it’s due to redundancy, irrelevance, or any other reason, knowing how to efficiently drop a column from a dataframe is an essential skill. In this tutorial, we will walk through the steps and methods available to remove columns from a dataframe, ensuring you have a clear grasp of this crucial procedure.

  1. Understanding the Basics of Dataframes
  2. Importance of Data Cleaning in Analysis
  3. Simple Method: Using the drop Function
  4. Drop Multiple Columns at Once
  5. In-Place Deletion vs. Copy-Based Deletion
  6. Handling Errors: When Column Doesn’t Exist
  7. Using Conditions to Select Columns for Deletion
  8. Verifying the Changes: Inspecting Your Dataframe Post-Deletion
  9. Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Understanding the Basics of Dataframes

Dataframes are at the heart of many data operations. Whether you’re analyzing data using Python’s Pandas or R’s dplyr, dataframes are a go-to tool. Understanding the basics of dataframes is pivotal to many advanced data manipulations, such as column removal.

What is a dataframe?

In essence, a dataframe is a two-dimensional labeled data structure. Think of it as a table or a spreadsheet with rows and columns. Each column can be of a different datatype, and each row has a unique identifier, typically known as the index.

1Bob34Data Scientist

Here’s a breakdown of its components:

  • Columns: Vertical sections storing related data. In the above example, “Name”, “Age”, and “Occupation” are columns.
  • Rows: Horizontal entries representing individual records. Each row, as depicted, has a unique index.

Why use dataframes?

Dataframes simplify many complex data operations. They offer flexibility, efficient storage, and easy access to data. With them, you can filter, group, sort, and, of course, drop columns. Familiarizing oneself with dataframes ensures smoother data processing and fewer errors. To truly master column operations, such as dropping columns, we must start with a solid foundation. And understanding dataframes is that key foundation.

Importance of Data Cleaning in Analysis

In the vast world of data analysis, there’s a saying: “Garbage in, garbage out.” This emphasizes that the quality of insights and predictions you derive from your data is only as good as the quality of the data itself. Central to ensuring this quality is the process of data cleaning. So, let’s dive into why data cleaning is paramount in analysis.

  1. Accuracy of Analysis: Dirty or unclean data can lead to misleading results. For instance, duplicate rows, incorrect entries, or missing values can skew analytical results, leading to incorrect conclusions. Cleaning data ensures that the patterns and correlations we detect are genuine.
  2. Saves Time & Resources: While investing time in cleaning data might seem like a chore, it’s a time-saver in the long run. Unclean data can cause errors down the line, demanding additional debugging and analysis hours.
  3. Boosts Decision-Making Confidence: Clean data sets the stage for reliable analysis. Stakeholders and decision-makers can place more trust in insights derived from well-prepared data. This boosts the confidence in data-driven decisions.
  4. Improves Model Performance: In machine learning, the quality of data directly impacts the performance of predictive models. Clean data ensures models are trained on accurate information, leading to better predictions and classifications.
  5. Facilitates Easier Data Exploration: Data exploration is the initial step in analysis where we identify trends, anomalies, or patterns. Clean data, devoid of noise and inconsistencies, makes this process smoother and more insightful.
  6. Enhances Data Integrity: Cleaning helps maintain the integrity and consistency of data. This ensures that when multiple analysts work on the same dataset, they derive consistent insights.
  7. Reduces Risk: Unclean data can lead to flawed insights which might, in turn, guide faulty strategies. By ensuring data is clean, we reduce the risk of making incorrect strategic decisions.

Data cleaning is not just a preparatory step but a cornerstone of effective and meaningful data analysis. It’s an investment that guarantees the data speaks its truth and guides businesses toward accurate, informed decisions.

Simple Method: Using the drop Function

When it comes to data manipulation in libraries like Pandas, the drop function emerges as a hero. This straightforward method allows you to efficiently remove columns or rows from a dataframe. Let’s break down how to harness its power specifically for column removal.

Basic Syntax:

dataframe.drop(columns=['ColumnName'], inplace=True/False)
  • columns: Specifies the column name(s) you wish to drop.
  • inplace: A Boolean value. If True, it alters the original dataframe. If False, it returns a new dataframe without making changes to the original.


Consider a sample dataframe:

1Bob34Data Scientist

To drop the “Age” column:

dataframe.drop(columns=['Age'], inplace=True)

This will alter our dataframe to:

1BobData Scientist

A Few Points to Remember:

  • The drop function isn’t limited to columns. By tweaking its parameters, you can also remove rows.
  • Always verify your dataframe post-operation, either by displaying its head or by checking its shape.
  • If unsure about making permanent changes, set inplace=False to test the outcome first.

The drop function is a fundamental tool in the analyst’s toolkit, offering simplicity combined with powerful column (and row) removal capabilities.

Drop Multiple Columns at Once

Dropping a single column is straightforward, but there are occasions when you need to prune multiple columns from your dataframe in one go. Thankfully, the drop function is versatile enough to handle this with ease. Let’s delve into how you can drop multiple columns efficiently.

Extended Syntax:

dataframe.drop(columns=['Column1', 'Column2', ...], inplace=True/False)
  • columns: Here, you’ll pass a list of column names you want to drop.
  • inplace: As before, choose True to modify the original dataframe, and False to return a new dataframe without the dropped columns.


Given the following dataframe:

1Bob34Data ScientistUK

If we want to drop both the “Age” and “Country” columns, we’d use:

dataframe.drop(columns=['Age', 'Country'], inplace=True)

This results in:

1BobData Scientist

Key Takeaways:

  • The drop function’s versatility allows for streamlined data manipulation, making the removal of multiple columns a breeze.
  • As with single column removal, always check your dataframe after the operation to ensure the desired columns have been dropped.
  • To keep your workflow efficient, plan ahead. Group column drop operations together where possible, to reduce the number of times your dataframe is manipulated.

Dropping multiple columns is a mere extension of the single column removal process. With a bit of planning and familiarity with the drop function, you can make your dataframe manipulation tasks more efficient and streamlined.

In-Place Deletion vs. Copy-Based Deletion

As we dive deeper into the realm of data manipulation, it’s crucial to distinguish between two primary modes of column deletion: in-place deletion and copy-based deletion. Both methods have their advantages and potential pitfalls, so understanding the difference is paramount.

1. In-Place Deletion

Definition: When you delete columns directly from the original dataframe without creating a new copy of it.


dataframe.drop(columns=['ColumnName'], inplace=True)


  • Saves memory as it doesn’t create a new dataframe.
  • Immediate and direct changes to the dataset.


  • Permanent change; can’t revert to the original dataframe state unless you have a backup.
  • Potential for unintentional data loss.

2. Copy-Based Deletion

Definition: Columns are dropped from a dataframe, and the result is stored in a new dataframe without altering the original.


new_dataframe = dataframe.drop(columns=['ColumnName'])


  • Preserves the original dataframe, safeguarding against accidental data loss.
  • Enables easy comparison between the original and modified data.


  • Consumes more memory as it creates an additional dataframe.
  • May lead to confusion with multiple dataframe versions.

Which One to Use?

  • Testing & Exploration: When you’re experimenting or unsure about the changes, opt for copy-based deletion. This way, you always have the original data to fall back on.
  • Confirmed Changes: If you’re certain about your changes and are working with large datasets where memory can be a constraint, go for in-place deletion.

The choice between in-place and copy-based deletion depends on your specific needs, the scale of your data, and the stage of your analysis. Being discerning about your approach ensures both efficient data handling and preservation of data integrity.

Handling Errors: When Column Doesn’t Exist

One of the speed bumps in dataframe manipulation is the attempt to drop a column that isn’t present. This simple oversight can halt a workflow and produce an error. Recognizing and addressing this issue ensures uninterrupted data operations.

When dropping a non-existent column in Pandas, you might come face-to-face with a KeyError. For instance, executing the following:

dataframe.drop(columns=['NonExistentColumn'], inplace=True)

Will result in:

KeyError: "['NonExistentColumn'] not found in axis"

To avoid this, there are strategies to ensure smoother operations. One method is to verify the column’s existence in the dataframe before attempting to drop it:

if 'NonExistentColumn' in dataframe.columns:
    dataframe.drop(columns=['NonExistentColumn'], inplace=True)

Alternatively, the drop function in Pandas has an errors parameter that comes to the rescue. By setting it to 'ignore', the function won’t raise an error even if the specified column isn’t found:

dataframe.drop(columns=['NonExistentColumn'], inplace=True, errors='ignore')

Additionally, getting into the habit of inspecting your dataframe by displaying the list of columns using dataframe.columns can be advantageous. This routine provides a clear picture, reducing the likelihood of referencing non-existent columns.

Ensuring that you’re referring to actual columns when employing the drop function might seem like a minor detail, but it can spare you from unnecessary interruptions. By actively checking and leveraging built-in tools, you can adeptly navigate around this common hurdle.

Using Conditions to Select Columns for Deletion

There are times in data analysis when you need to conditionally drop columns from a dataframe based on specific criteria, rather than specifying column names directly. Leveraging conditions can automate and refine the column selection process, ensuring more targeted data manipulation.

For instance, you might want to drop columns that have too many missing values or columns that have a certain prefix. Here’s how you can go about it:

Dropping Based on Missing Values:

Suppose you wish to drop columns with more than a certain percentage of missing values. You can achieve this with the following:

threshold = 0.8  # example threshold
cols_to_drop = dataframe.columns[dataframe.isnull().mean() > threshold]
dataframe.drop(cols_to_drop, axis=1, inplace=True)

This code will remove columns where over 80% of the values are missing.

Dropping Based on Column Names:

If you have columns with a specific prefix or suffix that you’d like to remove, you can utilize string matching:

prefix = 'temp_'  # example prefix
cols_to_drop = [col for col in dataframe.columns if col.startswith(prefix)]
dataframe.drop(cols_to_drop, axis=1, inplace=True)

This snippet will drop all columns starting with the prefix ‘temp_’.

Dropping Based on Data Type:

Sometimes, you might want to remove all columns of a certain data type, say, all string columns:

string_cols = dataframe.select_dtypes(include='object').columns
dataframe.drop(string_cols, axis=1, inplace=True)

Here, all columns with data type ‘object’ (typically strings in Pandas) will be dropped.

Using conditions to guide column deletions can make the data cleaning process more dynamic and adaptable. Instead of manually selecting columns, you allow your criteria to identify which columns should be removed, streamlining and adding precision to your data preparation workflow.

Verifying the Changes: Inspecting Your Dataframe Post-Deletion

After executing any data manipulation task, it’s of paramount importance to inspect and verify the results. This step not only confirms the accuracy of the operation but also safeguards against unintended data alterations. When you’ve removed columns from a dataframe, here’s how you can thoroughly inspect your dataframe to ensure the desired outcomes.

Display the First Few Rows:

One of the most common methods to get a quick overview of your dataframe is to display its first few rows using the head() method:


This gives you a snapshot of your dataframe’s structure and helps identify if the columns were indeed dropped.

Check the Shape of the Dataframe:

To ascertain the number of columns and rows, use the shape attribute. This allows you to compare the column count before and after the deletion:


List All Column Names:

By printing out all the column names, you can explicitly see which columns remain in your dataframe:


Use the info() Method:

The info() method provides a concise summary of the dataframe, including the data types of columns, non-null values, and memory usage:


Statistical Overview with describe():

Although primarily used to understand data distribution, the describe() method can also serve as a tool to verify the remaining columns, especially if you’ve dropped non-numeric columns:


In conclusion, the act of column deletion is only half the job. Verifying your changes ensures that you’ve achieved your desired outcomes without any unforeseen alterations. By making it a habit to inspect your dataframe post-deletion, you uphold the integrity and accuracy of your data analysis workflow.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Data manipulation, particularly when dealing with column deletions in dataframes, can be rife with pitfalls. While these issues might seem trivial at first, they can lead to significant challenges down the line. Let’s explore some common pitfalls and the best practices to avoid them.

1. Not Verifying Deletions:

  • Pitfall: Relying solely on the drop function and assuming the desired columns have been removed.
  • Avoidance: Always inspect your dataframe post-deletion using methods like head(), info(), or checking column names.

2. Inadvertent In-Place Deletion:

  • Pitfall: Unintentionally setting inplace=True and permanently altering the original dataframe without a backup.
  • Avoidance: Be cautious when using the inplace parameter. If unsure, default to creating a new dataframe with the changes.

3. Overlooking Errors or Warnings:

  • Pitfall: Ignoring or dismissing error messages when they pop up, potentially leading to undetected issues.
  • Avoidance: Address warnings and errors promptly. They often provide insights into issues that need rectification.

4. Overusing Memory with Copy-Based Deletions:

  • Pitfall: Creating numerous copies of dataframes during deletion processes, leading to memory issues.
  • Avoidance: When working with large datasets, be conscious of memory usage. Use in-place deletions when appropriate or delete unnecessary dataframe copies.

5. Not Handling Non-Existent Columns:

  • Pitfall: Attempting to drop columns that aren’t present, leading to errors.
  • Avoidance: Before deletion, verify the existence of columns or use the errors='ignore' parameter with the drop function.

6. Neglecting Dependencies and Relations:

  • Pitfall: Deleting columns without considering their relationships or dependencies on other columns.
  • Avoidance: Review the dataset thoroughly, and be aware of potential data interdependencies before making deletions.

While dataframe manipulation in tools like Pandas offers robust capabilities, it also requires diligence. By being aware of these common pitfalls and actively employing the recommended best practices, you can ensure cleaner, more effective data processing and avoid unnecessary complications.

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