How to factory reset Windows 10

Recovery screen on Windows PC
Image Credit: TechRadar (Image credit: TechRadar)

Whether you're wanting to sell your computer or it just seems to be on the blink and you're hoping to bring it back to life, knowing how to factory reset Windows 10 is a useful skill to have. And the good news is, it's a relatively straightforward process to get the job done. 

There are many reasons why you need to know exactly how to factory reset your Windows 10 computer. The obvious one is that you're wanting to sell it and treat yourself to an upgrade by investing in the best computer or the best Windows laptop. Performing a factory reset will ensure that all your private information gets wiped so that that new owner can't access your data.

But selling isn't the only reason you might want to know how to factory reset Windows 10. As your PC begins to age, it may start to run poorly, with more bugs and a slower speed. That's where resetting it back to its factory settings can prove useful in helping to get it back up and running like new again. 

While Microsoft has some options built in to their operating system that will let you factory reset Windows 10 without deleting all your files, if you don't plan on keeping your PC or laptop, we recommend you back up all of your files using one of the best external hard drives to ensure you don't lose any important files or data. 

Once you're ready to go, you'll find the steps below useful in helping to guide you through how to factory reset Windows 10, including how to conduct this process if you're not able to log into your computer. 

Performing a factory reset from within Windows 10

To get started in performing a factory reset, log into your Windows machine and access the Windows Recovery tool. If your computer is not functioning properly or you've lost access to your account, we'll have alternate steps for you further in. However, if you do have access the tool through Windows, here's what you need to do.

Restart this PC screen

Image Credit: TechRadar (Image credit: TechRadar)

Step one: Open the Recovery tool.
You can reach the tool a number of ways. The quickest is to press the Windows Key to open the Windows search bar, type "Reset" and select the "Reset this PC" option.

You can also reach it by pressing Windows Key + X and selecting Settings from the pop-up menu. From there, choose Update & Security in the new window then Recovery on the left navigation bar.

Recovery screen

Image Credit: TechRadar (Image credit: TechRadar)

Step two: Start the factory reset.
It's really this easy. From the Recovery tool, simply find the section with the heading "Reset this PC," which wouldn’t be hard as it will be the very first one. Underneath it, you'll see a button that says "Get started."

Click on "Get started," and a new window will pop up prompting you to "Keep my files" or "Remove everything." For a proper factory reset, opt to "Remove everything." If you just want to refresh your machine and keep your files, choose “Keep my files.”

(Note: Make sure your computer is charging, as Windows 10 may not start a reset if the device isn't plugged in.)

Once you’ve selected the option you want, Windows will prepare the reset.

If you chose to remove everything, Windows will prompt you one more time. You'll have the option to simply remove everything using the "Just remove my files" option, or to have Windows also wipe the drive using the "Remove files and clean drive."

The latter option is more secure, as it reduces the chances of someone recovering the data from your computer. If you're selling or recycling your computer, you must choose this option.

(Note: If your computer has multiple drives, Windows may ask whether you want to erase them as well, or whether you want to erase only the drive where Windows is installed.)

Performing a factory reset without logging in

If you can't log on to Windows 10 computer, don’t panic. We have an alternate route for you to factory reset Windows 10 and your machine. The result will be the same as the above method, but the way to get there will be slightly different.

Choose an option screen

Image Credit: Microsoft (Image credit: Microsoft)

Step one: Access the Advanced startup tool.
You have two ways to access the the Advanced startup tool.

Find out if your computer starts up, and you can get to the Windows log-in screen. If you can, press the on-screen power button, and while holding the Shift key, press the restart button. Your computer will reboot and take you to the Advanced startup tool.

However, if your computer isn’t booting into Windows properly, you can reach the Advanced startup tool by power-cycling your computer instead. This is done by powering up the computer then holding the power button to shut it down before it fully boots. Perform this process three times. On the next startup, your computer should go into the Advanced startup tool.

Step two: Go to the reset tool.
To get to the tool, you need to perform a factory reset by choosing Troubleshoot > Reset this PC in the Advanced startup tool.

Step three: Start the factory resets.
To start the reset, select "Remove everything" or "Keep my files," depending on why you’re performing the factory reset.

You'll have the option to "just remove my files" or "remove files and clean drive." Again, the latter will be the more secure option, if you plan on selling your computer or giving it away. It will write over any of the data on the drive, making it harder for someone to recover any of your old data.

(Note: If your computer has multiple drives, Windows may ask you if you’d like to erase those other drives as well, or only erase the drive where Windows is installed.) 

Mark Knapp

Over the last several years, Mark has been tasked as a writer, an editor, and a manager, interacting with published content from all angles. He is intimately familiar with the editorial process from the inception of an article idea, through the iterative process, past publishing, and down the road into performance analysis.