How to Use “Reset this PC” to Clean Install Windows 10 or 11

Windows 10 and 11 have multiple recovery options to revert or roll back to an old configuration. The built-in recovery options include System Restore, driver rollback, in-place upgrade (a.k.a repair install), Reset This PC, Recovery disk, and Go back to the previous version of Windows.

The Reset this PC option cleanly reinstalls Windows 10/11, but it also lets you choose whether to keep your files or remove them. In this article, we’ll see how to use the Reset This PC feature to reinstall Windows cleanly, with or without preserving your personal files.

Before using any of the reset or recovery methods, it’s advisable to back up your files. Backing up is recommended even though the Reset this PC (Keep my files) feature keeps your data intact.

Reset Windows 10 or 11 using the “Reset this PC” option in Settings

To reset your Windows 10 or 11 computer:

  1. Open Settings, Update & Security.
  2. Select Recovery.
  3. Click the Get Started button under Reset this PC.
  4. Please select one of the two options: Keep my files or Remove everything. The next paragraph provides more information about each option.
    reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options

    To launch the above dialog directly, run the command systemreset.exe or SystemSettingsAdminFlows.exe FeaturedResetPC via the Run dialog.
  5. Choose Cloud download or Local reinstall.
    cloud download - reset or refresh computer

    The Local reinstall option utilizes the files from the Component Store C:\Windows\WinSxS as the source to rebuild the OS without requiring a recovery image or the ISO.
    The Cloud download option fetches the setup image from the Microsoft servers, instead of reusing the existing Windows files to construct a fresh copy. The Cloud download option is a more reliable way to reinstall Windows and, depending on internet speed, can be faster.

    (Check out the Microsoft blog Optimize Windows 10 PC reset using the cloud to learn more about the cloud download option.)

    What if Windows does not boot?

    Note: If Windows doesn’t start, you can access the Reset this PC option by booting into the Windows Recovery Environment using “Method 6” in the article How to access Windows Recovery Environment.

    After you enter the Recovery Options, on the Choose an option screen, select TroubleshootReset this PC, and then choose one of the options.reset this pc - windows 10 recovery options - recovery environment

    For more information, check out the article How to Reset Windows 10 or 11 via Windows RE.

Keep my files

Selecting the Keep my files (previously, this feature was known as “Refresh your PC”) will do the following:

  • The system boots into the Windows Recovery Environment.
  • It scans the drive for your data, preinstalled apps and settings, and puts them aside on the same drive. The $SysReset folder on the system drive is one such location where the reset feature stores the files.
  • It removes the installed apps (other than those preinstalled by the OEM/PC manufacturer) and device drivers.
  • It installs a fresh copy of Windows 10 or 11.
  • After installation, it restores your data, preinstalled apps, and settings it has set aside into the newly installed copy of Windows.
  • The system restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows. Your user accounts and settings are retained. Your file association settings in the registry, Windows Firewall settings, display settings are not retained. The Start menu layout, as well as the taskbar pinned items, are reset.

The %AppData% (in each user profile) folder is not retained. If you have important data stored by some applications in the %AppData% folder, you may be able to recover them from the C:\Windows.old if you chose the “Keep my files” option.

In the Reset this PC dialog, you can configure whether to restore preinstalled apps (and settings) that came with your PC.

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options

The option is enabled by default. However, in non-OEM-branded systems or systems where you installed a retail copy of Windows, the following Preinstalled apps dialog doesn’t show up.

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options

As you proceed to the next screen, you’ll be informed about what resetting does.

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options

You can view the list of apps that will be removed.

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options

At the end of the reset process, all the apps you installed will be removed, and the preinstalled apps will be restored (if the option is enabled).

Remove everything

The Remove everything option removes all your personal data, applications, drivers, and settings, and does a clean install of Windows 10/11. The system drive may also be formatted during the process. This option is handy to remove everything and start from scratch. For instance, you may want to erase your data from the hard drive before you recycle or donate the system for charity (See also: “Security Note” below.)

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options

During the reset process, you can click on the Change settings and configure additional settings.

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options - remove everything

Clicking on the Change Settings dialog opens the following dialog where you can choose whether or not to erase the hard disk completely or just remove your files.

  • Data erasure (Off) just removes files. It takes less time but is less secure.
  • Data erasure (On) removes files and cleans the drive. It makes it harder for other people to recover files you’ve removed.

Security note: However, it’s unclear if the Data erasure (On) setting erases the hard disk securely (e.g., using DoD 5220.22-M or any other standard) or simply formats the hard disk partition(s). So, if your disk has confidential information, be sure to erase it securely using a secure erase tool like SDelete, before donating the PC to someone.

SDelete implements the Department of Defense clearing and sanitizing standard DOD 5220.22-M to give you confidence that once deleted with SDelete, and your file data is gone forever.

You can also choose to remove files from all drives or only from the drive where Windows is installed.

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options - remove everything

Once you confirm your choices, you’ll see the final dialog box, which lists the things carried out during the reset.

reset this pc in windows 10 recovery options - remove everything

The reset process takes less than an hour to complete.

Reset vs. Clean install

A clean install using the Windows 10/11 USB setup disk or mounted ISO also offers to preserve your files and apps. The following options are provided;

  • Keep personal files and apps: This option keeps everything — your files, your user accounts, installed programs, data, registry settings, along with all associated data. You lose nothing with that option.
  • Keep personal files only: Your personal files and settings are retained, but the installed apps are removed.
  • Nothing: Wipes out everything (including your personal data and installed apps) and installs Windows cleanly.

clean installation vs. reset this pc in windows 10

So, what’s the difference between Clean install and Reset?

Most of the time, resetting Windows 10 is preferred to clean install. It’s because, unlike clean installing Windows manually, you don’t have to use a USB setup disk or go through the Windows Welcome screens again and reconfigure all the initial settings. Also, with the reset option, your user accounts and those settings are preserved. You can sign in with the same account and password, and all of your documents and data are preserved in the same locations they were before.

You may also want to read this interesting Reddit thread Clean Wipe Install vs. “Reset this PC” – speed & space used. Mildly interesting factoids for some interesting observations by Windows 10 users.

Other Recovery Options in Windows 10 and 11

Other than the Reset this PC feature, there are many recovery/reset methods in Windows 10 and 11. Each method is intended for a different scenario.

  • System Restore: You can roll back Windows using the System Restore feature online or offline. System Restore comes in handy if your PC isn’t working well after installing an application or driver or changing some critical registry settings.
  • Uninstall updates: If your PC isn’t working well after installing an update, you can uninstall the update via Settings → Update & Security → Windows Update → View your update history → Uninstall updates. If Windows doesn’t boot after installing a Windows Update, you can uninstall the update offline via Windows RE.
  • Clean install Windows: If Windows doesn’t start, you haven’t created a recovery drive, and resetting your PC didn’t work, then a clean install is your best option.
  • Recover your PC: If your PC doesn’t start and you’ve created a Recovery drive (with system files) earlier, you can use it to recover your PC.
  • Go back to the previous version of Windows: If you’ve upgraded to Windows 10/11 or upgraded the version of Windows 10/11 in the last 10 days, you can go back to the previous Windows version. Open Settings → Update & Security → Recovery → Go back to the previous… → Get Started.  This feature works if you haven’t cleared the Previous Windows installation files using Disk Cleanup or Storage Settings.
  • Repair using DISM & SFC: If the Windows component store or core system files are corrupt, you can use the built-in DISM and SFC utilities to repair Windows without having to reinstall.

Which one of the recovery or reset options did you use? Let us know your comments below.

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Ramesh Srinivasan is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a consecutive ten-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award in the Windows Shell/Desktop Experience category, from 2003 to 2012. He loves to troubleshoot and write about Windows. Ramesh founded in 2005.

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