Windows 10 and 11 come with a factory reset feature. However, maybe you lost your password and want to reset your PC. How can Windows be reset without a password?
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Windows 10 and 11 reset options

Using the System > Recovery function in the Settings app is an easy way to reset your Windows 10 or 11 PC to a clean state.

Let's consider the first two Windows 10 and 11 reset options in the decision tree and how each affects your data:

  • Keep my files
  • Remove everything
Choosing between keeping the users files and removing everything

Choosing between keeping the users files and removing everything

A further decision following Keep my files determines whether preinstalled apps are restored.

Deciding whether you want to keep preinstalled apps and where to install Windows from

Deciding whether you want to keep preinstalled apps and where to install Windows from

The following matrix shows which data will be kept, depending on your choices:

Keep my files >
Change settings >
Preinstalled apps > Yes
Keep my files >
Change settings >
Preinstalled apps > No
Remove everything
Removes personal files after Windows 11 reinstall no no yes
Removes apps you have installed yes yes yes
Your changes are reset yes yes yes
Apps installed by the PC manufacturer are removed no yes yes

Remove everything > Change settings gives you two options:

  • Data erasure > On removes files and cleans the drive. If you're planning to donate, recycle, or sell your PC, use this option. It can take some time (Microsoft mentions up to a couple of hours), but it makes it harder for other people to recover files you've removed.
    Note: The data erasure functionality targets consumers and does not meet government and industry data erasure standards.
  • Data erasure > Off only removes files. This option is less secure.

Factory reset Windows 10 and 11

You can easily reset your PC to a default state using the Settings app when you are able to log on to Windows 10 or 11. However, what if you forgot your password?

One of the easiest ways to reset your PC without a password is by issuing the Restart command while pressing the SHIFT key. This allows us to invoke the same Reset operation as from the Windows Repair menu.

Hold shift and press Restart

Hold shift and press Restart

On the Choose an option screen, click Troubleshoot: Reset your PC or see advanced options.

Choose the troubleshoot option

Choose the troubleshoot option

Choose Reset this PC. This option is identical to the ones we have in the settings app.

Choose Reset this PC

Choose Reset this PC

On the Choose an option screen, you can select Keep my files or Remove Everything, just as in the Settings app.

Next, choose how you would like to reinstall Windows. You can choose to download the installation media from the cloud or use local installation media.

If you plan to recycle the PC, there is an option to Fully clean the drive, making it more difficult for anyone to pull data from the hard drive. Otherwise, you can choose the Just remove my files option, which is much quicker.

Fully clean drive option during the reset

Fully clean drive option during the reset

Finally, we come to the Reset step. Click the Reset button to begin the process using the selected options.

Ready to reset the PC using the configured options

Ready to reset the PC using the configured options

Since we chose the cloud download option, you will first see the Reset operation download the installation files.

Reset operation begins after download finishes

Reset operation begins after download finishes

After a short time, the PC should reboot into the mini setup wizard, which allows you to set up the machine as if it is new out-of-box experience (OOBE).

The PC boots into the mini setup wizard for setup

The PC boots into the mini setup wizard for setup

Wrapping up

Windows 10 and 11 both have an easy way to factory reset the operating system to a default state and include an option to keep your data.

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However, if you don't have a password to log on to Windows, you may need to use the Reset option found in the Repair menu during the boot process. You can easily access it with the SHIFT + restart combination. Then follow the screens to reset your PC with the options to save or delete data, depending on the desired result.

  1. Mslookitup 2 months ago

    Is there a way to prevent this? My 13 year old keeps resetting the computer and creating new accounts!

    • Nicolas 2 months ago

      Hi Mslookitup! If that’s your personal computer, I would suggest adding a login password (Start > Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options) as well as using a Lock screen with a password/PIN code whenever you are away (hit Windows logo key+L). You can personalize the Lock screen by going to Start > Settings > Personalization > Lock screen. Hope this helps!

      • Mslookitup 2 months ago

        Thanks for your time. That doesn’t prevent using SHIFT + Restart to factory reset the computer, which removes everything you suggest plus any parental control software.

      • Sbongakonke 1 week ago

        How can i connect to the internet,i need to do the cloud download and my pc is locked

  2. Hannah E 2 months ago

    This was so easy. Thank you so much. (Also, the photo guide showing to click restart while holding the shift key honestly was necessary, otherwise I would’ve assumed I was misunderstanding the directions!) I’ve been locked out of my laptop for 6 months, and finally you showed me how to get back in.

  3. Brennan 2 months ago

    My pc isn’t showing “ restart this pc”

    • Nadine 1 month ago

      I’m having the same issue 🙁

      • Dustin 1 month ago

        You have to actually restart and smash the shift key a thousand times.

  4. Bigga 2 months ago

    what is there to be done when the message ” Additional free space is needed on the drives where Windows is installed. Free up some space and try again.

  5. Trey 4 weeks ago

    Mine it’s showing a factory reset choice

  6. Brian Harvey 4 weeks ago

    When I trying to factory reset im password locked 2 more times then when it does try to start it says I need to free up space where windows is installed? What next

  7. Taylor 3 weeks ago

    Whenever i do this, it doesnt send me to the setup wizard. It just sends me to the lock screen. ( this computer was passed down to me by my brother and i dont know the password) so i cant even use the computer, help

  8. Lori 2 weeks ago

    I get all the way through to reset & then it asks me for admin password again!

    • Rob 1 week ago

      That’s what happens to me too. These people obviously have the password turned off, as every time I try repair, cmd or anything else i get prompted for a password. They need to tell us how we can actually do this without a password. I changed my password on Microsoft on my iPhone and still it wont accept the password even though I can log into my account with that password on my iPhone, iPad, Chromebook, and everywhere else EXCEPT WINDOWS.

  9. Ela 1 week ago

    My windows recovery option is missing and im stuck in sign in screen after i linked my laptop to my microsoft account, how do i fix this problem? Thanks for the reply, please help 🙏🙏🙏

    • Robert Mclean 1 week ago

      I ended up using windows media creation tool to make a bootable usb and reloaded windows. I lost some files but got most of the stuff stored in the cloud back. Photos etc. At least I have got a working laptop again. I borrowed my brother in laws laptop to make the USB drive. You need a USB stick with at least 8GB of memory.

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