How to reset Windows 10 without losing your files

If Windows 10 breaks and nothing seems to work well anymore, you might be tempted to contemplate reinstalling it from scratch. However, that would mean that you must go through a rather elaborate process to save your files and then to reinstall Windows 10. Fortunately, you do not have to do so, because Windows 10 gives you the option to reset it to its initial state and keep your personal files in the process. The advantage is that it is a lot faster than formatting your system partition and installing Windows 10 from scratch. Resetting can also improve the performance of your Windows 10. Here is how to restore Windows 10 to its initial state and keep your files, using the Reset feature:

Why would you want to reset your Windows 10 PC?

You have done all the troubleshooting you could think of, but there are still problems with your Windows 10 PC. If you have no other ideas on how to make it behave and repair the issues that are bothering you, resetting Windows 10 could be the answer.

Another reason is the performance of your Windows 10 device. If Windows 10 is moving slower than when you started working with it, maybe there is too much rubbish accumulated on it, faulty drivers, and so on. Sometimes the only way to clean up the mess is to do a reset.

Before going ahead, there are a few things you should be aware of:

  • Resetting your Windows 10 PC means that all the system files are deleted and then restored to their originals.
  • All your desktop applications are removed from your PC, so you have to reinstall and reconfigure each of them after the reset process is done.
  • You can keep your personal files, a.k.a. not lose them during the process. By personal files, we refer only to the files stored in your user folders: Desktop, Downloads, Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. Files stored on other disk partitions than the "C:" drive are left intact too. Documents stored inside the applications are lost.

If you are OK with all of the above, there are two ways to initiate the reset of your Windows 10. The first method uses the Settings app. The second method launches the reset process from the sign-in screen. This second method may be useful if you have trouble signing into Windows.

If your Windows 10 installation is severely damaged and you cannot even get to the sign-in screen, you may want to consider a couple of other options:

How to reset Windows 10 and keep your personal files in Windows 10 from the Settings app

The first thing you'll have to do is open the Settings app. A fast way to do that is to click or tap on its icon from the Start Menu.

Open Settings from the Start Menu in Windows 10

In the Settings app, open the Update & security category.

Open Update & Security in Settings

On the left side of the window, click or tap the Recovery section. On the right side of the Settings window, Windows 10 displays a section called Reset this PC which tells you that "If your PC isn't running well, resetting it might help. This lets you choose to keep your files or remove them, and then reinstalls Windows". It is what we were looking for. Click or tap the Get started button.

Get started with the reset process in Windows 10

Windows 10 asks you whether you want to keep your personal files or remove everything on the PC.

Because you want to keep your personal files, you should choose "Keep my files (Removes apps and settings, but keeps your personal files)."

Choose Keep my files when resetting your PC

Then, your PC needs a few moments to get everything ready.

Getting things ready for resetting your PC

Windows 10 displays a screen with the apps that are going to be wiped by the reset process, and therefore you need to reinstall them if you want to continue using them after the reset. Press Next when you are done recording the list of apps that you want to reinstall.

Listing the apps removed by the reset process

When it is ready, your Windows 10 PC lets you know about it. If you are still sure that you want to reset it, click or tap the Reset button once more. However, take note that this is the last moment in which you can change your mind and cancel the reset.

Ready to reset this PC

Windows 10 needs another minute or two to prepare things. When it is done, it automatically reboots your PC.

Resetting this PC

Grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea and wait for your Windows 10 PC to reset itself. Depending on the power of your computer's hardware and speed, this step might take a while, meaning many minutes.

Progress on resetting this PC

After a while, Windows 10 begins to reinstall itself.

Installing Windows 10 as part of resetting your PC

When the installation is done, you can log in with your user account.

How to reset Windows 10 and keep your personal files in Windows 10 from the Login screen

This method is especially useful when you have trouble signing in to your Windows account. Restart your PC to get to the sign-in screen, then press and hold down the Shift key while you select the Power icon and then Restart in the lower-right hand corner of the screen.

Restart your PC from the sign-in screen

After your computer restarts, select Troubleshoot.

Choose Troubleshoot to reset your PC

In the next screen choose Reset this PC.

Choose Reset this PC from the Troubleshoot screen

Because you want to keep your personal files, you should choose the "Keep my files (Removes apps and settings, but keeps your personal files)" option.

Choose Keep my files on the Reset this PC screen

Because you are not signed in, you need to authenticate to Windows 10 before continuing the reset process. Windows 10 displays the list of users defined in your system. Select your user and sign in.

Choose your user to validate the request for reset

Then, your PC needs a few moments to get everything ready. When it is ready, your Windows 10 PC lets you know about it. If you are still sure that you want to reset it, click or tap the Reset button. However, take note that this is the last moment in which you can change your mind and cancel the reset.

Start the resetting process

Wait for a few minutes for your Windows 10 PC to reset itself. Depending on the power of your computer's hardware and speed, this step might take a while.

Progress on resetting this PC

After a while, Windows 10 begins to reinstall itself.

Installing Windows 10 as part of resetting your PC

When the installation is done, you can log in with your user account.

How to get the list of apps removed by the reset process

When you start the reset process from the Settings app, before starting the reset, Windows 10 gives you the list of apps that are going to be removed. If you do not save the list or if you start the reset from the sign-in screen, you can find the list saved in an HTML file on your desktop called "Removed apps." Open the file and you can see the list of removed apps and decide which ones you want to reinstall.

The Removed apps file produced by the reset of Windows 10

Have you reset your Windows 10?

Although resetting Windows 10 takes a while, doing it might help you resolve any issues you were fighting with on your PC or device. You have to reinstall all your applications and drivers, but at least you don't lose your personal files. Have you used this feature from Windows 10? Do you find it useful, or do you prefer clean installs no matter what? Let us know in a comment below.