How to reset Windows 10 without losing your files

If Windows 10 breaks and nothing seems to work well anymore, you might contemplate reinstalling it from scratch. However, that would mean that you must go through a rather elaborate process in order to save your files and reinstall Windows 10. Fortunately, you do not have to do so, because Windows 10 gives you the option to reset itself 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 PC. Here is how to restore Windows 10 to its initial state and keep your files, using the Reset feature:

Quick Steps

How to reset Windows 10 and keep your personal files:
  1. The first thing you must do is open the Settings app. A fast way to do that is to press Windows + I on your keyboard.
  2. In the Settings app, open the Update & security category.
  3. On the left side of the window, click or tap the Recovery section.
  4. On the right side of the Settings window, Windows 10 displays a section called Reset this PC. Click or tap the Get started button.
  5. Since you want to keep your personal files, choose “Keep my files (Removes apps and settings, but keeps your personal files).”
  6. Then, Windows 10 asks you “How would you like to reinstall Windows?” Choose the option you prefer by clicking or tapping on it.
  7. Once you’ve chosen how to reinstall Windows 10, you get to the Additional settings step. If you’re OK with your earlier choice, press Next.
  8. If you are sure that you want to reset Windows 10, press the Reset button. Note that this is the last moment when you can change your mind and cancel the reset! Windows 10 needs another minute or two to prepare things. When it is done, it automatically reboots your PC.

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. Is it good to Reset your PC in Windows 10? If you have no other ideas on how to make it behave and repair the issues bothering you, then yes, resetting Windows 10 could be the answer.

Will resetting my PC make it faster? Another reason is the performance of your Windows 10 device. If Windows 10 is moving slower than when you started working with it, there may be too many apps or services running in the background, some faulty drivers, and so on. Sometimes the only way to clean up the mess is to do a reset.

So what happens if you choose to Reset this PC in Windows 10? Before going ahead, there are a few questions that you should know the answers for:

  • Does Windows 10 Reset this PC remove drivers? Yes: Resetting your Windows 10 PC means that all the system files and drivers are deleted and then restored to their originals.
  • Does Reset this PC wipe all drives? The answer is No, not by default. Still, during the reset process, you can also choose to delete everything from all your drives if you want that.
  • Do I lose my apps if I reset Windows 10? Unfortunately, all your desktop applications are removed from your PC, so you have to reinstall and reconfigure each one after the reset process is done.
  • Does Reset this PC delete my personal files? You can keep your personal files, you won’t lose them during the process. What are personal files on Windows 10? These are the files stored in your user folders: Desktop, Downloads, Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. Files stored on other drive partitions than the “C:” drive are left intact too. However, documents stored inside the applications are lost.
  • Will resetting my PC remove viruses? It depends. Usually, it does if the viruses on your computer are not really nasty. But, if we’re talking about special kinds of malware such as rootkits, resetting won’t help unless you also choose to lose your personal files and wipe all the drives. Otherwise, viruses could also be on your other drives, partitions, or even in your OneDrive cloud space, and as soon as Windows 10 is reset, they will infect it again, probably almost instantly. When it comes to malware, our recommendation is to do a clean install of Windows 10, not just a reset.

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:

1. How to reset Windows 10 and keep your personal files (using the Settings app)

The first thing you must do is open the Settings app. A fast way to do that is to click or tap on its button from the Start Menu or to simultaneously press Windows + I on your keyboard.

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”. That’s what we’re 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.

Since you want to keep your personal files, choose “Keep my files (Removes apps and settings, but keeps your personal files).”

Choose Keep my files when resetting your PC

Then, Windows 10 asks you “How would you like to reinstall Windows?”:

  • Cloud download - downloads Windows 10 from Microsoft’s servers and then reinstalls it
  • Local reinstall - uses the compressed original Windows 10 files that are already stored locally, on your computer

Choose the option you prefer by clicking or tapping on it.

Select Cloud download or Local reinstall of Windows 11

Once you’ve chosen how to reinstall Windows 10, you get to the Additional settings step. If you’re OK with your earlier choice, press Next. If you’d like to change it, click or tap on Change settings and make another selection.

Additional settings for the Windows 10 reset

Then, Windows 10 lets you know that it’s ready to start the reset process. Before you continue, you might want to check the list of apps that will be deleted from your PC - you can do that by clicking/tapping on “View apps that will be removed.” Then, if you are sure that you want to reset Windows 10, press the Reset button. Note that this is the last moment when 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.

Preparing to reset Windows 10

Grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea and wait for your Windows 10 PC to reset itself. How long does resetting a PC take? Depending on the power of your computer’s hardware, it could take a while, meaning many (tens of) 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.

2. How to reset Windows 10 and keep your personal files (using the Windows Recovery Environment)

You can also reset Windows 11 from the Windows Recovery Environment before you get to your desktop even. On Windows 11’s sign-in screen, press and hold down the Shift key while selecting the Power icon, and then press 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

On the next screen, choose Reset this PC.

Choose Reset this PC from the Troubleshoot screen

Since you want to keep your personal files, 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 asks you whether you want to reinstall Windows 10 using the Cloud download or Local reinstall method. Choose the one you prefer by clicking or tapping on it.

Choose between Cloud download or Local reinstall

Then, Windows needs a few moments to get everything ready. When it is done, your Windows 10 PC lets you know. 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 when 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, this step might take a while.

Resetting this PC

After a while, Windows 10 begins to reinstall itself.

Reset this PC reinstalls Windows 10

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 begin the reset process from the Settings app, before starting the reset, Windows 10 lets you see the list of apps that are going to be removed. If you don’t save the list beforehand or if you begin the reset from the sign-in screen, you can still find the list after the process is complete. It is saved on your desktop as an HTML file called “Removed Apps.”

The Removed Apps file produced by the reset of Windows 10

Opening the HTML file gives you the list of apps removed while resetting your PC. You can now decide which ones you need back and reinstall them, one by one.

Apps removed while resetting your PC

That’s it!

Did you reset your Windows 10?

Although resetting Windows 10 takes a while, doing it might help you resolve any issues you have with 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.

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