How to reset Windows 11 without losing your files

It seems that whatever we do, our Windows 11 computers break down at some point. Whether it’s because of broken drivers, corrupt system files, or malfunctioning apps, there comes a time when Windows 11 starts to slow down or throw undecipherable errors. That’s when you probably think the only solution is to make a clean install of the operating system. What if we told you that you don’t necessarily need to take such radical actions? Instead, you could start fresh by resetting Windows 11. Furthermore, that would also leave your personal files untouched. No wiping of all your drives either. Only a reset of Windows 11 and some apps that need to be reinstalled. Did we manage to make you curious? Here’s how to reset Windows 11 without losing your files:

Should you reset Windows 11?

There are a couple of situations in which you should reset Windows 11. Let’s walk through them:

  • Your Windows 11 PC is having problems running normally, and you suspect that something’s amiss with some possible corrupted system files, broken drivers, or malfunctioning apps. In that case, it’s a good idea to Reset your PC in Windows 11, as that could repair the issues you’re encountering.
  • Windows 11 or some of your favorite apps are running very, very slow. Resetting your PC can make it faster in this case. Restoring the original system files and drivers might be the best thing you can do to clean your computer from unneeded apps or services that are currently running in the background, bad drivers, etc.

Still, there are other things you should also take into consideration before you decide to reset Windows 11:

  • If you use Reset this PC on Windows 11, drivers are removed. During the process, all system files and drivers revert to their original versions.
  • Reset this PC may wipe all drives if you choose the wrong settings for it. Although, by default, resetting Windows 11 doesn’t automatically wipe all drives, when you configure the reset, there is an option you can use to remove everything from all your drives. Be careful NOT to use it!
  • You will lose some of your apps when you reset Windows 11. However, you get a list of them at the end of the process, so you can reinstall every one of them if that’s what you want. Read the last section of this guide to see where to find the list of removed apps.
  • Reset this PC doesn’t delete your personal files unless you want it. When you decide to reset Windows 11, you can choose to keep your personal files, and this is also the default setting for it. Wondering what Microsoft understands by personal files on Windows 11? They are the files saved stored inside user folders such as Desktop, Downloads, Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. The files that are stored on drives other than C: are also unaffected by the reset. Still, if you have documents found inside apps, those can be lost.
  • Resetting your Windows 11 PC is not a solution for getting rid of viruses. If we’re talking about “light” viruses that weren’t so dangerous to begin with, they might be removed. However, in general, more nasty malware, such as rootkits or ransomware, doesn’t go away with a simple Windows 11 reset. Also, if there are viruses on your other drives or in your OneDrive, even if you reset Windows 11, when it’s done, they’ll probably instantly infect your computer again. Our recommendation when you’re dealing with malware is to clean install Windows 11 instead of just resetting it.

In this guide, we’re showing you two ways to start the Windows 11 reset process. First, we walk you through the steps of resetting Windows 11 from the Settings app. Then, we show you how to do the same from the Windows 11 sign-in screen - in the second method. If your Windows 11 is so badly broken that you can’t get to the sign-in screen, you may also want to try booting into Safe Mode.

1. Reset Windows 11 but keep personal files (from the Settings app)

Start by opening Settings: quick ways to do it are by pressing Windows + I on your keyboard or clicking/tapping on its shortcut from the Start Menu. In Settings, select System on the left sidebar and click or tap on Recovery on the right.

Go to System > Recovery in Windows 11's Settings

Find the Reset this PC section from the Recovery options list, and click or tap on the Reset PC button.

Choose Reset PC in Recovery options

Then, Windows 11 asks you to Choose an option: Keep my files or Remove everything.

Select the Keep my files option, as that’s the one that “Removes apps and settings, but keeps your personal files.”

Choose Keep my files when resetting your PC

Next, you’re asked to choose “How would you like to reinstall Windows?”. There are two options: Cloud download and Local reinstall. Choosing Cloud download means that Windows 11 will download its original files from Microsoft and then reinstall. The Local reinstall doesn’t download anything, using instead the compressed original Windows 11 files that are already stored on your PC, locally. Select the option you prefer by clicking or tapping on it.

Select Cloud download or Local reinstall of Windows 11

Then, the Reset this PC window shows you the Additional settings you’ve chosen earlier. If everything looks right, click or tap the Next button. Otherwise, click or tap on Change settings to select a different option.

Additional settings for the Windows 11 reset

Now, Windows 11 gives you a summary of what resetting will do, and also a link that you can follow to “View apps that will be removed” during the process. If you’re positive that you want to continue resetting Windows 11, click or tap the Reset button. Be careful, though, because you can’t go back after you press Reset.

Ready to reset this PC

Then, Windows 11 starts “Preparing to reset.” This should only take a minute or two and, when done, your PC automatically reboots.

Preparing to reset Windows 11

How long does resetting your PC take? Well, depending on how powerful your computer is, it might be anywhere from a couple of minutes to tens of minutes. So, have patience and wait.

Progress on resetting this PC

After the actual reset is done, Windows 11 will start installing itself again.

Windows 11 is being reinstalled

When everything’s done, Windows 11 is brand new again, and you can sign in using your user account.

2. Reset Windows 11 and keep personal files (from the Windows Recovery Environment)

You can also reset Windows 11 from the Windows Recovery Environment. The fastest way to get there, before actually reaching the Windows 11 desktop, is from the log-in screen. While on the sign-in screen, press and hold down the Shift key, click the Power button, and select Restart.

Restart your PC from the sign-in screen

This reboots your PC and enters the Windows Recovery Environment. There, select Troubleshoot.

Choose Troubleshoot to reset your PC

On the Troubleshoot screen, select Reset this PC.

Choose Reset this PC from the Troubleshoot screen

As you don’t want to lose your personal files, select “Keep my files (Removes apps and settings, but keeps your personal files)” on the Reset this PC screen.

Choose Keep my files on the Reset this PC screen

Next, you’re asked how you’d like to reinstall Windows. You can choose between using Cloud download or Local reinstall. Select whichever you prefer.

Choose between Cloud download or Local reinstall

Now everything’s ready. To go ahead with the Windows 11 reset, press the Reset button. By the way, once you do that, you can’t change your mind about resetting your PC anymore. 🙂

Start the resetting process for Windows 11

After a couple of moments (or minutes), Windows 11 begins to reset. Depending on how fast or slow your PC is, this step might take some time.

Resetting this PC

Then, after a while, Windows 11 starts to reinstall itself.

Reset this PC reinstalls Windows 11

When the Windows 11 reset is all done, you can log in with your user account.

How to see apps that were deleted during the Windows 11 reset

When you choose to reset Windows 11 while keeping your personal files at the same time, some of your apps might be deleted during the process. However, you can at least see what apps got trashed away in a list that’s automatically saved on your desktop as an HTML file called “Removed Apps.”

The Removed Apps file produced by the reset of Windows 11

If you open the HTML file, you get to see all the apps that were deleted while resetting your Windows 11 PC. You can use it to decide which ones to reinstall.

Why did you reset your Windows 11?

Resetting Windows 11 can take some time, but it can be of great help when something’s not right with your PC. Although you’ll have to install your favorite apps again, at least your personal files can be saved. Why did you choose to reset Windows 11? Was it because your PC was too slow, or was it because something was just broken, and you wanted a fresh start? Let us know in a comment below.

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