How to perform a factory reset on a Windows 11 desktop

There are several circumstances that can cause Windows professionals to perform a factory reset on one or more Windows 11 desktops or laptops.

By definition, a factory reset restores the target PC to the same condition it was in when it first left the factory. The action removes any settings, preferences, and other customizations that users have made after the device arrived. Any apps that users have installed will no longer be present.

A factory reset is a useful option when IT needs to revert a device to its original state, and as an IT administrator, you can easily do this in a Windows 11 environment.

Precautions to take before performing a factory reset

Not all devices are ready to undergo a factory reset. You must take into account some considerations before performing this action. Take an image-based backup before doing a factory reset on any Windows 11 PC, and make sure you have the necessary tools to restore that backup.

Consider backup tools, such as Macrium Reflect, which create bootable media known as rescue media, typically stored on a USB flash drive. If something goes wrong with the factory reset, you can boot from this media and then restore the PC to its pre-reset state.

Why perform a factory reset?

A factory reset is usually needed in two circumstances. The first scenario is when a PC will be decommissioned for sale or transferred to another user. Factory reset removes all changes since the PC left the factory, leaving it in a clean state for sale or transfer. Be sure to apply any pending OS updates to keep your PC up-to-date and secure. The reset rolls back to the date it left the factory, which may be one or more feature updates below current production levels.

The second scenario is when a PC exhibits noticeable performance, stability, or behavior issues. There’s little an update-in-place repair install can’t fix in Windows 11, but sometimes even that maneuver won’t restore a PC to normal operation. When that happens, a clean install or factory reset is the next potential step toward Windows recovery. Therefore, the factory reset can return the PC to its previous Windows state, possibly fixing any issues.

How to perform a factory reset on Windows 11

To start the factory reset process in Windows 11, click beginning > Settings > System > Recovery (Figure 1). Then select Reset PC.

You can also start the Reset PC operation from the login screen or by using a recovery drive or installation media to enter recovery mode during boot. Press the shift key while selecting Restart to boot into local recovery mode.

The 'Recovery' screen in Windows 11 system settings.
Figure 1. The option to reset the PC is found under ‘Recovery’ in the ‘System’ settings section.

From there, the screen will display two options (Figure 2). The option you choose depends on how you plan to use the PC after you restart it. If it is a last minute repair operation, it is easier to select save my files. If you are preparing for sale or delivery, choose Remove all.

The 'Choose an option' screen in the 'Reset this PC' process, showing options to 'Keep my files' or 'Delete everything'.
Figure 2. The reset options let you keep personal files or get rid of everything.

After clicking the desired option, you can choose how you want to reinstall Windows (Figure 3).

To choose cloud download will download the Windows installation file from the Windows servers in the cloud. This option is the safest if you think your local installation is corrupted or damaged.

To choose local reinstall will download the Windows setup file from the current Windows files on your PC. This option is faster but not immune to local problems. However, unless the local Windows drive is compromised, it should work. For best results, choose the cloud download.

The screen showing 'Cloud Download' and 'Local Reinstall' as options to reinstall Windows.
Figure 3. You can download the Windows installation image from the cloud or from your Windows drive.

After choosing any of the reinstall options, the screen will display Additional settings. To continue the process without any changes to the settings, click next.

If you want to make changes, click change settings. From there, you can wipe the drive completely by toggling Yes under Clean data? or download Windows from the cloud by toggling Nope under Download Windows? (Figure 4).

The 'Choose Settings' screen, which appears if you select 'Change Settings' in the previous step.
Figure 4. If you clicked ‘Change Settings’ in the previous step, you can review the options here.

Once you confirm your choices, a final confirmation screen will appear. After selecting Restart, the process will begin (Figure 5). This is your last chance to cancel the reset. If you allow this step to continue and do not click Cancel at any time, you can no longer reverse the reset process. You’ll need to let it complete and then restore a backup to get back to where you started.

The 'Preparing to Reboot' screen, which shows how ready the PC is to reboot and provides the option to cancel.
Figure 5. The reboot process does some preparatory work before rebooting the PC.

Finally, the PC reboots and runs the Windows installation which prompts the chosen reboot operation.

The installer will run through a series of prompts to complete the installation once the operating system is installed. These include prompts for country or region, language, keyboard layout, and privacy settings. Signing in to a Microsoft account completes the process. After the out-of-the-box experience is over, your Windows 11 desktop will be in the same state as when it left the factory. If you plan to sell or give the PC to someone else, it is ready to go. If you plan to return it to its original user, there is still a lot of work to be done to restore user preferences and customizations.

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