How to do a clean install of Windows 10

In this article, we’ll explain how to do a clean install of Windows 10 yourself. One fascinating fact in electronics is that resetting devices seems to solve a million problems.

Windows computers are no exception to this. There is nothing quite as satisfying as a clean Windows install.

We’ve all been there… what starts as a clean computer ends up representing a garbage dump after some time. The period of time may vary based on how organized you remain.

However, the outcome is inevitable – you will find yourself in this situation. A clean install is the best way to go from here.

Or maybe you are simply upgrading your system and want to install Windows on a new hard drive.

Windows defines our entire user experience for a computer. Tinkering with it (whether you want to install Windows or reinstall it) can seem like a daring task.

Despite popular belief, to clean install Windows is not magic. We’re here to demystify the process and to show you how even you (yes, you!) can install it yourself.

Table of Contents

  1. How to do a clean install of Windows 10
    1. Pre-requisites
    2. Clean installation of Windows 10
      1. Reinstall Windows – resetting the computer
      2. Clean installation – manual formatting and installation
  2. Wrap up

How to do a clean install of Windows 10

Pre-requisites

Performing a clean installation of Windows 10 (or any operating system) inherently means that you can lose your data. Therefore, it is essential to back up all of your important files.

We recommend using a different hard drive, external storage media, or cloud storage solutions. These methods include an external hard disk, a USB flash drive, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc.

Depending on your use case, the data you need to back up and the suggested solution can differ. Keep that in mind before the installation.

If you are a media content creator, please back up your photos and videos. If you are a gamer, copy your game saves and library (game installation won’t carry over).

If you are associated with academia or work for a corporation, involve the IT Help Desk too. It will also be prudent to back up the little things such as browser bookmarks and digital certificates.

In pretty much all use cases, the following directory remains relevant for backup:

“C: (or Windows partition) -> Users -> <Your user name>”

Clean installation of Windows 10

Reinstall Windows – resetting the computer

If you are already running a Windows installation on your computer, you can reset it.

Resetting the operating system means it’ll be just as if you did a clean install.

Here are the steps you can follow to reset your Windows:

  • Type “Settings” in the search bar beside the Start Menu button to launch the Settings app;
How to do a clean install of Windows 10

  • Inside the Settings app, select the “Update & Security link;

  • Inside the Update & Security settings, select the “Recovery” tab from the ribbon on the left side of the screen;

  • There, you will find the “Reset this PC” section. Click “Get Started“;
  • A new window will pop up on the screen. You will be asked if you want to keep your personal files or if you want to remove everything. For a clean install, We recommend removing everything. In both cases, you will lose your apps and settings;

  • When you proceed, you will be asked to wait. Remember: Good things come to those who wait;

  • You’ll be presented with additional settings for the clean install. If you want to change one of these, you can click on the “Change Settings” hyperlink in this window;

  • We recommend that you say “Yes” to the Clean data option for a clean install. You can also download Windows, which will get the latest Windows update;

  • When you confirm your selection, you will be taken to the old window. The text will change based on your preference. Select “Next“;

  • You will be given a summary of what you are about to do. Just hit “Reset” and relax!

  • Enjoy popcorn (or any other favorite snack) while the process completes; 😊

  • Great! You did it! It’s that easy to clean install Windows.

Clean installation – manual formatting and installation

This method of installation provides a more vanilla way to clean install Windows. You will need to create a bootable USB flash drive or an optical disc (such as a bootable DVD) with a fresh installation of Windows 10.

A flash drive is by far the most popular method. Please make sure the flash drive has a capacity of 8 GB or more.

  • Head to the Microsoft Windows 10 Download page using a web browser such as Microsoft Edge. Next, go to the Create Windows 10 Installation Media section. Finally, download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool;

  • Once the tool has been downloaded, launch it from your Downloads section or from the Download Manager;

  • Accept the license agreement;

  • Select the Create Installation Media option using the radio button to create Windows 10 bootable media. This is what you need to create a bootable flash drive;

  • For Language, Architecture, and Edition, you can select defaults or uncheck the button and modify it to match your needs;

  • Select the USB drive option on the following screen for creating a bootable USB flash drive to install Windows. You can also create an ISO file and burn the Windows 10 ISO onto an optical disc;
  • We won’t cover that method since computers’ optical drives are now reaching obsolescence. It’s rare for some to burn Windows 10 ISO to DVDs nowadays;

  • Select your USB drive (external drive or USB flash drive) from the next screen;
  • The tool will start to download Windows installation. The next screen will test your patience based on your internet connection speed;

  • Once the process is complete, hit “Finish“. Your flash drive is now ready. This is all you need to install Windows on your machine;

  • Now, head over to the Windows Settings app (a modern version of what previously used to be the Control Panel). An easy way is to type “Settings” into the search bar in the taskbar (besides the Start menu button). If you are a traditionalist and want to go through the Control Panel, it will redirect you to Settings;
How to do a clean install of Windows 10

  • Go to Update & Security section of the Settings app;

  • Go to the “Recovery” section of the Settings app;

  • Under the Advanced Startup section, press the “Restart Now” button;
  • Your computer will boot into Windows Recovery Environment. Select the “Use a Device” option and select your bootable installation media;
    Alternatively, restart the computer and access your Boot Menu through your manufacturer’s unique key combination and then select the flash drive;
  • Here is a list of standard key codes used by common manufacturers:
ManufacturerBoot Key
AcerF12
AsusEsc or F8
DellF12
HPEsc
LenovoF8, F10, F11 or F12
SamsungEsc or F12
SonyF10, F11 or Assist
  • On specific computers, you might see a screen where you are required to press a key to start the setup. This will launch the boot sequence that will enable you to install Windows;

  • Select your language, locale, and keyboard layout. Press “Next“;

  • Click Install Now” to install Windows. It might seem redundant at first, but not everyone boots up a Windows installation to install Windows. There is also a link below for people whose intent was not to install Windows;

  • You will be asked if you want to Upgrade or if you want a Custom installation (to do a clean install). Go with the second option (Custom/clean install). Upgrade when you have launched setup from a previous Windows version and do not seek a clean install;

  • If you have a valid Windows product key, you can enter it here. You can also select “I don’t have a product key” to proceed and then enter one later to activate Windows. If you have Windows with volume-licensing (through your work or school), you just have to go online after installation;

  • You can select any Windows 10 version on the following screen. Installation of all versions is pretty much the same for our purposes;

  • Accept the license agreement on the following page (after reading it, of course… 😊). Although this might seem petty, not accepting this will end your dreams of a clean install immediately. If the installation is corrupt and cannot locate this agreement, setup will stop installation here. For your sake, we hope your clean install is free from this issue;

  • The setup will move to drive partition selection and hard drive options. On the next screen, select the partition on which your existing operating system installation is present. To make it super-clean, you can also format all other partitions to perform a manual disk cleanup. The process will be slightly different if you are using a new hard drive;

  • You will be warned before you Format/wipe any partition. Press “Ok“;

  • If your hard drive is new, you’ll see Unallocated Space roughly equal to the size of your hard drive. Just click “New” and create some partitions. If you enter a size smaller than the size of the hard drive, you can create more than one partition. Alternatively, you can create a single partition equal to the hard drive size (not recommended) to install Windows;

  • Once you have created the partitions, you’ll be able to see them and some more. The smaller partitions are auto-generated as you create a partition to install Windows. These are system partitions used for recovery and for storing other system files. You can ignore them as you pick your partition to install Windows;

  • You’re ready for the installation now. Just pick one partition and press “Next” to install Windows;
  • The next screen will be a progress tracker labeled Installing Windows. We would recommend grabbing a cup of coffee as the installation process completes. The screenshot shows Getting files ready for installation, but the Windows 10 setup moves fast between this and other phases. Your clean install has started;

  • Once the Windows installer completes the installation process, the computer will reboot.  This time, it should boot into Windows. You will see a black screen with a dynamic circle of rotating dots. This is the Windows 10 loading animation;

  • Don’t worry if the animation continues to repeat for a while. After some time, you should also see the words Getting Ready on the screen along with the animation. At this point, you can even remove your installation media (USB flash drive or other) from the computer;

  • After a short while, the black screen should transform into a blue screen. Windows 10 continues to install in the background;
  • Now, the initial setup will start. You are done with the installation. You’re just setting up your new Windows 10 PC. Hooray!

  • After you have selected your region, you will be asked to pick a keyboard layout. Here, we’re going with the United States and the US for the latter;

  • For bi/multi-lingual folks out there – Windows got you covered. You can choose to install another keyboard layout right from the beginning of a fresh install. However, we’ll Skip this for now since we don’t want to install another keyboard layout;

  • Windows 10 installation will now take you to the Network Setup. In our case, our computer was wired and required no input. You might have to select a Wifi network and then enter a password.
  • Once that is done, it’ll (rightfully) thank you for your patience;
  • Now… everyone knows it isn’t really an excellent time to turn off your computer as you install Windows. Windows 10 installation is so kind to remind us of this;

  • Just a moment… again! Don’t give up yet. It will boot up;
  • The next screen will ask you your use case for the computer. We’ll select “Set up for personal use“;

  • By the next step, you’ll start getting exposed to the non-stop requests to log in to your Microsoft account. If you have a Microsoft account, go for it. We’ll demonstrate for the poor souls who don’t have one and must bear the pain of countless indirect warnings. They can opt for an Offline Account or create one by clicking “Create Account“;

  • Yes, Microsoft, we want the Limited Experience;

  • Enter the user name for the offline account;

  • Create a password. You’ll have to confirm it to make it you-proof;

  • Create security questions for when you lock yourself out of your account and need rescue;

  • Choose Privacy settings. There’s no one-size-fits-all. You can go with what suits you best – generally, the fewer data you give, the better your privacy. You can do this right from the start in your clean install;

  • You can tell Windows more about your use-case so that it can tailor your experience further;

  • You can choose to enable Cortana (Microsoft’s alternative to Siri or Google Assistant);

  • Now, you are also done with the initial setup and settings. The installation process is finally (and truly) complete. Say hi to your clean install… No look! It’s saying Hi to you! 😊

  • Oh no! Not again! Boot up, please. Yeah, right. We’ve been doing that for a while now…

  • Lo and behold! The famous Windows log-in screen that hides the equally famous Windows desktop and File Explorer behind it. Phew!

  • Log in using your Microsoft account or your offline account. And… voila! Whether you wanted to reinstall Windows or you wanted to clean install Windows on your new rig, you’re completely done;
  • You can never be too safe from the ever-evolving threats that are out there. So open the Settings app again, as shown in this tutorial, and head over to “Updates & Security“;
  • Suppose a Windows update is available; download and install it immediately. If not done already, don’t forget to remove your flash drive from the computer. You can keep it as a recovery drive for installing Windows later, format it for repurposing, or even toss it out the window. Hopefully, you won’t need to install Windows again in a long time;
  • If you’re feeling too confident after this display of raw computer literacy, head over to the Windows Insider Program. Here, you can sign up for experimental versions and new features of Windows as a tester. Now that you know how to tinker, why not take it to the next level? 😉

Beyond Windows installation, there is a lot more that you might need to install. Head over to Device Manager (you should know how to get there by now).

Check if your hardware is appearing correctly. Errors, if any, will appear as devices with incorrect names (devices shouldn’t appear with names such as Generic Graphics Adapter).

Another watch-out would be exclamation marks or unidentified devices which require correct driver installation.

You can search for appropriate drivers and allow Windows to install them. You might also need to install the latest version of DirectX.

Then, of course, you’ll have to install the applications you commonly use, such as your games and/or Microsoft Office.

You’d also want to install any non-standard fonts that you use. After this, you should install your favorite web browser.

You’d also want protection for your fresh & clean Windows, so don’t forget to install a good antivirus. Also, install any digital certificates you might have backed up.

Finally, install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app if required for personal or work purposes.

Wrap up

If we had a penny for every time we’ve had to do a clean install of Windows on our computer, we’d be rich right now. Using this article, you’ve learned how to do it in an easy way!

In addition, you can extend some of the methods taught here to download a Windows 11 ISO and install Windows 11.

You can use the same method to install Windows 10 using a flash drive, an optical medium, or even using an ISO file on a Virtual Machine.

Whatever the installation media, the process is fairly consistent and straightforward once you are inside the installation process.

Nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction of the time when you first boot into your clean install of Windows. You will feel this pride every time you boot into your clean install.

You can retain the ISO file for when you don’t have internet access. For example, you can use it to create bootable installation media offline using a third-party tool such as Rufus.

The article has also taught you not to forget all the ancillaries you need to install as you install a clean copy of Windows.

Now that you know how to clean install Windows on a machine, the possibilities are endless. Aside from other popular versions of Windows, you can also install other operating systems and become a real OS guru.

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