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How to reset Windows 11 without losing your apps, files, and settings

Yes, you can restore Windows to a cleaner state without losing everything. Here's how.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor

Windows 10 and 11 both offer a reset feature that you can run if you're bumping into technical troubles with the operating system. But there's a downside to performing a traditional reset. All your installed applications and customized settings are lost, forcing you to reinstall and set them up from scratch even if the reset fixes the problem. With Windows 11, however, there is another option.

Also: 5 ways to save your Windows 10 PC in 2025 - and most are free

You can now reinstall the operating system without losing your personal or customized content. With this procedure, your Windows system files, updates, and other components are reinstalled or repaired. If all goes well, this process should fix any problems in the OS while preserving your apps, files, and settings. Let's see how this works.

How to reset Windows 11 without losing everything

1. Go to Settings

Fire up your problematic Windows 11 PC and sign in with your account. Go to Settings, select System, and then click the option for Recovery. At the Recovery screen, click the "Reinstall now" button next to "Fix problems using Windows Update."

Go to Settings
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

2. Trigger the reset

A notice pops up explaining what this reset will do and confirming that your PC is connected to a network and plugged into a power source. At some point, you'll be prompted to reboot. Alternatively, check the box to automatically restart your PC 15 minutes after the installation. When ready, click OK.

Trigger the reset
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

3. Allow the installation to proceed

You should see the necessary updates and repair elements being downloaded and installed. When prompted, click the "Restart now" button or wait for your PC to reboot after 15 minutes.

Allow the installation to proceed
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

4. Sign back into Windows

During the reboot, the updates and other elements are applied. After your PC is back up, sign into Windows again. Try to duplicate the problem to see if it's gone away. If so, your next step is to check your installed applications, personal files, and customized settings to make sure everything is intact.

Sign back into Windows
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

5. If all else fails, run a regular reset

What do you do if this new type of reset doesn't fix your problem? Assuming you've already gone through other troubleshooting options, including the built-in Windows troubleshooters, then it may be time for a regular reset. Keep in mind that a conventional reset will keep your personal files but remove all your installed apps and customize settings. So you'll want to be sure you have the sources for any apps you'd need to reinstall.

To run a regular reset, head back to Settings, select System, and then choose Recovery. Click the "Reset PC" button next to "Reset this PC." You'll be asked if you want to keep your personal files or remove everything. You'll want to keep your files, especially if you haven't backed them up or synced them elsewhere. Follow the prompts to perform the system reset. After your PC is reset and rebooted, log back in and see if the problem is gone.

If all else fails, run a regular reset
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET
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