Perform clean install of Windows 10 (six ways)

Do you need to reinstall or set up Windows 10 on a new PC? Check out these six different ways to complete the task.

Windows 10 clean install
Windows 10 clean install
  • To clean install Windows 10, boot PC with a USB bootable flash drive, continue with on-screen directions, skip activation, and select the “Custom” option. Then select the installation drive, click “Next,” and finish the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).
  • Also, you can do a clean installation of Windows 10 with the Media Creation Tool, Reset this PC feature, Advanced startup, or ISO file.

A clean install of Windows 10 is the only option for setting up a new computer and the recommended process for upgrading to the latest operating system version. This method allows you to erase the hard drive and start with a fresh copy of Windows 10 without custom settings, drivers, apps, or files that may interfere with the upgrade process.

Personally, I use a clean installation after having the same setup for a long time (usually a year) since it can also help to fix performance issues, problems shutting down and starting up, memory, and apps. Also, this process is the best choice to upgrade from an older version (such as Windows 7 or 8.1). You can also use this option to debloat the system that may have come preinstalled with the manufacturer’s image on a new computer.

Microsoft offers several ways to perform a clean install of Windows 10, including using a USB flash drive to set up the installation on an SSD (Solid-State Drive). You can use the Media Creation Tool to do a fresh install on a device already running Windows 10. It’s also possible to use the “Reset this PC” feature to quickly wipe out the hard drive and reinstall the operating system without additional tools. Or, if the computer does not start, you can use the Advanced startup options or mount the ISO file to File Explorer to complete a clean install.

In this guide, I’ll teach you the different ways to perform a clean installation of Windows 10 on your computer, whether you plan to reinstall the same version, upgrade to a later release, including version 22H2 or 21H2, or set up a new custom build PC or after replacing the hard drive on your device. (The process is similar for older versions, such as 21H1, 20H2, 1909, 1903, 1809, 1803, 1709, and others.)

Important: This process will erase everything on your computer. It’s recommended to make a full backup of your computer before proceeding. You’ve been warned.

Clean install Windows 10 from USB

The best way to complete a fresh installation of Windows 10 is to use a USB flash drive, which you must first create using the Media Creation Tool, Command Prompt, or third-party tools like Rufus. Also, you must ensure the computer can start from USB, which means you may need to adjust the BIOS or UEFI settings. However, since most devices have different settings, you must check your manufacturer support website for more specific details.

To clean install Windows 10 from USB, use these steps:

  1. Start the PC with the Windows 10 USB flash drive.

  2. Press any key to continue.

  3. Click the Next button.

    Windows setup

  4. Click the Install now button.

    Windows 10 install option

  5. Click the “I don’t have a product key” option if you are doing a reinstallation. If Windows 10 was already activated after the installation, reactivation would happen automatically.

    Skip license key on Windows 10 setup

  6. Select the edition of “Windows 10” that your license key activates (if applicable).

    Select edition of Windows 10

  7. Check the “I accept the license terms” option.

  8. Click the Next button.

  9. Select the “Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)” option to perform a clean install.

    Windows 10 custom install option

  10. Select each partition in the hard drive you want to install Windows 10 and click the Delete button. (Typically, the “Drive 0” is the drive that contains all the installation files.)

    Warning: Deleting a partition also deletes all data on the drive. Also, it is not necessary to delete the partitions from a secondary hard drive.
  11. Select the hard drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space) to install Windows 10.

    Select SSD to install Windows 10

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  29. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your needs by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  30. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  31. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  32. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  33. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

  34. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  35. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

    OOBE disable Cortana

Once you complete the steps, Windows 10 will apply the settings and finish the setup.

Clean install Windows 10 from Media Creation Tool

You can also perform a clean installation using the Media Creation Tool with the option to keep nothing. This option is available for devices already using Windows 10, Windows 8.1, or Windows 7, and it provides an option to roll back to the previous installation.

To clean install Windows 10 with the Media Creation Tool, use these steps:

  1. Open Microsoft support website.

  2. Under the “Create Windows 10 installation media” section, click the “Download tool now” button.

  3. Save the installer to the device.

  4. Double-click the MediaCreationToolXXXX.exe file to launch the tool.

  5. Click the Accept button.

  6. Select the “Upgrade this PC now” option.

    Media Creation Tool

  7. Click the Accept button again.

  8. Click the “Change what to keep” option.

    Media Creation Tools settings

  9. Select the Nothing option.

    Nothing option

  10. Click the Next button.

  11. Click the Install button.

    Media Creation Tool clean install

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  29. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your needs by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  30. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  31. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  32. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  33. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

  34. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  35. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

    OOBE disable Cortana

After you complete the steps, the setup will continue with the fresh installation of the operating system.

Clean install Windows 10 from Reset this PC (local)

Using the local image, you can also use the recovery settings to start fresh with a clean copy of Windows 10. However, unlike the USB, Media Creation Tool, and ISO file methods, you can only use this option to reinstall the same version of the operating system already on the computer. If you want to upgrade to a newer version, you will need to use one of the other alternative methods.

To clean install Windows 10 with the “Reset this PC” feature using the local image, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.

  2. Click on Update & Security.

  3. Click on Recovery.

  4. Under the “Reset this PC” section, click the Get started button.

    Windows 10 Reset this PC feature

  5. Click the “Remove everything” option to perform a fresh install of Windows 10.

    Erase options

  6. Click the “Local reinstall” option.

    Local reinstall option

  7. (Optional) Click the Change settings option. 

    Change reset settings

  8. Configure the reinstallation options:

    • Clean data: If this option is set to No (recommended), then the setup will only delete files, apps, and settings quickly. If the option is set to Yes, the setup will securely clean the drive before installing the operating system, but it will take longer.
    • Delete files from all drives: Only the installation drive will be erased if the option is set to No (recommended). Otherwise, if this option is set to Yes, all the drives on the device will be deleted.
    • Download Windows: If this option is set to No (recommended), the local image will be used for installation. If the option is set to Yes, the “Cloud download” option will be activated.
  9. Click the Confirm button.

    Select reset settings

  10. Click the Next button.

  11. Click the Reset button.

    Windows 10 clean install with Local reinstall option

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  29. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your needs by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  30. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  31. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  32. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  33. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

  34. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  35. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

    OOBE disable Cortana

Once you complete the steps, a clean installation will be performed using the local image. If this is a branded computer, the setup will restore all the original settings previously available with the device. This means manufacturer-specific settings, drivers, applications, and tools. If you don’t want to reinstall the custom image provided by the manufacturer, use the “Cloud Download” option (see steps below).

Clean install Windows 10 from Reset this PC (cloud)

Windows 10 also includes the “Cloud Download” option in the “Reset this PC” feature, which allows you to reset the device with a clean installation, removing apps, files, and settings like the local image option. However, the difference is that when you select this option, the setup will download a fresh installation image from the Microsoft server.

This option has been designed to reinstall Windows 10 when the recovery feature is not working with the local image or using a branded computer with a custom image. If you choose this option, the setup will download the same version already installed on the device, which means you cannot use this method to upgrade the computer to a newer version. Also, if the device has a custom image from the manufacturer, this option will replace it with the one from Microsoft with all the standard settings and without custom drivers or trial software and tools.

To reinstall Windows 10 with the “Reset this PC” using the “Cloud Download” option, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.

  2. Click on Update & Security.

  3. Click on Recovery.

  4. Under the “Reset this PC” section, click the Get started button.

    Windows 10 Reset this PC feature

  5. Click the “Remove everything” option.

    Erase options

  6. Click the “Cloud Download” option.

    Cloud download option

  7. (Optional) Click the Change settings option.

    Change settings for Cloud download

  8. Configure the reinstallation options:

    • Clean data: If this option is set to No (recommended), then the setup will only delete files, apps, and settings quickly. If the option is set to Yes, the setup will securely clean the drive before installing the operating system, but it will take longer.
    • Delete files from all drives: Only the installation drive will be erased if the option is set to No (recommended). Otherwise, if this option is set to Yes, all the drives on the device will be deleted.
    • Download Windows: If the option is set to Yes (recommended), the “Cloud download” option will be activated. If this option is set to No, then the local image will be used for installation.
  9. Click the Confirm button.

    Select cloud download settings

  10. Click the Next button.

  11. Click the Reset button.

    Windows 10 clean install with Cloud download

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  29. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your needs by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  30. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  31. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  32. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  33. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

  34. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  35. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

    OOBE disable Cortana

Once you complete the steps, the feature will take over and reset your device to the default settings by erasing and reinstalling a fresh copy of Windows 10 downloaded from the cloud.

In the past, Windows 10 also included the “Refresh Windows” tool to perform a reinstallation quickly with a fresh copy of the operating system with the latest update available at that time, but this feature is no longer available since the feature is identical to the “Reset this PC” feature using the cloud download option.

Clean install Windows 10 from WinRE

If the computer does not start correctly and you want to reinstall Windows 10 to resolve the problem, the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) includes an option to perform a clean installation using the local or cloud image.

Technically, these are the same options available through the “Reset this PC” settings. However, you can also access the feature through the “Advanced startup” option, making it ideal for performing a clean installation of Windows 10 when the computer has problems. Or when you cannot boot the system to access the Settings app. 

Again, you can only use this option to reinstall the same operating system version already installed on the computer. If you also want to upgrade to the latest version, use the Media Creation Tool, ISO file, or USB options.

To clean install Windows 10 from the Windows Recovery Environment, use these steps:

  1. Start device.

  2. Immediately after the Power-On Self-Test (POST), press the Power button again to shut down.

  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 twice, and in the third restart, the operating system should enter the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE).

    Quick note: Windows 10 has multiple ways to open the Advanced startup settings. You can use these other options if you cannot access the recovery environment.
  4. Click the Advanced options button.

    Advanced startup

  5. Click on Troubleshoot.

    Troubleshoot option

  6. Click on the “Reset this PC” option.

    Reset this PC option

  7. Select the “Remove everything” option.

    Remove everything option

  8. Click the Cloud download or Local reinstall option. Cloud download: Downloads a fresh image from the Microsoft servers and performs a fresh installation. Local reinstall: Uses the locally available image to install a clean copy of Windows 10.

    Advanced startup cloud download option

  9. Select the “Only the drive where Windows is installed” option. (The All drives option will delete the data on all drives. This option is usually recommended only when you want to decommission the device.)

    Delete drive data option

  10. Select the “Just remove my files or Full clean the drive” option.

    • Just remove my files: Deletes the drive contents quickly.
    • Full clean the drive: It also deletes everything on the drive but performs a secure erase that takes several hours—this option is suited when preparing to give away the device.

    Just remove files option

  11. Click the Reset button.

    Windows 10 clean install with advanced startup option

  12. Click the Next button.

  13. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  14. Click the Yes button.

  15. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  16. Click the Yes button.

  17. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  18. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  19. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  20. Click the Next button.

  21. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  22. Click the Next button.

  23. Confirm your account password.

  24. Click the Next button.

  25. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  26. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  27. Click the OK button.

  28. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  29. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your needs by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  30. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  31. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  32. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  33. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

  34. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  35. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

    OOBE disable Cortana

Once you complete the steps, the process will reset your computer to the default settings by erasing and reinstalling a clean copy of Windows 10. The completion time will depend on your computer hardware configuration and selected reset configuration.

Clean install Windows 10 from ISO file

If you only have a Windows 10 ISO file, a USB flash drive or disc is not required to continue the installation. You can always mount the ISO in File Explorer to launch a clean install or in-place upgrade on a device with the operating system already installed.

To clean install Windows 10 from an ISO file, use these steps:

  1. Download the Windows 10 ISO without using the Media Creation Tool.

  2. Right-click the ISO file and select the Mount option.

    File Explorer mount ISO

  3. Select the virtual drive from the left navigation pane.

  4. Double-click the Setup file to begin the Windows 10 installation.

    Setup launch from ISO

  5. (Optional) Click the “Change how Windows Setup downloads updates” option.

    Windows 10 setup update options

  6. Select the “Not right now” option.

    Disable updates during installation

  7. Click the Next button.

  8. Click the Accept button to agree to the terms.

  9. Click the “Change what to keep” option.

    Media Creation Tools settings

  10. Select the Nothing option.

    Nothing option

  11. Click the Next button.

  12. Click the Install button.

    Media Creation Tool clean install

  13. Click the Next button.

  14. Select your region setting after the installation on the first page of the out-of-the-box experience (OOBE).

    OOBE select region

  15. Click the Yes button.

  16. Select your keyboard layout setting.

    OOBE select keyboard layout

  17. Click the Yes button.

  18. Click the Skip button if you do not need to configure a second layout.

  19. The computer will automatically connect to the network using an Ethernet connection. If you have a wireless connection, you must set up the link manually (a security key may be required).

  20. Select the “Set up for personal use” option for Windows 10 Pro. (The “Home” edition does not have this option.)

    Set up PC for personal use

  21. Click the Next button.

  22. Confirm your Microsoft account email to create an account.

    OOBE create Windows 10 account

  23. Click the Next button.

  24. Confirm your account password.

  25. Click the Next button.

  26. Click the “Create a PIN” button.

  27. Create a new PIN password.

    OOBE create PIN for account

  28. Click the OK button.

  29. Click the Now now button to skip importing your browsing data from other browsers to Microsoft Edge.

    OOBE import browsing data settings

  30. Confirm the privacy settings that best suit your needs by turning on or off the toggle switch for each option.

  31. Click the Accept button.

    OOBE choose privacy settings

  32. (Optional) On the “Customize your device” page, select one or more ways you plan to use the device to allow the setup to suggest tools and services customization during this experience.

    OOBE customize device usage settings

  33. Click the Accept button to continue. Or click the Skip button to skip this part of the setup.

  34. Click the “No, thanks” option to skip linking your phone to your PC. (You can always do this from the Settings app.)

  35. Click the “No, thanks” button to refuse the PC Game Pass subscription offer.

  36. Click the “Not now” button to disable Cortana.

    OOBE disable Cortana

Once you complete the steps, the clean installation process will begin, like using the Media Creation Tools or USB flash drive to upgrade the system.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 15 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 21 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me. Email him at [email protected].