How to reinstall and update Windows 10 on-demand without losing data

You can now start fresh with a clean and up-to-date installation of Windows 10 — Here's how to use the refresh tool.

Reinstall and update Windows 10 using Windows Defender Security Center

You can now reinstall and update Windows 10 on-demand without losing data if your computer is running slow, crashes or is unable to update. Although Windows 10 already includes a feature to reset your PC to its factory default settings, you always needed to install updates separately, but now the Creators Update introduces a new way to refresh your device with the latest updates.

If you recall, with the Anniversary Update, Windows 10 also introduced a refresh feature to install a clean copy of the most recent version. However, it required to download a tool from the internet to complete the process, and you still needed to manually install the latest updates afterwards.

On the Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft is removing the refresh option from the Settings app, and it’s introducing a new refresh tool with the Windows Defender Security Center. This new feature allows you to reinstall a clean copy of Windows 10 with the latest update without needing to download extra software, while keeping your files, some settings and standard Windows apps.

In this guide, you’ll learn the steps to reinstall and update Windows 10 on-demand when your device isn’t working correctly and without losing data.

Important: If you’re running the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you can use this guide to reinstall the operating system without losing your data, and select the “Keep my files” option. Or you can use the previous “Refresh Windows” tool to do a clean installation while keeping your files.

Before refreshing Windows 10

Using this feature will remove any app that didn’t originally come standard with Windows 10, including Office and traditional desktop applications. Those apps and bloatware pre-installed by your PC manufacturer will also be removed, including support apps and antivirus.

If you need to reinstall any application, make sure you have the installation files, login and product key information for those app you’ll need again before proceeding.

Note that during the process, you may lose digital licenses, digital content, and other digital entitlements you’ve purchased.

How to reinstall and update Windows 10

Warning: While this process will keep your personal files and some Windows settings, it’s always recommended to make a full backup of your computer before proceeding.

To reinstall and update Windows 10 without losing data, do the following:

  1. Open Windows Defender Security Center.

  2. Click on Device performance & health.

  3. Under Fresh Start, click the link to access the feature.

    Devices Performance & Health
    Devices Performance & Health
  4. Click the Get started button.

    Fresh start settings on Windows Defender Security Center
    Fresh start settings on Windows Defender Security Center
  5. On the User Account Control prompt, click Yes.

  6. Click Next.

    Fresh start wizard on Windows 10 Creators Update
    Fresh start wizard on Windows 10 Creators Update
  7. Review the apps that will be removed, and click Next.

    Summary of apps to be removed during the reset process
    Summary of apps to be removed during the reset process
  8. If you get a warning message, click Next to continue.

    Windows 10 previous version warning
    Windows 10 previous version warning
  9. Click Start to begin the refresh process and to complete the task.

    Starting refresh process
    Starting refresh process

Once you completed the steps, the refresh process will take over, erase everything on your computer, install the most recent copy of Windows 10 with the latest updates.

Difference between refreshing and resetting Windows 10

Windows 10 also includes a “Reset your PC” feature, which is the same as then refresh tool, but with some differences.

The new refresh tool available on Windows Defender Security Center installs a clean copy and updates Windows 10 to the latest version during the process, and all your files, some settings, and some standards apps are kept.

On the other hand “Reset your PC” reinstalls the original image that came with your computer. During this reset process all the settings and apps that came originally with your device will reinstall again.

When to refresh or reset Windows 10

Typically you would use the new refresh tool with the Windows 10 Creators Update when your computer is running slow, crashes, or Windows Update isn’t working. You can also use this option when you want to start fresh with a clean copy of Windows 10 without bloatware, third-party tools, or custom settings included by your PC manufacturer.

You would use the reset tool in the Settings app also when your computer is running slow, crashes or Windows Update isn’t working, but you don’t mind all the settings and applications configured by your PC manufacturer reapplying again.

In addition, the reset tool includes an option to “remove everything and clean the drive”, which makes sure that when you get rid of your computer no one will be able to recover your files.

If you can’t access the tool with Windows Defender Security Center, it’s probably because you’re not running the Windows 10 Creators Update. If you’re an Insider, you can use this feature starting build 15031 and later.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows expert and the Editor-in-Chief who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He's also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 12 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows, software, and related technologies, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ & Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, and LinkedIn.