How to Remove Malware from My Computer?

Removing malware from your computer can be either straightforward or complicated, depending on what you need to know.

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Every device you use is under attack. Malware is no longer just a prank that slows down your computer; it’s big business. Modern malware is in the realm of organized crime, from ransomware hijacking your files to keyloggers and Trojans designed to capture your online banking credentials and steal your funds.

The best way to deal with malware is to prevent it from taking root in the first place, but the next best thing is to remove it once you discover it. Whether you’re running Windows 11 or Windows 10, here’s what you can do to regain control of your computer.

How do you know if you have malware?

In some ways, removing malware is the easiest part. Knowing you have it is often the harder part. Most malware tries to hide and avoid detection to carry out its dirty work.

If your computer’s antivirus program finds malware, it will pop up and alert you. Even if you haven’t installed one of our favorite antivirus tools, modern Windows PCs come with built-in antivirus software called “Windows Security.

If you see an alert about malware, chances are your chosen antivirus software has already removed it. The antivirus software you install always runs scans in the background and will remove known bad files before they can run.

Want to check what malware Windows Security has found? Start the Windows Security app from the “Start” menu, then select “Protection history” from the sidebar. You’ll see information about threats that have been recently discovered and blocked.

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If you have installed additional antivirus software, open the antivirus program of your choice and look for information about detected threats.

Warning: If you see a message claiming there is malware on a webpage, it is fake. The internet is full of deceptive ads trying to trick you into downloading unwanted software—you might end up with malware just by clicking on the ad! Be sure to only look for and download antivirus programs from trusted sources, such as Global PC’s Best Antivirus Software Guide.

If your computer is slow or you see strange processes running in Task Manager, it could be a sign of malware. But all computers slow down sometimes—Windows itself does a lot of background work, like updates—and there are many oddly named processes from apps you’ve installed (and Windows itself!).

If you’re concerned you might have malware, you should run a malware scan. With Windows Security, all Windows PCs have antivirus built-in, but no antivirus program is perfect. If you only have Windows Security and you’re worried, you should run a scan with another antivirus program to get a second opinion.

Using antivirus software to scan for malware (and fix it)

To scan for malware without installing anything extra, you can start the “Windows Security” app from the “Start” menu, click on “Virus & threat protection,” and then run a manual scan. (Windows Security is included in both Windows 10 and Windows 11.) If Windows Security finds any malware, it will remove it.

By default, Windows Security performs a quick scan—you may need to click on “Scan options” and choose “Full scan” for a longer, more thorough scan.

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It’s worth a try, but if you haven’t installed anything else, it’s already running in the background—so you might want to run another antivirus tool. Norton 360 Deluxe is our top pick for antivirus software, and Norton also offers a free trial version, so you can scan for malware and remove it without any commitments.

Want something else? Avast One is our runner-up choice, and Avast offers a decent free antivirus tool. I’ve also been a fan of Malwarebytes—you can use the free version of Malwarebytes to perform scans and remove junk, but you’ll need to pay for Malwarebytes Premium to get automatic background scanning and removal capabilities.

Using bootable antivirus software to remove Rootkits, etc.

If these tools can’t find and remove anything, I suggest using bootable antivirus tools that run outside of Windows. These may be able to find cunning rootkits that start with Windows and hide themselves.

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Through Windows Security built into Windows itself, you can run “Microsoft Defender Offline Scan,” which may be helpful. Simply start Windows Security from the “Start” menu, choose “Virus & threat protection,” click “Scan options,” and then select “Microsoft Defender Offline Scan.” Then, click “Scan now” — your computer will restart and run the scan without loading the regular Windows desktop.

Third-party antivirus tools like Norton and Avast offer their own bootable antivirus tools. You can create a bootable USB or DVD drive on another computer and then use it to scan and remove malware from the infected computer. Learn more about the free Norton Bootable Recovery Tool or Avast Antivirus Rescue Disk on each company’s website. These official pages will guide you through all the information you need to know about creating and using these tools.

Key Option: Get a Fresh Windows System

A reliable way to obtain a new, clean, and uninfected Windows system is to reinstall Windows. Fortunately, on modern Windows 10 or Windows 11 computers, this is much easier than before: you don’t have to go through the old-fashioned “reinstall Windows” process. Simply use the “Reset this PC” feature.

Afterwards, you’ll need to reinstall programs. However, especially if you’re confident in quickly resetting up your computer, this is a great way to start fresh with a system you know is secure without worrying about scanning and removing malware.

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To reset your Windows 11 computer to its factory default settings, start the “Settings” app from the computer’s “Start” menu, select “System,” and then click on “Recovery.” Click the “Reset PC” button under the recovery options and then answer the questions you see.


On Windows 10, launch the “Settings” app, select “Update & Security,” and then click on “Recovery.” Click the “Get started” button under “Reset this PC.”

You can choose to keep or remove your personal files. Note that if you choose to keep personal files (rather than restoring from a known good backup from before the infection), some of these files may have been tampered with. For example, malware may have infected macros in Office documents. Considering this, it might be a good idea to run an antivirus scan on your files after you’ve started and run the new Windows system.


How to Avoid Malware in the Future

Alright, everything’s sorted out! Here are some quick tips to avoid annoying malware criminals trying to get into your computer:

  • Don’t ignore and bypass antivirus warnings – if your antivirus software warns you something might be dangerous, avoid running it instead of bypassing the warning.
  • Avoid sketchy software downloads, pirated software, and anything that looks off. When you install software on Windows, you’re essentially granting it access to your entire PC. Make sure you trust everything you install.
  • Be wary of low-quality ads trying to trick you into downloading malware – they often display messages like “Your computer is infected!” trying to lure you into downloading malicious content. Download and run software only from trusted sources.
  • Keep the software you install up-to-date with security updates. This becomes increasingly important as threats become more sophisticated. Fortunately, modern programs like Windows and web browsers update automatically – there’s no need to deliberately prevent these automatic updates.
  • Upgrade from old, outdated programs that no longer receive security updates. For example, Office 2013 might still work, but it no longer receives security updates. If you open a malicious Word document from the web, your PC could be at risk.

If you follow these security practices, your computer should be in good shape. Of course, there are plenty of other online threats affecting people on all devices, such as phishing, scam emails, and texts. Keep an eye on those too.

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