Remove viruses and malware on your Windows PC

Jozsef Bagota/

Whether you’ve seen a message saying a virus has been detected, or your computer just seems slow and unreliable, you should scan your PC for malware and remove any malware it finds. Here’s how to clean your PC from viruses and malware.

While many viruses and other types of malware are designed simply to cause chaos, more and more malware is being created by organized crime to steal credit card numbers, internet banking credentials and other sensitive data. The typical old-school viruses are no real problem. The problem now is ransomware and spyware, which requires new tools and new techniques.

Did your antivirus say it has detected a virus?

If you see a message from your antivirus that says a virus has been detected, that’s a good thing. Your antivirus has noticed a virus and probably removed it without asking you.

Warning: Make sure any pop-ups you see that warn you about a virus are legit. It is a common tactic for malicious websites to impersonate antivirus software. When in doubt, don’t trust your browser popups about malware and always check your antivirus’ security logs.

These types of messages do not mean that you have ever had a virus on your computer. You could have downloaded a file that contained a virus and your antivirus program removed the file before it could ever cause a problem. Whether a malicious file on an infected web page could have been spotted and dealt with before it caused problems.

In other words, a “virus detected” message that appears during normal use of your computer does not mean that the virus has actually done anything. If you see such a message, you are probably visiting an infected web page or downloading a malicious file. Try to avoid that in the future, but don’t worry too much.

RELATED: What’s the Best Antivirus for Windows 10? (Is Windows Defender good enough?)

You can also open your antivirus program and check the quarantine or virus detection logs. This will show you more information about which virus has been detected and what the antivirus has done with it. Of course, if you’re not sure, go ahead and run a scan – it won’t hurt.

Scan for malware, spyware, ransomware, adware and other threats

If your computer is behaving badly – whether it’s extremely slow, web pages act weird, or you see ads popping up in places you wouldn’t normally go, you probably have some kind of new malware on your computer. Spyware tracks everything you do or redirects your search and home pages to places you don’t want to go. Adware will infect your browser and even Windows, and ransomware will try to lock your PC.

Whatever the problem, our first step is always to download and run a scan with Malwarebytes, the best anti-malware tool in the world. It is not an ordinary antivirus product, it is designed to solve modern threats. It is the only product on the market that can easily clean up crapware and spyware.

Download, install and then run Malwarebytesand then start a scan of your PC. It will help you clean up your system.

You don’t need to buy a license to clean your PC, but if you don’t want this to happen again, you probably should as it will ensure you don’t get this problem again.

Scan for regular viruses

To check your computer for malware and remove any malware, you need an antivirus program. Windows 8, 10 and 11 include Microsoft Defender, Microsoft’s own antivirus program. Windows 7 doesn’t have a built-in antivirus, so you’ll probably need something else, such as: Avira

Microsoft Defender isn’t intrusive and generally excellent, but it’s not all you need. Our favorite antivirus solution is a combination of Microsoft Defender and Malwarebytes so you have full coverage.

To scan for regular viruses in Microsoft Defender, open it and start a new scan. It will go ahead and scan your system completely to see if there is anything it missed. And of course, Microsoft Defender also runs in the background by default.

The combination of Microsoft Defender and Malwarebytes should get rid of the vast majority of malware you may come across, and using them both should protect you going forward.

If Malwarebytes and Microsoft Defender Couldn’t Remove the Malware

RELATED: How to Use Safe Mode to Fix Your Windows PC (and When You Should)

Use safe mode for stubborn malware

If you have a very persistent malware infection, you may need to scan for malware from outside your normal Windows system. To do that, you have to boot Windows in safe mode, which prevents it from loading normal startup programs, including, hopefully, that pesky malware. Run a Microsoft Defender scan and a Malwarebytes scan from Safe Mode and it may have better luck getting rid of malware it normally can’t.

To boot into Safe Mode on Windows 8, 10, or 11, hold down the Shift key while clicking the “Restart” option, then navigate to Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Windows Startup Settings > Restart > Safe Mode . In Windows 7, press F8 while your computer boots up and you will see a menu of boot options that allows you to select “Safe Mode”.

Use a bootable antivirus program as a last resort

If that doesn’t work, you may need to step out of Windows completely and use a bootable antivirus program. This type of antivirus boots in a clean environment – completely outside of Windows – to find and remove stubborn malware that you may not be able to see or remove from within Windows itself.

Microsoft Defender can do this itself with the “Microsoft Defender Offline” feature if you are using Windows 10. You can refer to our guide to using Microsoft Defender Offline. Other antivirus software can do this too – look for antivirus boot drives like the Avira rescue system† You can view our guide to using Avira’s Rescue System here.

RELATED: How to Find and Remove Malware Using Microsoft Defender Offline

Get a second opinion from Microsoft Defender

If you already have an antivirus installed, but you think you have viruses that it doesn’t detect, you can get a second opinion from another antivirus product. It is usually a bad idea to run two antivirus programs side by side as their real-time scanning can conflict with each other. But if you have one that always scans in real time, you can use a second one for occasional manual scans.

RELATED: How to Periodically Scan Your Computer With Windows Defender While Using Another Antivirusprogramma

On Windows 10 and 11, Microsoft Defender is perfect for this. Even if you’ve installed another antivirus that monitors your system, Microsoft Defender can scan on a schedule — or scan manually whenever you want — to see if it can find anything that your current antivirus is missing. Here’s a guide to enabling and using that option.

Several other antivirus providers provide one-time scanning tools, for example the ESET Online Scanner† These programs are downloaded to your computer and perform a quick scan without a lengthy installation process.

If the scanner warns you of a problem, remove the malware. If you had a virus, your current antivirus may not be suitable. You may want to uninstall it and install another antivirus product after the process is complete.

You also need to install Malwarebytes to deal with adware and other junk

As we mentioned in our guide to the best antivirus programs, antivirus isn’t enough – you should also have a more comprehensive anti-malware program. Not all nasty software is covered by normal antivirus scanners, which mainly look for malicious infections. You may have “junkware” on your system, such as browser toolbars, search engine changers, Bitcoin miners and other types of obnoxious programs that are just there to monetize their creator. Be careful when downloading programs from the Internet so that your PC is not filled with obnoxious toolbars and other junkware.

But if you already have junkware on your system, you’ll want to remove it.

Most antivirus programs don’t bother to touch junkware. To deal with junkware, we recommend: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware† As long as you occasionally use it to scan your system, you can keep yourself free from obnoxious software that won’t be detected or removed by your average antivirus. And since it includes protection against exploitation, it can also keep you safe in the future.

How to wipe your computer (and verify your backups)

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About “Reset This PC” in Windows 8 and 10

If nothing can properly remove the viruses — or if the malware has damaged your system so much that Windows still doesn’t work properly after removing the viruses — you can go for the “nuclear option”: factory reset your computer. You will keep all personal files, but any programs you have installed will be removed and your computer’s system settings will be returned to their default state.

On Windows 8, 10 and 11, this is much easier – you can just use the “Reset this PC” feature to factory reset Windows. The process is basically the same on Windows 8 and Windows 10, but the menu to reset your PC has changed in Windows 11. If you’re using a PC with Windows 7, your manufacturer probably offers a recovery partition that you can access by pressing a specific key during the boot process. Consult your computer manual for the exact key to press.

You can also reinstall Windows on your computer by downloading Windows installation media for your computer from Microsoft.

Warning: Be sure to back up important files before erasing your hard drive and reinstalling Windows!

If you’ve ever had to deal with malware, try your best to make it last. Install a good antivirus program, keep your computer up to date, and don’t use potentially dangerous software. Follow our tips to stay safe online and keep your computer and personal information safe.

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