When you need to reinstall or upgrade to Windows 10, doing a clean installation get you started with a completely new system.

A clean installation of Windows 10 is the best way to start fresh with your device when it's having performance issues. It can help to quickly get rid of errors, viruses and other type of malware, and fix system corruption.

It's also the best way to upgrade from a previous version. You can use a number of different tools to upgrade, but sometimes they may not work properly, and they can carry over unwanted files, settings, and applications to the new installation.

If you really want a fresh start with your PC, you want to do a good old-fashioned clean installation, which involves erasing everything on your computer, reformatting the hard drive, and installing a clean copy of Windows 10 using a bootable media.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to prepare and perform a clean installation, whether you're upgrading from Windows 8.1 or Windows 7, or if you're simply want to start fresh installing a new feature update (e.g., Windows 10 Creators Update).

Update May 29, 2017: We've updated this article with the latest information for the Windows 10 Creators Update.

How to prepare for a clean installation

Before proceeding with these instructions there are a number of things you need to do, including a full backup of your computer in case something goes wrong and you need a way to restore your previous installation.

Additionally, you also want to make a backup of your personal files, as the installation process will erase everything on your computer.

You can easily do this by making sure to upload your files to OneDrive or to another cloud storage service. Or you can copy your personal files to a removable storage. Usually, you can quickly make a backup of your files (and from other users) by going to C:\Users, and copying the folder for each user.

Also make note of the applications you have installed, and make sure to have the product keys to reinstall them again (if applicable).

If you're not already saving your passwords and bookmarks in the cloud, it's a good idea to save your web browser links and online services credentials as well.

Device drivers download

In addition, it's recommended to download the latest device drivers before proceeding. This is an important step because sometimes during the installation some of the components, such as Ethernet or Wi-Fi adapters, and graphics card, may not get detected.

Below, you'll find a list with the most common PC manufacturer's support websites to download the latest drivers:

Windows 10 hardware requirements

If you're trying to upgrade to Windows 10 from an older version, such as Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Vista, or Windows XP, you must be sure your machine meets the minimum hardware requirements.

Windows 10 has these minimum hardware requirements:

  • Processor: 1GHz or SoC (System on a Chip).
  • Memory: 1GB for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit.
  • Hard disk space: 16GB for 32-bit or 20GB for 64-bit.
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  • Display: 800x600.

Windows 10 activation

You'll also need a genuine product key to activate Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 10 Pro on your computer.

In the past, Microsoft used to offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users, but the offer officially ended in July 29, 2016. However, some users are still reporting that they have successfully upgraded to Windows 10 using older product keys.

While it's not guaranteed that it'll work, if you want to give this a try, you'll need to find your product key.

There are a number of ways and tools to recover your product key from Windows 8.1 and Windows 7, but you can also try the Enchanted Keyfinder Tool. This is a free tool that you can use at your own risk to find your Windows product key.

If you're trying to start fresh with a clean installation on a PC already running Windows 10, then you don't need to re-enter a product key. Windows 10 will automatically re-activate after the installation.

You only need to make sure that your copy is properly activated by going to Settings > Update & security > Activation before using these instructions.

Configuring device boot order

This process also requires to start your computer using a bootable media, which means that you'll need to access the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) firmware on your motherboard to change the boot order.

This process typically requires hitting one of the function keys (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12), the ESC, or Delete key as soon as you start your device. However, these settings will vary by manufacturer, and even by model. So make sure to check your PC manufacturer's support website for more specific instructions.

After getting access to the BIOS interface, look for the Boot menu, and make sure to change the boot order to start with the USB drive that includes the installation files, and save the settings (usually using the F10 key).

If your device has a UEFI firmware, then the steps to change the boot order will be different as well.

On a Windows 8.1 device, you'll need to go to PC Settings > Update & recovery > Recovery, and under "Advanced Startup," click the Restart now button.

On a Windows 10 device, you must go to Settings > Update & security > Recovery, and under "Advanced Startup," click the Restart now button.

Then click on Troubleshoot > Advanced options > UEFI Firmware Settings, and click Restart.

Once you're in the UEFI firmware interface, look for the Boot menu, and make sure to change the boot order to start with the USB drive that includes the installation files, and save the settings.

Disconnect devices

Connected devices to your computer are known to cause problems during an installation. A good rule of thumb is to disconnect non-essential peripherals, including external storage, Bluetooth and USB devices, SD cards, printers, scanners, etc. You only need, a keyboard and mouse, monitor, and an internet connection. After installing Windows 10, you can reconnect your devices.

How to clean install Windows 10

In order to perform a clean installation of Windows 10, you need to use the Media Creation Tool to make a bootable media before proceeding with the installation.

Creating a bootable media

Connect a USB flash drive of at least 4GB of space to your computer, and use the following steps to create a bootable media using the Media Creation Tool:

  1. Head over to the Download Windows 10 page.
  2. Click the Download tool now button.

  3. Double-click the file you just downloaded to start the Media Creation Tool.
  4. Click Accept to agree to the licensing agreement.
  5. Click the Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC option.
  6. Click Next.

  7. If you're downloading the files in the device you're about to upgrade, the tool will automatically detect the configuration you need. Otherwise, clear the Use the recommended options for this PC option and select the correct settings.

    • Quick Tip: If you're planning to use the USB bootable media on multiple devices, on "Architecture," select to download both versions 32-bit and 64-bit. (This may require a USB flash drive with more available space.)
  8. Click Next.

  9. Select the USB flash drive option.
  10. Click Next.

  11. Select a removable drive from the list.
  12. Click Next.

  13. Click Finish.

Installing Windows 10

Once you've have completed the steps using the Media Creation Tool, connect the USB bootable media to the device you want, and continue with these steps:

  1. Start your device with the USB flash drive with the installation files.
  2. On "Windows Setup," click Next to begin the process.
  3. Click the Install Now button.

  4. If you're installing Windows 10 for the first time, or upgrading a previous version, you must enter a genuine product key. However, if you're reinstalling Windows 10, you can click the I don't have a product key link to continue (assuming that your device was already properly activated).
  5. Click Next.

  6. Select the edition of Windows 10 (if applicable). This selection must match the edition your product key activates.
  7. Click Next.
  8. Check the I accept the license terms to agree, otherwise you can't continue.
  9. Click Next.

  10. Click on the Custom: Install Windows only (Advanced).

  11. Select the partition with the current installation of Windows (usually "Drive 0"), and click the Delete button to remove the partition from the hard drive.

    • Quick Tip: If you have multiple partitions, on the primary hard drive (Drive 0), you can select and delete each one. Windows 10 will recreate additional partitions as needed. However, if you have multiple hard drives, you don't need to delete the partitions on them.
  12. Select the empty drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space).
  13. Click Next to begin the installation process.

Out-of-box experience (OOBE) Configuration

After the installation, you'll need to go through the new OOBE included with the Creators Update to configure Windows 10 with your personal settings.

  1. Select your region.
  2. Click Yes.

  3. Select your keyboard layout.
  4. Click Yes.

  5. Click Skip (unless you need to configure a second keyboard layout).

  6. If you use a Wi-Fi connection you'll be prompted to enter the wireless credentials to connect. Otherwise, if you're using an Ethernet connection, your device will connect online automatically.
  7. Click the Set up for personal use option.
  8. Click Next.

  9. Type your Microsoft account information.

    • Quick Tip: If you don't want to use a Microsoft account, click the Offline account option to create a local account.
  10. Click Next.

  11. Type your Microsoft account password.

  12. Click Next.
  13. Click the Set a PIN to create a short numeric PIN to sign in to Windows 10 without needing a password. For the purpose of this guide, we'll select the Do this later link on the bottom-left corner.

  14. If you want to use Cortana, click Yes to continue. Also, note that you can enable the "Hey Cortana" feature by checking the Respond when I say "Hey Cortana" option.

  15. Choose your privacy settings for your device.
  16. Click Accept.

Once you're in the Windows 10 desktop there are a few things left to do, including:

  • Verify your copy of Windows 10 has been properly activated by going to Settings > Update & security > Activation. (If you're having activation problems, you can use the Activation Troubleshooter to re-activate the OS.)
  • Check for updates on Settings > Update & security > Windows Update.
  • Reconfigure any device driver that Windows 10 couldn't detect (if applicable).
  • Reinstall your apps.
  • Restore your files from backup.

Extra: Creating bootable media using ISO file

The Media Creation Tool isn't available for older versions of Windows, including Windows XP or Windows Vista. However, you can download the ISO file of Windows 10 to create a bootable media using the following steps:

  1. Download the Windows 10 ISO from the Microsoft support site. If you're using an older version of Internet Explorer, you'll probably need to use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox to load the download page.
  2. Under "Select edition," choose Windows 10 and click Confirm.

  3. Select your product language from the drop-down menu and click Confirm.
  4. Click the 64-bit Download or 32-bit Download button depending on your system configuration.

    • Quick Tip: Use the Windows key + R keyboard shortcut to open the Run command, type the msinfo32 command and press Enter. If your system type is x64-based PC and the amount of RAM is higher than 4GB, you can install the 64-bit version of Windows 10. If not, select the 32-bit version.
  5. In order to burn the ISO file to a USB flash drive, download and install Rufus, which is a free and easy to use utility to create a bootable media.
  6. Open Rufus.
  7. Under "Devices," select the USB flash drive you want to use.
  8. Under "Format Options," click the disk drive icon next to "Create a bootable disk using ISO image" option.
  9. Select the Windows 10 ISO file you want to use, and click Open.

  10. Click the Start button.
  11. Click the OK button to confirm that all the data on the flash drive will be erased and to start the process.

After completing these steps, you can jump back and continue with the installation process.

Wrapping things up

You could use the "Upgrade this PC now" option and select to keep nothing in the Media Creation Tool, or other methods to start from scratch, but they're not exactly the same process and there are some limitations. If you want a true clean install of Windows 10, using the bootable media can be considered your best option.

Using a bootable media you can install Windows 10 on any device that meets the minimum hardware requirements. Whether the PC is already running a version of Windows, or you're trying to set up a brand-new device with an empty hard drive.

It's also easier to do a clean install of Windows 10 on multiple machines without needing to redownload the setup files repeatedly.

You may save a few steps using the upgrade option, Windows Update on new feature updates, or using the Windows 10 reset option, but sometimes you may come across incompatible or security apps that will block the installation, or unwanted files and settings may drag over to the new setup. Using a bootable media, you're starting your device from a USB flash drive, which significantly reduces the chances of running into these kind of software problems.

More Windows 10 resources

For more help articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources: