How to Get Rid of Computer Viruses in 3 Simple Steps

Updated on: April 3, 2024
Fact Checked by Sam Boyd
Tyler Cross Tyler Cross
Updated on: April 3, 2024

Short on time? Here’s how to remove computer viruses:

  1. Choose an antivirus & run a scan. Download and install an antivirus of your choice and run a full scan (I’ll be using Norton in this example).
  2. Remove all viruses. After the scan is complete, let the antivirus remove all viruses infecting your system.
  3. Stay protected. Keep safe from further infections by turning on your antivirus’s real-time protection and following the best online safety practices.

Once a virus infects your computer, it’s difficult to get rid of it. Viruses typically spread through all parts of an infected device, damaging files, slowing down the system, and leaving it vulnerable to more threats. The only way to consistently remove them is with an antivirus.

But you can’t just get any antivirus. A lot of products aren’t powerful enough to get rid of complex malware and many lack vital security features like real-time protection and web protection.

I tested all of the top antiviruses to find which ones are the best. Specifically, I wanted to figure out which are the best at tackling computer viruses. While Norton is my favorite thanks to its quality scanner and array of extra features, every entry on this list can eliminate whatever virus is infecting your device.

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Step 1. Download an Antivirus to Identify the Threat (And Don’t Make the Problem Worse!)

If your computer has a virus, don’t panic. First things first, don’t connect any external devices to your computer — this will cause the virus to spread to the external device.

Download and install an antivirus. Any product on this list will do, but Norton is my top pick for Windows (Intego if you’re a Mac user). You’ll need to scan your device with the antivirus when it’s installed. Even if you think you’ve located the source of the virus, it’s best to run a full disk scan. Your antivirus will initiate a comprehensive scan of every file on your computer, eliminating all traces of the infection.

At this point, it’s best to step away from your computer and let the antivirus do its job. Even if you see that it’s detected and quarantined a virus, don’t stop the scan as there may be additional threats lurking on your device.

Step 2. Remove the Virus and Delete Any Other Infected Files

Once the scan finishes, you’ll see a list of the viruses it detected and quarantined. You can choose whether or not to remove each item. While it can be a good idea to double-check that there aren’t any false positives, it’s usually best to trust your antivirus and remove whatever it flags as a threat.

After removing the viruses, it’s a good idea to restart your computer and run another full scan. This will ensure that all viruses have been completely removed.

Step 3. Keep Your Device From Getting Infected All Over Again

Removing one particular virus won’t keep you safe forever. There are lots of different types of malware (including trojans, viruses, PUPs, adware, and worse) and you’ll want to follow the best safety practices to avoid future issues.

Here are a few easy ways to prevent re-infection:

  • Use real-time protections. All the best antiviruses include various real-time protection tools to prevent malware from sneaking onto your device. After scanning your computer, make sure these protections are turned on. If any viruses attempt to infect your device in the future, your real-time protections will block it and alert you to the threat.
  • Avoid suspicious downloads. Downloading sketchy files is a surefire way to get a virus on your computer. Avoid downloads from sources you don’t recognize. Always verify the legitimacy of a website with quality web protection tools before downloading anything from it.
  • Be cautious with email attachments. Email attachments are one of the most common ways that hackers transmit viruses. Be especially careful and don’t open email attachments from sources you don’t recognize. Cybercriminals often impersonate legitimate companies, offering rewards like lottery winnings and “refunds” for products you didn’t pay for. Always be suspicious of emails you don’t recognize. Even PDFs and other seemingly safe file types can transmit malware.

3 Best Antivirus Programs for Removing Computer Viruses

Quick summary of the best antiviruses for removing computer viruses:

  • 🥇 1. Norton 360 — Best antivirus for getting rid of computer viruses with perfect malware detection rates.
  • 🥈 2. Bitdefender — Fast & lightweight cloud-based scanner + tons of extra security features.
  • 🥉 3. TotalAV — User-friendly antivirus for staying safe from viruses & malware (great for beginners).

Common Signs You Have a Computer Virus on Your System

There are a lot of signs your computer may have a virus, including:

  • Poor performance. If simple apps and web pages are taking ages to load and your computer is running slower than it used to, there’s a good chance that a virus is interfering with your system.
  • Constant freezing. Frequent freezing is another symptom of many viruses. Aggressive malware can cause your computer to freeze by destroying files in your registry. If left alone, this kind of virus could render your computer completely unusable.
  • Suspicious apps. If new apps suddenly pop up on your computer (or one of your apps is behaving strangely), it’s time to scan your computer with an antivirus to make sure it’s safe.
  • Changes to your desktop. If you’re seeing changes to your desktop, whether that’s apps being moved around or new ones appearing, you probably have a virus.
  • Lockouts. Sometimes viruses can be even more damaging, effectively locking victims out of their computers. If you find yourself in this situation, try starting your PC in Safe Mode. If it still doesn’t work, you’ll want to use a USB bootable antivirus to flush the problem out.
  • Unexpected messages sent from your accounts. Hackers often use infected devices to spread viruses. They do this by sending emails and other messages containing dangerous links to the infected account’s contacts. If it looks like your accounts are doing this, you should change your passwords and consider setting up 2FA protection on your most important accounts. Once that’s done, scan your devices with a quality antivirus like Norton.
  • Passwords changing without your consent. Another sign that your computer has a virus is passwords changing without any action on your part. If a hacker has remote access to your computer through a virus, they can do whatever they want with your accounts. After you’ve dealt with whatever viruses were causing this issue, contact the services associated with all affected accounts and be ready to provide proof of your identity to regain control. I also recommend using authenticator apps to ensure this doesn’t happen again

If you’ve noticed any of these signs, it’s time to run a full scan of your computer. Use a quality antivirus like Norton to find and remove any viruses you’ve picked up.

Common Types of Computer Viruses

Viruses can come in many different forms. A virus is a broad term for malware that can replicate itself on infected devices. Here are some of the most common types of viruses you’ll run into:

  • Macro viruses. These viruses can infect seemingly innocent files like Word documents. Typically, they are spread via malicious attachments.
  • Trojans. Trojans are viruses that pretend to be something else. They might come bundled with a legitimate program, deploying along with it right under your nose. These viruses can be especially hard to spot and are designed to slip past your computer’s built-in antivirus engine.
  • Boot sector viruses. An especially dangerous type of malware, boot sector viruses attack your computer’s core files, often doing serious damage.
  • Browser hijacker. This type of malware redirects victims to fraudulent websites. This is accomplished by taking control of a browser. If your browser keeps taking you to random pages, look for (and remove) any suspicious browser extensions you’ve installed, then run a full disk scan.
  • Web scripting viruses. These are links that blend into the background of a website, presenting themselves as seemingly normal links. These are especially common on torrenting sites and popular file-sharing sites like Github.

Having one virus usually makes your computer more vulnerable to other viruses. If you don’t address your cybersecurity problems immediately, not only will the infection spread throughout your system, but you’re also likely to contract additional malware.

Regardless of the type of virus, the best way to protect your computer is by downloading a quality antivirus with a good scanner and effective real-time protection. Norton is my favorite antivirus for Windows (Intego if you’re a Mac user), but the other options on this list do a great job, too.

What Can Happen If Your Computer is Infected With a Virus?

If your computer gets infected with a virus, several abnormal things might start happening. Some of these have the potential to ruin your computer and even threaten your finances. You may experience:

  • Constant redirects. If a virus tampers with your browser, you’ll find yourself redirected from the pages you’re trying to visit and onto fraudulent pages enticing you to download a file, click on a strange link, or give out personal information.
  • Poor performance. Since viruses damage your computer (pretty severely sometimes), you’ll start noticing poor performance soon after one deploys. Viruses tend to put a heavy strain on your CPU, GPU, RAM, and motherboard, hogging the resources you need.
  • Glitches and other malfunctions. After a virus infects your computer, you may notice glitches and weird malfunctions in your apps. Games may crash, browsers may not open properly, or apps that worked fine yesterday may be completely unable to run today.
  • Loss of control of your accounts. Viruses can take over your accounts. Hackers will use viruses to steal your social media, email, and even sensitive financial accounts. If a hacker has a way to steal your money, they’ll use it.
  • More viruses. Viruses typically invite other viruses to your computer or leave your system so vulnerable that it’s practically a magnet for further viruses. Leaving a virus on your computer all but ensures you’ll get more in the future.

Best Ways to Prevent Computer Viruses From Getting Onto Your System

Follow these steps to avoid getting more viruses in the future:

  • Use a quality antivirus. The best antiviruses include a suite of features to prevent you from getting malware (Norton is particularly good in this regard). Real-time protection features will block incoming viruses before they can deploy, smart firewalls protect your network, and web protection tools help you avoid threatening websites.
  • Avoid suspicious downloads. Don’t download files from websites you don’t recognize. Verify every website’s legitimacy before downloading anything (one common method is to make sure the website uses HTTPS and matches the company’s official URL). If you have downloaded a suspicious file, don’t panic or open it. Use an antivirus to scan it and make sure that it’s legitimate.
  • Be cautious when opening emails from strangers. Email attachments can contain all kinds of viruses, even if they seem to contain normal files like JPEGS or PDFs. Don’t download email attachments if you don’t recognize the sender, even if they’re claiming to be with legitimate companies or offering gifts that sound generous.
  • Keep your computer and drivers updated. If your computer or drivers aren’t up to date, you’ll be missing the latest security patches and therefore vulnerable to exploits and malware. Ensure your system is up to date by opening the Windows Search bar and typing in Check for updates. If you use a Mac, go to System Settings, find the General tab on the sidebar, and select Software Update. Some antiviruses (including Norton) come with tools that let you easily make sure all your drivers and apps are up to date
  • Use quality web protection tools. Web protection tools, like the kind included in Norton, will prevent you from visiting suspicious websites or opening malicious links. This will serve as your first line of defense against web-based threats, including computer viruses.
  • Get an ad blocker. A good ad blocker can prevent you from seeing pop-up ads and stop redirects to shady websites, helping you stay safe online (they’re also just convenient).

Can Free Antivirus Software Get Rid of Computer Viruses?

Theoretically yes, but free antiviruses aren’t usually good enough to get rid of complex viruses. A lot of free antiviruses have weak scanners and lack the extra features you’ll need to protect yourself. Even worse, free antiviruses sometimes misrepresent their scanner’s efficacy, and shady developers often bundle PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) and other threats with their products.

The best premium antivirus programs (like Norton and the others on this list) are powerful enough to detect and remove complex viruses and even zero-day threats from your computer. They also include essential features that the vast majority of free programs don’t have, including real-time protections and advanced firewalls.

How to Get Rid of Computer Viruses Manually

Getting rid of computer viruses manually is hard, but not impossible. There are some relatively easy ways to identify viruses, but finding malware is much simpler than removing it from your computer.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to try and deal with viruses manually. Depending on the threat you’re dealing with, you might be able to handle it yourself. The first thing you’ll want to do is look for suspicious files and get rid of them.

If you’re on a Windows 11 PC:

  1. Start by pressing the Windows + R key. This will open a Run window. Type “msconfig” into the box to bring up the system configuration menu.
  2. Select the Boot tab and restart your computer in Safe Mode.
  3. After restarting your computer, press Windows + R and type “regedit” in the box to bring up your Registry Editor.
  4. Type “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE” into the top bar (you might be automatically taken to this location).
  5. Navigate to “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion”. You can do this by typing that string into the bar or by clicking the associated folders one at a time.
  6. From here, scroll down until you see the folder marked “Run”.
  7. Open the Run folder and you’ll see several items.
  8. Use a search engine on a different device to make sure that everything under “Run” is legitimate. Viruses will often create names very similar to actual Windows pathways and legitimate programs, so check for misspellings.
  9. If you are 100% certain that something in the folder is malicious, you can remove it by right-clicking the item in question and selecting Delete.
  10. If you delete anything, you may need to restart your device. If you do, make sure it’s still in Safe Mode.
  11. Once you’re back in, use the Windows search bar to open up Apps & features.
  12. Look for suspicious apps on your computer. If you see any you don’t recognize, click on the app and then the Uninstall button.
  13. Restart your computer and press Windows + R once again. Type “msconfig” into the box.
  14. Navigate to the Boot tab and select the box for normal startup.
  15. Restart your computer. Once you’re out of Safe Mode, repeat steps 3–8 and 10–11. If the suspicious entries are gone, you may have removed some viruses from your device.
  16. Stay vigilant for strange behavior. There may still be viruses on your computer which weren’t confined to the registry.

Once you’ve completed these steps, use the Search bar and locate the Disk Cleanup service. Open it up, select the drive you want to scan, and Windows will begin optimizing your disk.

If you’re on a Mac:

  1. Using the Apple Sidebar, open Go, then Applications.
  2. Drag any suspicious applications to your trash bin, and empty the trash bin after placing every suspicious file there.
  3. Open Go, then click on Utilities then Activity Monitor.
  4. If any applications are suspicious, right-click them and select Force Stop.

Whichever system you use, this is only a first step. It will generally only work against the most basic kinds of virus. Even if you have decent computer skills, an antivirus will always be your best bet. Even if you were able to locate and remove suspicious programs or registry items, advanced malware can replicate quickly, potentially making copies even as you try to delete it. If you’re dealing with this kind of virus, your only option is to write and implement advanced code to deal with it — or take advantage of one of the premium antiviruses already out there.

Malware can also come in the form of browser extensions. These can be just as dangerous as other kinds of viruses, serving you phishing links and stealing your personal information. Malicious browser extensions are usually easier to remove than other types of computer viruses. The process will depend on which web browser you use.

If you use Chrome, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Open your Chrome browser and look for the three dots in the top right corner. Click this icon to open up a dropdown menu.
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Find and click on the Extensions tab on the left-hand side of the settings page. It will be marked with a puzzle piece icon.
  4. You should see a list of all extensions installed on your browser. If something looks suspicious, click the Remove button to get rid of it. If you don’t remember adding something, it may be malicious.
  5. If you’re not sure whether an extension is a threat, click the Details button. Scroll down and you’ll see an option to View in Chrome Web Store. I recommend checking out the extension’s store page to confirm that it’s from a legitimate developer. It’s also worth checking out the number of reviews and their content. Watch out for spelling errors and anything else suspicious as cybercriminals often create extensions that imitate products from well-known companies and developers.

Safari users should take these steps:

  1. Open Safari and click on Safari in the top left corner of your screen. From the dropdown menu, select Preferences.
  2. In the Preferences window, click on the Extensions tab. This tab is usually marked with a puzzle piece icon, just like in Chrome.
  3. You will now see a list of all extensions currently installed in Safari. Review this list carefully. If you find an extension that you don’t recognize or seems out of place, it’s worth investigating further.
  4. To remove an unwanted or suspicious extension, click on the Uninstall button next to the extension’s name. Confirm your action if prompted.
  5. If you’re unsure about an extension, research it first before removing it. You can often find more information about the extension by looking it up online. Pay attention to user reviews and the reputation of the developer. Inconsistent details, poor spelling, or a lack of clear information can be red flags.

To remove extensions from Microsoft Edge, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Open your Edge browser and look for the three dots located in the top right corner of the window. Click on this icon to open a dropdown menu.
  2. From the menu, select Extensions.
  3. This will open a new tab displaying a list of all the extensions installed in your Edge browser. If you see an extension that you do not recognize or seems unnecessary, consider removing it, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms of a computer virus.
  4. To uninstall an extension, click on the Remove button located next to the extension you wish to delete. Edge might ask for confirmation to ensure that you want to remove the extension.
  5. If you are uncertain about whether an extension is safe or necessary, do a bit of research before removing it. Check the extension’s details and user reviews by visiting its page in the Microsoft Edge Add-ons store. Be cautious of extensions with few reviews, poor ratings, or spelling errors in their descriptions, as these can be indicators of potentially harmful or fake extensions.

To remove extensions from Firefox, follow these instructions:

  1. Open your Firefox browser and click on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner. This will open a menu with various options. If you see a puzzle piece icon at the top of the page, click on it and skip to step 3.
  2. In this menu, select Add-ons and Themes.
  3. The left side of this page will have tabs for Extensions, Themes, and Plugins. Take a moment to look through each page for items that you don’t remember installing or seem suspicious.
  4. To remove an extension or theme, click on the Remove button next to the extension’s name. Firefox might ask you to confirm your decision.
  5. If you’re unsure about the purpose of an extension, investigate it by clicking on the extension. The Details tab will have lots of useful information about the extension and its developer as well as user reviews. Be wary of extensions with few or poor reviews, spelling mistakes in their description, or those that mimic the names of well-known brands or software.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do viruses get on my computer?

Viruses infiltrate your computer through exploitable vulnerabilities. These weak points can be found in your operating system or software, but they can also open up as a result of risky online behavior such as clicking on suspicious links or downloading malicious attachments. Once you’re infected, a virus can damage your files, spread through your system, or even damage other devices on your network.

The best way to deal with a virus that’s already in your system is to download a quality antivirus (like Norton) and run a full disk scan. Let Norton search your files for threats and quarantine any it finds.

What’s the best antivirus for removing computer viruses?

Norton is my favorite antivirus for dealing with computer viruses. Not only did it score a 100% malware detection rate in my tests, but it also comes with a full suite of extra features. Norton includes real-time protection, a quality VPN, a smart firewall, and more.

That said, all of my top picks work great at dealing with viruses. Bitdefender uses a lightweight, cloud-based scanner that takes stress off your device, while TotalAV is the most beginner-friendly antivirus I’ve tested, and Intego is the best for Mac users.

Can I remove computer viruses by myself?

Theoretically yes, but it would require years of experience to do it safely and properly. There are some steps you can take yourself, but they aren’t effective at dealing with complex viruses. Unless you’ve gone to school to deal with viruses, I’d recommend using a good antivirus like Norton to keep it simple. It will run a comprehensive scan of your entire computer, finding and quarantining every infected file before allowing you to decide what to do with it.

What do I do if my computer runs slow, even after removing a virus?

If your computer is still sluggish after getting rid of a virus, you’ll need tune-up tools. A lot of viruses can damage your system and this doesn’t go away even when the virus itself is gone. Using computer tuneup tools (like the kind included in any of my top picks), you can get rid of junk files, clean your registry, repair broken files, and get your device running like new.

Just make sure that you’ve properly scanned your device and gotten rid of any viruses before attempting to use the optimization tools.

Best Antiviruses for Protecting Against Computer Viruses — Final Score:

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About the Author
Tyler Cross
Updated on: April 3, 2024

About the Author

Tyler is a writer at SafetyDetectives with a passion for researching all things tech and cybersecurity. Prior to joining the SafetyDetectives team, he worked with cybersecurity products hands-on for more than five years, including password managers, antiviruses, and VPNs and learned everything about their use cases and function. When he isn't working as a "SafetyDetective", he enjoys studying history, researching investment opportunities, writing novels, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends."