Updated on: September 23, 2023
Short on time? Here’s how to remove viruses & malware from Windows:
- 1. Run a Scan with a Good Antivirus. Run a full system scan after downloading and installing a high-quality antivirus program (Norton is the best).
- 2. Remove Viruses & Malware. After scanning your disk, your antivirus will place any malware files in a secure quarantine folder. Delete any unsafe files.
- 3. Stay Protected. Use a high-quality internet security package to protect yourself from future infections (again, Norton is the best).
The only safe way to remove malware and viruses from a Windows PC is to use a high-quality antivirus program. Malware files can duplicate themselves, name themselves after safe files, and hide in parts of your disk that you can’t access, so you risk causing even more damage to your PC if you try to remove malware manually.
It’s also a good idea to regularly scan your files, even if you don’t think you have malware.
Thankfully, using a high-quality antivirus program is easy. The below steps will show you how to remove viruses and malware from your PC and keep your Windows computer safe from future threats in 2023.
Step 1. Install an Antivirus for Windows and Identify Any Viruses
First, you need to download and install a reliable antivirus program. Norton is my favorite because it has some of the best security features for Windows, including:
- Powerful anti-malware engine — Uses heuristics and machine learning to detect 100% of malware files on Windows PCs.
- Real-time protection — Protects your computer in real-time, stopping you from accidentally installing malware.
- Phishing protection — Protects you from data thieves by blocking phishing emails and dangerous links.
- Virtual private network (VPN) — Masks your location and allows you to browse the internet privately.
- Password manager (separate download) — Protects your online accounts by storing them in a secure vault.
- And more…
After you’ve installed your antivirus, run a complete system scan of your PC. Before running the system scan, ensure all USB devices are unplugged (malware can replicate onto USB devices). Then, allow the full system scan to run to completion and quarantine any malware threats. Never stop a malware scan early to ensure your antivirus has detected all malware on your system. Only proceed to step 2 when your antivirus takes you to the quarantined file list.
Step 2. Remove Malware and All Other Infected Files
When you run a full system scan with your antivirus, it will look at every file on your system and flag any malware files it finds. Your antivirus will move these flagged files to a quarantine folder so you can review them before deleting them from your computer. It’s important to check the files in your quarantine folder before deleting them because some of them could be false positives (safe files your antivirus scanner has wrongfully flagged).
Advanced users should recognize false positives, but less tech-savvy users can ask their antivirus provider’s customer support team before deleting any unknown files.
Once you’ve removed all malware, restart your computer. This will terminate any hidden malware still running in your PC’s system memory. After you’ve done this, run a second full disk scan with your antivirus to catch any files that may have escaped detection during your first scan. The second scan shouldn’t take as long because most top antiviruses (including Norton) only look for new or recently modified files on subsequent scans.
Your quarantine list should be empty after the second scan is completed. If it isn’t, remove the newly identified malware and repeat this process until your antivirus stops finding malware threats. Once your antivirus can no longer find malware threats, you’re ready for step 3.
Step 3. Keep Your PC Protected From Internet Security Threats
You’ve removed all malware from your Windows PC, but you still need to keep your antivirus running and make sure your devices are as secure as possible.
First, make sure your antivirus’s real-time protection is enabled. This will allow your antivirus to actively scan your PC and intercept any malware before you can download or run it.
Next, phishing protections need to be turned on to prevent phishing attacks. A phishing attack allows criminals to steal your personal information using malicious websites disguised as legitimate web pages. With phishing protection enabled, your antivirus will be able to recognize these disguised web pages and stop you from visiting them.
Note: If you downloaded an antivirus that doesn’t include phishing protection, you should consider switching to a more comprehensive antivirus suite with phishing protection.
Also, protect your wireless network and internet of things (IoT) devices with strong passwords. A password manager like Dashlane can generate, encrypt, and store strong passwords.
You also need to keep your PC’s software and firmware up to date. Turn on auto-update for Windows (and other programs with automatic update options). Then, check your update status by going to the Windows Update settings in your computer’s Control Panel.
Finally, it’s essential that you backup your critical files using cloud storage. Cloud storage and encryption can prevent crashes, malware, and ransomware from destroying or accessing important data. Many antiviruses (including Norton) provide cloud storage.
Best Antiviruses for Windows in 2023
🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Antivirus for Windows in 2023
Norton 360 is my favorite antivirus in 2023. Its advanced anti-malware scanner uses a massive proprietary database to detect known malware, as well as machine learning and advanced heuristic analysis to detect new and emerging malware threats. Norton was able to find all the malware samples I’d hidden on my Windows PC, including ransomware and rootkit samples that were missed by Windows’s built-in protections.
It comes with a ton of excellent security features, including:
- Secure firewall.
- Phishing protection.
- Web protections.
- VPN (virtual private network).
- Cloud storage.
- Dark web monitoring.
- Ransomware protection.
- ID theft protection (US only).
Norton’s phishing protection is really good — it blocked more phishing sites than Chrome or Edge, and it even blocked several malicious websites that were hosting exploit attacks and script-based malware. And Norton’s firewall is a significant improvement over Windows 10 and 11’s built-in firewall — Norton’s firewall blocked network-based attacks like man-in-the-middle attacks, DNS spoofing, and MAC spoofing.
Dark web monitoring is another great feature that can scan dark web forums for data breaches containing your personally identifying information (PII). Most data breach monitoring services are just automated bots that scan public databases for breached information. However, Norton employs live human agents who monitor dark web forums for breaches associated with your online accounts.
Norton Antivirus Plus, the most basic plan, covers 1 device and costs $19.99 / year. However, Antivirus Plus doesn’t include important features like mobile protection, web protection, and dark web monitoring — all of which are included with Norton 360 Deluxe, which costs $49.99 / year. All of Norton’s plans come with a 60-day money-back guarantee, which is more than enough time to test out the program and see if it’s right for you.
🥈2. Bitdefender — Best Lightweight Antivirus with Additional Tools
Bitdefender is a feature-rich antivirus that uses cloud-based technology to protect your PC from malware without any slowdown. The malware scanner had a perfect detection rating in my tests, detecting and safely removing 100% of malware files on my Windows devices, including trojans, computer worms, rootkit samples, and more.
Like Norton, Bitdefender has a ton of excellent security tools to protect your PC, including:
- VPN (virtual private network).
- Advanced ransomware protection.
- Microphone and web protection.
- Password manager.
- Parental controls.
- Anti-theft protection.
- And more…
Bitdefender’s VPN is a really good tool for enhancing your safety online. It provides lightning-fast connection speeds and uses 256-bit encryption to keep your data safe. Bitdefender’s VPN also gives you access to 30 server locations around the globe, a reliable no-logs policy, and a kill switch — it’s not as good as standalone VPNs like ExpressVPN, but it’s one of the best antivirus-bundled VPNs on the market.
I’m also a big fan of Bitdefender’s parental controls, which provide more accurate and detailed content filtering than Windows does — plus Bitdefender’s excellent mobile apps also have parental control features that can track device location and even send parents a notification if their children leave a safe area.
On the other hand, Bitdefender’s password manager isn’t as good as Norton’s, and it’s missing dark web monitoring.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus ($19.99 / year) is decent for individuals seeking the most basic malware protection, whereas Internet Security ($32.99 / year) adds parental controls and coverage for 3 PCs. Total Security ($35.99 / year) includes all of Bitdefender’s features, but it limits your daily VPN usage to just 200 MB. If you want to get the VPN with no limitations, you should check out Bitdefender Premium Security ($49.99 / year). There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on all of Bitdefender’s plans.
🥉3. TotalAV — Best for Easy-to-Use Malware Protection & System Cleanup Tools
TotalAV is a user-friendly malware scanner with some of the best system optimization tools on the market. While its malware scanner didn’t perform as well as Norton or Bitdefender in my tests, it still had near-perfect detection rates. However, unlike many competitors that only provide basic junk file removal, TotalAV’s optimization tools also include a startup manager, a duplicate file finder, application uninstaller, and browser file cleanup.
It also comes with a decent set of extra features, including:
- Phishing protection.
- VPN (Virtual Private Network).
- Password manager.
- Identity theft monitoring.
- Data breach monitoring.
One of the things I love the most about TotalAV is how good its VPN is. It’s secure, fast, and works with all popular streaming services, including Netflix. TotalAV’s VPN has actually beat Bitdefender to earn the top spot on our list of the best antiviruses with VPNs in 2023.
Antivirus Pro is a decent low-cost option, and it covers up to 3 devices for only $19.00 / year. It has a lot of good features, but it doesn’t include TotalAV’s excellent VPN. TotalAV Internet Security ($39.00 / year) adds support for the VPN on up to 5 devices. The Total Security plan adds support for the password manager and ad blocker for $49.00 / year. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on all TotalAV plans.
What to Do if Malware Has Blocked Your Device (& You Can’t Run an Antivirus Scan)
If more serious malware (such as ransomware) has blocked your device, you have 3 options:
- Start your computer in safe mode and run an antivirus scan.
- Use a bootable antivirus.
- Reformat your PC.
Safe mode starts Windows in a basic state, using a limited set of files and drivers — basically, most malware on your system shouldn’t be able to run in safe mode (although some advanced trojans and rootkits will still be able to).
To boot into safe mode, the steps vary depending on your Windows version. For Windows 7 or older, repeatedly press F8 when powering on your computer to access the advanced options menu. You can enter safe mode from there.
Users on newer versions of Windows will need to boot into Windows Recovery Environment. Here’s how to do this:
- Hold down the power button on your PC for 10 seconds to power off your PC.
- Press the power button again and turn your PC back on.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 two more times to initiate automatic repair. This will bring you to an options screen when you boot your PC.
- Select Troubleshoot, Advanced Options, Startup Settings, then, Restart.
- When your PC restarts, select Safe Mode from the new list of options (or press F5 on your keyboard).
Once you’re in safe mode, you can either download an antivirus program to run a full disk scan, or just run a full scan with the antivirus you already have installed on your PC.
If you can’t even boot your PC into safe mode, you should try to run your antivirus on bootable media. A bootable antivirus is a software that you can load onto a USB or DVD and plug into an infected computer to run a scan (even if the computer’s system is locked down). I really like Norton’s Bootable Recovery Tool — it’s fast and intuitive, and it was able to remove malware from my Windows devices even on devices that were heavily glitching.
If neither of these options removes the malware locking you out of your PC, you can use your original Windows installation media to reformat your PC. However, this will delete your personal files and data, so only attempt this method as a last resort. If you try this method, boot your PC into Safe Mode first and back up any important files to an external drive.
Other Windows Security Recommendations
There are a few other security recommendations for Windows that you can use, including:
- Enabling 2-factor authentication (2FA).
- Installing a password manager.
- Installing a secure VPN (such as ExpressVPN).
- Utilizing anti-phishing tools.
- Using an ad blocker.
2FA-enabled accounts ask for both your password and a second form of verification before you can log into your account, so that even if your password is breached, your account can’t be broken into. This verification can be a code sent as an SMS message or email address, third-party authentication code generator (such as Google Authenticator), biometric scan, or a physical USB token (such as YubiKey). Many consider SMS or email verification as the least secure option, but biometric and USB 2FA are generally considered the most secure forms of 2FA.
Windows 10 and 11 also have a built-in biometric login feature called Windows Hello. With Windows Hello enabled, your Windows account will need to see your face (through an infrared camera) or read your fingerprint to log in. If your PC doesn’t support fingerprint scanning, you can buy an external fingerprint scanner to work with Windows Hello — which is a great way to keep your computer secure even if hackers crack your password.
I also recommend installing a password manager (such as Dashlane) to store your online accounts. Dashlane uses 256-bit AES encryption (the same encryption banks use) and can be set up with 2FA. Having a reliable password manager is far more secure than keeping your passwords stored in a Word document or text file.
Also, you can encrypt your online browsing traffic and hide your location behind a virtual IP address using a secure VPN (such as ExpressVPN). This stops hackers from stealing your data or spying on you and is particularly important if you’re using a public Wi-Fi connection.
You should also have decent anti-phishing protection running. Anti-phishing protection can block unsafe websites that steal your data or install malware on your system. Most antiviruses include anti-phishing protection as a browser extension (for example, Norton Safe Web).
Finally, ad blockers can block phishing attacks, PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), and malicious websites. TotalAV is my favorite antivirus that includes an ad blocker. Many VPNs provide this feature, too. Private Internet Access is a good VPN that can block advertisements, trackers, and malicious websites.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I completely remove malware from my Windows PC?
You must run a full system scan using a comprehensive antivirus program to completely remove malware.
Once the scan has completed, assess all of the detected files to ensure there are no false positives (safe files that your antivirus has incorrectly flagged as dangerous). You should then click to remove all of the malicious files and run another full system scan to ensure all malware has been removed.
Never try to remove malware manually. Some malware can make copies of itself, and it’s impossible to know how many instances of it are installed on your computer.
How do I check my computer for malware?
If you want to check your computer for malware, you should run a scan with a malware scanner. If your antivirus has real-time protection, you should make sure it’s enabled so your antivirus would constantly scan your device for malware files or suspicious activity.
Malware scanners (such as Norton and Bitdefender) offer real-time protection that is able to detect and block 100% of malware. They also offer a wide range of different scan options, including quick scans that check critical file locations and don’t take long to complete. You should run a quick scan at least once a week. But you should also regularly run a full system scan (following our above steps), which will scan your entire PC and quarantine any malware.
Does a Windows factory reset remove viruses and malware?
A factory reset will remove most viruses and malware (except for some rootkits), but you should only perform one as a last resort. A factory reset will also delete every file on your PC and reinstall Windows. Before initiating a factory reset, follow our steps and try to remove the malware using an antivirus (I recommend Norton). If this doesn’t work, you can create a bootable USB device to scan your computer for malware without relying on Windows.
If neither of these methods work, try to backup your important files first before running a factory reset. You can scan files and folders individually with your antivirus to check them for malware before backing them up.
How do I remove malware from Windows 10?
To remove malware from Windows 10 (and any other versions of Windows), you should run a full system antivirus scan using reliable antivirus software. I recommend Norton, which comes with an advanced malware scanner that uses machine learning to detect the latest malware threats. Norton can quickly scan your computer for any infected files and safely quarantine them.
Bitdefender is another good antivirus program that includes an excellent cloud-based malware scanner that runs without any slowdown, whereas TotalAV is my top choice for users looking for an antivirus that’s super-simple to set up and use.
Can I use a free antivirus to remove malware from Windows 10?
For users on a strict budget, Avira offers a decent free antivirus. However, free antivirus programs simply don’t provide the same level of protection as paid competitors do, so I highly recommend that you invest in a good premium antivirus (which all come at a pretty low price anyway).