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How to Factory Reset a Chromebook (Even if It Won’t Boot)

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Chromebooks locally sync some data, so you’ll want to wipe that personal data when selling or passing on your Chromebook. You can also reinstall Chrome OS — particularly useful if you’ve messed around in developer mode.

Performing a factory reset will wipe all local data stored on your Chromebook — for example, files stored in the Downloads folder. Most data on your Chromebook syncs online, so you can get it back by signing in with your Google account.

Run Powerwash to Wipe Your Chromebook’s Data

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The Powerwash feature wipes all your personal data off your Chromebook. When you power on the Chromebook, you’ll see the first-time setup screen where you have to set everything up by connecting to Wi-Fi and signing into a Google account. Use Powerwash when you’re done with your Chromebook and you want to sell it or give it to someone else.

User data stored on your Chromebook is encrypted, so people won’t be able to recover deleted files from your Chromebook afterward.

To run Powerwash, sign into your Chromebook and open Chrome’s settings screen. Perform a search here for Powerwash or click Show advanced settings and scroll down to the bottom of the settings page. Click the Powerwash button and click Restart. Your Chromebook will restart, erase all its user data, and present you with the first-time setup screen.

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Disable Developer Mode to Reinstall Chrome OS

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If you’ve enabled developer mode and modified your Chromebook’s software — maybe you’ve installed Linux alongside Chrome OS — you can disable developer mode to erase all your customizations. When you disable developer mode, your Chromebook will wipe all user data and reset all system files to their default state.

Restart your Chromebook and you’ll see the standard “OS verification is off” message. Instead of pressing Ctrl+D to skip this warning, press the Space button to re-enable OS verification and disable developer mode. You’ll end up with a like-new Chromebook and whatever changes you made to the operating system will be gone. If you want to mess around with the low-level operating system files again, you’ll have to re-enable developer mode.

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Create Recovery Media to Reinstall Chrome OS

You may see a “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” message if your Chromebook can’t boot. You’ll need to create recovery media from another Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or Chrome OS computer so you can reinstall Chrome OS.

Install the Chromebook Recovery Utility app from the Chrome Web Store. Launch it and use it to create recovery media with a USB drive or SD card. The USB drive or SD card must be 4 GB or larger.

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Boot your Chromebook. When you see the “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” message, insert the recovery media and your Chromebook will begin reinstalling Chrome OS.

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Force-Boot Into Recovery Mode

If you’d like to reinstall Chrome OS and you don’t see the “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” message on your screen, you can force your Chromebook to boot into recovery mode.

First, turn off your Chromebook. Next, press Esc + Refresh on the keyboard and hold down the Power button. (The Refresh key is located where F3 would be on a typical PC keyboard.) Your Chromebook will boot straight to recovery mode.

The Esc + Refresh method is for newer Chromebooks. Older Chromebooks and Chromeboxes actually have physical recovery buttons. You’ll need to press and hold the button and then turn on the Chromebook while keeping the button pressed. Google provides a gallery of images showing the location of the button on different Chromebook models.

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Perform a Hard Reset

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If your Chromebook isn’t booting at all, you may need to perform a hard reset. You can do this by pressing Refresh + Power on modern Chromebooks. On a Chromebox, you’ll need to disconnect and reconnect the power cable.

On older Chromebooks, you may need to pull the battery and reinsert it or use a special reset button. Google has a gallery of images showing where the button is on different Chromebooks.


You can quickly get back up to speed after reinstalling Chrome OS. Your data and apps will be synced when you sign back in with the same Google account. It works just like logging into your Google account on a new Chromebook.

(At the time of writing, the Chromebook Recovery Utility we mention here wasn’t officially released. We included it because Chrome OS’s developers have indicated it will soon be officially released and will replace the old recovery tools.)

Image Credit: Reynosa Blogs on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 06/7/14