If a program isn’t working right, just reinstalling it won’t necessarily fix it. You may need to reset the program to its default settings, and some programs don’t offer an easy way to do this.

You can erase any program’s settings from your computer if you just know where they are. We’ll show you the most common places programs store their settings and demonstrate how to track down any program’s settings.

The Easy Way

You’ll ideally be able to reset a program’s settings by uninstalling it and checking the “Delete preferences” or “Delete settings” box in the uninstaller. This option is usually unchecked by default. Reinstall the program after uninstalling it.

Not every program has this option in its uninstaller. if the program doesn’t have this option, you’ll have to hunt down its settings elsewhere.

Use a Reset Option

RELATED: How to Reset Your Web Browser To Its Default Settings

Some programs have a built-in Reset option. For example, Firefox can reset itself to its default settings so you don’t have to mess with your Firefox profiles folders. Access this option in Firefox by clicking the menu button, clicking the question-mark-shaped Help button, selecting Troubleshooting Information, and clicking Reset Firefox. Chrome, Internet Explorer, and some other programs have similar options.

Locate and Delete the Program’s Settings

Before you delete anything by hand, be extra careful. If you delete the wrong folder or registry key, you could erase a different program’s settings or cause problems with your system configuration. Here’s where most programs store their settings:

Your user account’s AppData folder: You can access this folder by plugging C:\Users\NAME\AppData into File Explorer or Windows Explorer’s address bar and pressing Enter. This folder is hidden by default. Most applications should store their settings in AppData\Roaming, but many store settings in the AppData\Local folder.

RELATED: Learning to Use the Registry Editor Like a Pro

The Windows registry: You can open the Registry Editor by pressing Windows Key + R, typing regedit in the Run dialog, and pressing Enter. You’ll generally find a program’s settings under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software or HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software. Delete a program’s settings by locating its key (folder), right-clicking it, and deleting it.

Be very careful when doing this — delete the wrong registry key and your Windows system may become seriously damaged. For example, if you’re trying to wipe out Mumble’s settings, feel free to delete the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Mumble key. But don’t delete the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft key or you could cause very serious problems.

The ProgramData folder: This folder is located at C:\ProgramData — plug C:\ProgramData into your file manager’s address bar and press Enter to access it. Delete the folders for a program and it should wipe its settings. Windows forces old programs to store their settings here if they try to write them to their Program Files folders. Modern Windows programs shouldn’t store their settings under their folder in Program Files.

Applications may store their settings elsewhere, too. For example, many games store their settings and saved games in folders under your Documents folder. A handful of applications store their settings in your main user folder at C:\Users\NAME.

Some programs may store settings in several different places — for example, in both the AppData\Roaming folder and in the registry.

Inspect the Program With Process Monitor

RELATED: Understanding Process Monitor

Process Monitor can show you where a program stores its settings. We’ve covered using Process Monitor to examine exactly what a program is doing.

Run Process Monitor, and then open the application you want to reset. Process Monitor will log exactly what files and registry keys the program examines — this will tell you where it’s storing its settings. You can then use Process Monitor to see exactly what files and settings the program is using. Click the Filter menu and select Filter. Create an “Image Path” folder and select the program’s path in the drop-down box.

You’ll see only the events associated with that particular program. Scroll through the list and look for where the program stores its settings. Here, we can see WinDirStat reads its settings from the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Seifert\WinDirStat registry key.

Close the program, delete the appropriate registry keys and files, and it should be reset to its default settings. You may also have to reinstall the program after doing this — it depends on the program. Some programs can recover from having their registry keys wiped out and will happily start with the default settings, while some programs will complain because they need the installer to create their registry keys for them.

Reinstalling Windows or refreshing your PC will also erase all settings for your installed applications, but that’s a more extreme option!

Image Credit: Till Westermayer on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »