Google Pixel bootup screen.
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

“Factory Reset”—also sometimes called a “hard reset”—is a term thrown around a lot in the tech world. It’s often recommended to factory reset a device to fix nagging issues—and it usually solves the problem. Why is that?

What Is a Factory Reset?

A factory reset erases all user data, files, and settings from a device, whether that's a computer, smartphone, tablet, or anything else. The device is restored back to its "factory default" state so it can be set up from scratch again.

Let’s start with defining factory reset or hard reset. The “factory” part of the term is a reference to the factory where the device was manufactured. Performing a factory reset restores the device to its original manufacturer settings. Anything that was causing problems will most likely be wiped out. Your data will be removed from the device, which is why a factory reset is a great idea if you’re selling or otherwise disposing of an old device.

You can imagine a factory reset like putting your device in a time machine. After the process is complete, the device will be just like it was when it was brand new. It will need to be set up from scratch again. Of course, factory reset only applies to the software. It can’t reverse any hardware defects.

What Does Factory Reset Do?

So, a factory reset takes the device back to its original state. Let’s dig a little deeper into what that entails. Depending on the device, it can take several minutes to perform a factory reset. What’s happening in that time?

When you get a new electronic device—such as a computer, tablet, or smartphone—it comes preloaded with a “base layer” of software. That includes the operating system, some apps and files, preconfigured settings, etc. As you use the device, you add your own data.

Once you’ve confirmed you want to do a factory reset—which usually requires multiple confirmations—the device reboots into a low-power “recovery” mode. The device then erases all user-writeable areas of the operating system and overwrites them with the “factory” version. When it boots back up, you’re back at that “base layer” again.

One important thing to note is the base layer can change. Let’s say your laptop was originally running Windows 10, but you upgraded to Windows 11. A factory reset won’t take the device all the way back to Windows 10. Windows 11 establishes a new “base layer” for your device.

Can You Recover Data After a Factory Reset?

Operating systems generally make it abundantly clear that a factory reset cannot be undone. Still, it’s entirely possible to mistakenly lose something during a factory reset. Are you out of luck? The short answer is yes, you are.

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Actually recovering data after a factory reset is typically impossible. Your best option is to restore from a backup, but that does require some thinking ahead. It’s always a good idea to create backups of important data. Sometimes a factory reset is the only way to save a device, and you’re not able to create a backup first.

The good news is there are many ways to backup computers, tablets, and smartphones. Online backup services are plentiful, but your data is stored in the cloud, and it’s mostly out of your control. For iPhone, iPad, and Android, cloud storage is a good choice. Offline backups are more reliable but not as convenient, especially for smartphones.

Can You Factory Reset Too Many Times?

You might wonder if erasing and overwriting data repeatedly can cause harm to your device. The good news is that’s not really something you have to worry about. There’s technically no limit to how many times you can factory reset a phone, tablet, or computer.

A factory reset does affect the device’s physical memory. After all, that’s where the data that’s being erased and rewritten is stored. That repeated cycle can harm the memory, but it would take a crazy number of resets to actually see that damage in reality.

If you’re factory resetting your device every single day for months on end, that’s not good for the memory. However, most people are probably doing two to three factory resets at most per year, and many may not ever need to do it. Don’t fret unless you’re a chronic resetter.

How to Factory Reset

With all this talk about factory resetting, you may be wondering how to do it for your device. We have guides for factory resetting a wide variety of devices, including Android phones and tablets, Windows 10 and Windows 11 PCs, iPhone and iPad, MacBooks and other Mac PCs, and Chromebooks. It’s not a difficult thing to do, but you do need to be sure you want to do it.

In closing, a factory reset is a method for reverting your device back to its original state from the manufacturer. It’s a common solution to a wide range of problems that can occur. Sometimes all you need is to go back to a safe point, and a factory reset is often the easiest way to do it.

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Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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