IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
In-depth

How to boot Windows 10 in Safe Mode

Everything you need to know about starting Windows 10 securely and returning to normal boot

Windows 10 is still the most popular operating system (OS) on the planet, despite Windows 11 having been out for some time now, which means there is a good chance you are also running Windows 10 on at least one of your machines.

Windows’ Safe Mode is a remarkably useful feature that offers users the chance to boot their Windows laptop or desktop computer but with limited functionality, which is actually more helpful than it sounds. It helps users to load up their computer and debug whatever issues may be adversely affecting its everyday operation.

What is Windows Safe Mode?

Safe Mode is a setting within Windows that allows users to boot their machine to the desktop using only the most basic functions needed to start the operating system.

The causes for a malfunctioning computer can be myriad and sometimes not obvious, which is why loading up a stripped-back version of the computer can sometimes be beneficial, doing away with unnecessary components so you can see what exactly is going wrong.

In cases where a computer is infected with malware, for example, Safe Mode can be effective at identifying where the malware may be hiding on your computer, given that it prevents applications from running and limits network access too.

Only the most important files and drivers needed to launch Windows 10 (or earlier) will be activated upon booting up a computer in Safe Mode, so no third-party apps, cosmetic features or other tools will be present when you gain access to your desktop.

Related Resource

Unified endpoint management solutions 2021-22

Analysing the UEM landscape

Whitepaper cover with title on shaded pink/purple backgroundFree Download

This stripping down process is done so you can determine which application may be causing the issues you're experiencing, or whether the operating system itself is at the heart of the problem.

Standard Safe Mode restricts access to the internet, while Safe Mode with networking enables you to access the web via either Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable. However, Safe Mode with networking should be avoided if you believe your issue lies with malware, or a virus, as data may be fed back to the attackers, or the bug may spread across a network.

Why launch in Safe Mode?

If you're struggling to start Windows normally - for example, if you're just seeing a blue screen when trying to start up, or the progress bar never actually gets to the end of the loading cycle, starting your computer up with only the very basics is a great place to start.

It's also a good idea to start your computer up in safe mode if you think it's been infected with malware or some of the hardware drivers on your machine are preventing Windows from launching correctly. Safe Mode 

If one application is conflicting with another, starting up in Safe Mode will help with this too. After you've determined the blue screen or problems with startup aren't related to the core files, you can start testing other applications to see which is causing the problem and then uninstall just that one.

Although starting up your computer in Safe Mode won't always cure the issue, it's the best place to start if you're not exactly sure what's wrong with it.

How to start Windows 10 in Safe Mode

There are two ways to launch Safe Mode on your computer either via the settings menu, if you can access it, or when you reach the sign-in screen. Microsoft has kept the process relatively similar across the modern versions of Windows, and so the steps for booting Windows 10 in Safe Mode or pretty much identical to those for booting Windows 11 in Safe Mode.

Boot using the Settings menu

  1. Click the Start button from the Windows desktop
  2. Search for Settings
  3. Click Update & Security
  4. Click Recovery
  5. From Advanced Settings, select Restart now

Your computer will now restart, presenting the Choose an option screen. From here, select Troubleshoot Advanced Options > Startup Settings > Restart.

Your PC will reboot again and this time, you'll be able to choose to start up in either Safe Mode (option 4, or select it by pressing F4) or Safe Mode With Networking (option 5; tap F4 if you can't choose it manually).

Boot using the sign-in screen

If you've just started up your PC to find it's not working correctly, you can also reboot using Safe Mode when you arrive at the sign-in screen. To do this:

  1. Click the Start Menu from the desktop
  2. Hold down the Shift button on your keyboard and select the Power symbol, and then Restart
  3. When your computer reboots, it should open up the Recovery Menu
  4. Click Troubleshoot
  5. Click Advanced Options
  6. Click Startup Settings
  7. Click Restart

From the next screen, you can choose either option 4 or press F4 on your keyboard to boot up in Safe Mode, or option 5 (F5) if you need to retain access to the internet.

When to call a professional

Once you're running Safe Mode, you can start to investigate the problems you're experiencing with your computer and try to fix them.

However, if you're not confident trying to fix the issue yourself, it's always best to call in professional help either from your IT department or a third-party company to make sure you don't damage your PC permanently.

If your computer is presenting the black screen of death and you're unable to do anything at all, hit CTRL, ALT, DELETE to bring up the logout screen, select Restart and ensure you press down the Shift button to take you to the Choose an option screen, from which you can select Safe Mode.

How to use msconfig to launch Safe Mode

If you would rather launch Safe Mode using the command line rather than going through the rather time-consuming steps above, you can instead launch using msconfig. To access this:

  1. Click the Start Menu button
  2. Type msconfig into the search bar
  3. Click System Configuration
  4. Click the Boot tab
  5. Tick Safe Boot - by default this will be set to minimal, but you can change this depending on your needs
  6. Click Ok

How to get to the old Windows 7 Advanced Options screen

If you're used to using older versions of Windows, you may want to use the older Advanced Boot Options that are no longer visible in Windows 10.

To do this, you'll need to create a bootable USB flash drive or DVD, which you'll need to do on another computer if your machine isn't working. It's a good idea to have one already made up though, just in case you experience problems in future.

To access the legacy Advanced Options from this bootable drive, pop the USB drive or DVD into your machine and boot from it (you may have to adjust the BIOS boot settings), select your language and when you arrive at the Repair your computer page, choose Troubleshoot, Advanced Options and Command Prompt.

Now, type in the disk destination (such as c:) and press enter. Now, type in bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy followed by enter, then type exit and return to quit the Command Prompt. Remove the USB or DVD and when you reboot your computer, it will use the old-school boot. Tap F8 to get to the Advanced Options where you can choose to boot up in Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, Safe Mode with Command Prompt or any other available option.

How to exit Windows 10 in Safe Mode

Once you're in Safe Mode and, hopefully, have corrected the problem with your computer, you'll want to test it's worked. To do this, you'll need to exit from Safe Mode. You can do this once again using msconfig. Head to the Start Menu and type in msconfig to bring up the System Configuration menu.

Go to the Boot option at the bottom of the screen, untick Safe Boot, select apply and OK. you may be asked to reboot for the changes to take effect, or just restart manually to relaunch your computer in normal mode.

Featured Resources

The 3D skills report

Add 3D skills to your creative toolkits and play a sizeable role in the digital future

Free Download

The increasing need for environmental intelligence solutions

How sustainability has become a major business priority and is continuing to grow in importance

Free Download

2022 State of the multi-cloud report

What are the biggest multi-cloud motivations for decision-makers, and what are the leading challenges

Free Download

Solve global challenges with machine learning

Tackling our word's hardest problems with ML

Free Download

Recommended

Windows 10 users encounter ‘blue screen of death’ after latest Patch Tuesday update
Microsoft Windows

Windows 10 users encounter ‘blue screen of death’ after latest Patch Tuesday update

20 Dec 2022
How to speed up Windows 10
Microsoft Windows

How to speed up Windows 10

19 Dec 2022
How to virtualise Windows 7 inside Windows 10
Microsoft Windows

How to virtualise Windows 7 inside Windows 10

16 Dec 2022
How to reinstall Windows 10 without losing data
Microsoft Windows

How to reinstall Windows 10 without losing data

24 Nov 2022

Most Popular

Dutch hacker steals data from virtually entire population of Austria
data breaches

Dutch hacker steals data from virtually entire population of Austria

26 Jan 2023
European partners expect growth this year, here are three ways they will achieve it
Sponsored

European partners expect growth this year, here are three ways they will achieve it

17 Jan 2023
GTA V vulnerability exposes PC users to partial remote code execution attacks
vulnerability

GTA V vulnerability exposes PC users to partial remote code execution attacks

23 Jan 2023