Chromebooks are tricky things. They’re built from the ground up to be portable, fast, and dead-simple to use — more so than Windows laptops. For the most part, they succeed, but like any computer, sometimes things go wrong.
When your PC goes haywire and you need to start over, it’s a huge pain. You need to reformat hard disks, reinstall operating systems, and perform all sorts of laborious setup tasks. Luckily, it’s a bit easier to clean house with a Chromebook (especially our favorites). There are a number of options available, which allow you to quickly reset your settings or perform a thorough “powerwash” that will scour your Chromebook for any problematic or malicious software, while leaving little behind in its wake.
If you’ve run into problems on your browser-based system, here’s how to reset a Chromebook.
Reset Settings to remove customization
This option for resetting your Chromebook will remove any customization you’ve made to your device — background image, display resolution, homepage, themes, et cetera — and disable any extensions you’ve installed. It’s a good option if you’re sure you want to continue using your Chromebook with your Google account, but want to remove some of the clutter or try to fix a nagging problem.
Step 1: Click the clock area, then click the settings ‘cog’ icon.
Step 2: Scroll down to the bottom of the menu and click “Show advanced settings,” then scroll down again. Click the button marked “Reset settings” at the bottom of the page.
Step 3: Make sure to read the warning in the pop-up menu. If you’re ready, click “Reset.”
Once complete, your Chromebook (and any Chrome desktop browsers connected to your Google account) will be reset to the default settings. It will still be running the latest version of Chrome OS.
Powerwash to remove user accounts and local files
The second option for resetting your Chromebook is rather colorfully called “Powerwash.” This removes any user accounts and local files stored on the machine. It will also reset the machine to the version of Chrome that was originally installed from the factory. Your Chromebook will need to install software updates once you connect it to the internet again.
There are two ways to access the Powerwash feature. If you can access your account, then go ahead and log in.
Step 1: Click the clock (in the lower-right corner by default), then click the settings ‘cog’ symbol.
Step 2: Scroll to the bottom of the page, then click “Show advanced settings,” then scroll down again. Near the very bottom will be the Powerwash button — click it.
If you can’t login to your Chromebook, then turn it on and get to the login screen. Hold down the Ctrl, Alt, Shift, and R keys at the same time (all four of them). The Powerwash feature will be activated.
Step 3: From either method, you’re now presented with two options: Restart and Cancel. Click “Restart.”
Once your Chromebook boots up again, you’ll be presented with a confirmation message: “Powerwash to reset your Chrome device to be just like new. All user accounts and local data will be removed. This cannot be undone.”
Step 4: If you’re sure, click the button marked “Powerwash.”
Step 5: On the next pop-up window, click “Continue.” Your Chromebook will reboot again, but this time when it turns back on it will spend a short moment clearing off all data. You’ll then need to set it up, connect to a Wi-Fi network, and log in with your Google account.
Format and recovery, for when things go wrong
If something’s gone wrong with your Chromebook and you can’t even get to the login screen, there’s still one more option: completely wipe the storage drive and restore it from remote media.
Warning: this process will completely wipe the operating system and storage of your Chromebook, making it entirely unusable until the recovery is completed. Google recommends you take a few precautionary steps first.
To complete this process, you’ll need a separate computer running the Chrome browser, and a 4GB or larger USB drive or SD card that you can completely erase. It’s also a good idea to plug in your power cord.
To completely format (erase) the operating system from your Chromebook, hold down the Esc key and the Refresh key (top row, fourth from the left, with an arrow icon that makes a circle). While still holding those keys, press and release the Power key. Keep holding the Esc and Refresh key until you see a screen that says, “Chrome OS is missing or damaged.”
Now switch over to your other computer. Insert your USB drive or SD card. Open Chrome and install the Chromebook recovery utility from Google, then launch the app. Click “Get started.”
Enter the model of your Chromebook, which should be displayed on the error screen — it’s the text at the bottom. Make sure to copy the text exactly. Click “Continue.” On this screen, select the USB drive or SD card you inserted earlier — make sure it’s the correct one, so that you don’t accidentally erase other drives connected to your computer. Click “Continue.” Click “Create now” on the next screen, then wait for the writing process to complete. If the operating system asks you to confirm any software installations, do so.
Click “Done” when the process is finished, then remove the USB drive or SD card and insert it into your original Chromebook. The device will restart automatically and begin the recovery process. When the message “System recovery is complete” appears on the screen, remove the USB drive or SD card.
Your Chromebook will automatically restart. Set it up, connect to a Wi-Fi network, and log in with your Google account. That’s it! You’re ready to go.
If Chrome OS is still leaving you hankering for a standard Windows machine, you could always install Windows on your Chromebook.