How to restore your Nintendo Switch to factory settings

how to factory reset initialize nintendo switch
Nate Barrett/Digital Trends
Sometimes, it becomes necessary to return a video game console to its pristine, out-of-the-box state. Whether you’re getting ready to pass it off to someone else, or wish to undo some kind of software bug, sometimes you need to take drastic steps and “factory reset” your device.

The Nintendo Switch actually offers more than one way to reset, or “initialize,” its firmware, potentially sparing your save data if you choose. In fact, there are many options for deleting different types of data, depending on your needs. Here’s everything you need to know about deleting data from your Nintendo Switch, including how to do a “factory reset.”

Initialize from the settings menu

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The easiest but most permanent way to reset your Switch is from the main menu. On the Home screen, go to the “System Settings” menu on the bottom of the screen — it’s the icon that looks like a gear. Hit the “A” button and you’ll see a list of options running down the left side of the screen. You want the bottom-most option, labeled “System.”

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how to factory reset nintendo switch system settings initialize

The System menu options will appear on the right side of the screen. You need to scroll down again to the bottom option, “Initialize.” There is a small exclamation point icon next to the Initialize option, warning you that this is a drastic, can’t-be-undone action. Hit the “A” button again and you will bring up the “Initialize” menu, which has a number of options for wiping and resetting the console.

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Reset Cache: Use this option if you want to wipe internet browser data from your Switch but keep everything else. This includes saved user IDs and passwords for various websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as your Switch browser history.

Reset Keyboard: The Switch’s virtual keyboard pays attention to the things you type and saves data about words and phrases you use often. It uses that data to offer predictive type options of words you use often, so you don’t have to type down every word as you’re using the keyboard, speeding up the process. This option wipes that predictive text data.

Format microSD Card: In order to use a microSD card as extra memory for the Switch, it has to be formatted. This option will delete any data on a microSD card you plug into the Switch, allowing it to be used in the console when you’re done. If you’re encountering errors using a microSD card on the Switch, this is the option you want.

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Initialize Console: This is the big one. This option returns your Switch to its out-of-the-box state, deleting all saved data, screenshots, videos, user accounts, web browser data, game data, and system updates. It will also reset system settings like parental controls to their defaults. If you have a Nintendo user account linked to online services like the Nintendo eShop, the account will still exist online, but it will no longer be linked to the Switch. According to Nintendo, any data from the Switch you stored on a microSD card won’t be deleted. Aside from your screenshots and videos, though, the data on your microSD card will become unusable.

Only use this option as a last resort: Either if you’re getting rid of the Switch altogether, or you’re encountering errors that are so troublesome, no other option will fix the console. Nintendo notes that you also need your console to be connected to the internet to reformat it.

The “soft” factory reset: Initializing from Maintenance Mode

how to factory reset nintendo switch maintenance mode

There is a second, less drastic way to “initialize” your Switch if you’re dealing with errors or other problems. Using the console’s “maintenance mode,” you can wipe most of the data from your Switch, while leaving behind things like game saves, user info, and screenshots. There are other maintenance mode options you might need as well if you’re dealing with errors, so try this mode before completely reinitializing your console. Maintenance mode lets you bypass the main Switch operating system, which can be helpful for getting around errors that are interrupting your ability to get to the System Settings menu.

To access Maintenance Mode, turn your Switch off by holding down the Power button on top of the console, then choosing “Power Options,” then “Turn Off.” Once the Switch is completely turned off, hold both the Volume Up and Volume Down buttons, as well as the Power button. Keep holding them down while you see the “Nintendo” and “Switch” logos appear on the screen, until you see the “Maintenance Mode” menu appear. From there, you have a few options for how to fix up your Switch.

Update System: If you are encountering errors you think can be fixed by an update to the Switch’s system software, this is the option you want. This option uses your Wi-Fi connection to download the latest Switch software and update your system.

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Initialize console without deleting save data: This is a “95 percent factory reset” option, if you’ve identified an issue with your Switch’s firmware or a game. It “initializes” most of the console, deleting your games, software updates, and restoring the console’s firmware to factory settings, but keeps your game saves, screenshots, videos, and user data intact. If you’re having trouble with your Switch but don’t want to lose all of your data, use this option.

It’s almost always a good idea to try this before pulling the trigger on a full “initialization.” Worse case scenario: If this doesn’t work, you can always do a full restore afterward.

Note: As with a full initialization of the console, this option will also render any data on a microSD card you’re using with the Switch as unusable.

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Initialize Console: Like the option in the System Settings menu, this is the big one that will completely wipe all data saved to your Switch, restoring it to its out-of-the-box state.

Again, a word of warning: Initializing your console will delete all your game and save data from the console, and unlink any online Nintendo accounts that are linked to it (you can see your Nintendo accounts online at accounts.nintendo.com). Initializing won’t wipe a microSD card you might have installed in the system, but all data on the card except for screenshots will become unusable, and you will have to reformat it to use it with the Switch again.

To leave Maintenance Mode without deleting anything, just hold down the Power button until the Switch turns off, then turn it back on again as normal.

What to do when you’ve “initialized” your Switch

Restoring your Switch to factory settings feels like a big step, and it may mean losing some save data, but sometimes it is necessary. Once you’ve done it, it isn’t hard to reinstall everything to get back to playing.

After you restore your Switch, you can link the console to your Nintendo account. Once your account is linked again, you will be able to download any games or DLC from the Nintendo eShop that you previously purchased. You can also reinstall any games you have as physical copies.

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If you have a microSD card with any images, we recommend saving them to a computer by inserting the SD Card into a card reader, finding the “album” folder, and install that onto your computer. Once you have saved your screenshots, you can reinsert the SD card into the Switch, and reformat it using the option we mentioned before in the System Settings menu.

Essentially, you just have to set up your Switch the way you did when you first bought it in order to use it again.

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