What is a "Clean Install"?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A clean install is an installation of an operating system on a hard drive which has been totally erased. Clean installs are used to put an operating system on a brand new computer, and to replace or totally upgrade an operating system on an older computer. While the process may sound a bit scary to people who are not comfortable with doing their own operating system installations, it's actually relatively easy, and it can be vastly superior to an upgrade or installation on top of an existing operating system.

Installing an operating system on a hard drive that has been erased is called a clean install.
Installing an operating system on a hard drive that has been erased is called a clean install.

There are a number of reasons to opt for a clean install of an operating system on an older computer. One of the first is viruses. By doing a clean install, the user can completely eliminate all viruses when the hard drive is wiped. Corrupted registry entries and other problems will be eliminated. Even if a computer doesn't seem to have any specific problems, reinstalling the operating system can resolve issues like a computer running sluggishly, or crashing frequently.

A "clean install" is performed after a computer's hard drive has been wiped.
A "clean install" is performed after a computer's hard drive has been wiped.

The main disadvantage is that the user's settings, files, and so forth are lost. For this reason, it is important to fully back up data before reinstalling an operating system or installing a new operating system. Some users don't like to do this, because they spend a lot of time perfecting their settings to get their computers running ideally, but many settings can be preserved and reapplied with backup programs designed for just this purpose. For example, a user can save his or her personal web browser information, and install it once the new operating system is up and functional.

While many people think of a clean install in reference to Windows, any operating system can be installed in this way, including various Apple operating systems, Linux, and so forth. When switching operating systems, users sometimes like to do a clean install so that they can start from scratch, and ensure that nothing on the hard drive will conflict or interfere with the new operating system.

People can do a wipe and clean install with installation discs provided for this purpose, if they want to reinstall or install a new operating system at home. It is also possible to hire a computer technician to handle the installation, a good option for people who feel uncomfortable with computer work of this level. A skilled technician can also save and reload documents, settings, and other personal data to get the user off and running as soon as possible.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


A few months ago I had to perform a clean install when I updated from Windows XP to Windows 7. I had hoped to be able to simply upgrade from one program to another, but my computer had been corrupted by several very annoying viruses.

I took my computer to a technician and he said if I did a Windows 7 clean install it would cure my viruses and leave me with a faster running computer. He was right. I am now virus free. Lets hope things stay that way!


The biggest concern for most people when performing a clean wipe is backing up their files. Fortunately, this process has become easier than ever. The low cost and high capacity of many external hard drives mean that users can export their files to a safe location in a matter of hours. The process is as easy as copying and pasting and you always have your exported files on hand.

There are also several internet based services which allow you to store your files on remote servers and access them anywhere. These are a little more expensive, but the offer superior accessibility and you do not have to worry about losing or braking an external drive.

With a little internet research, any user can find a safe, easy and affordable way to backup their files before a clean wipe. Don't let this be an obstacle! It is really not hard at all.


Its true that this process is easier than it sounds. In many cases, new operating systems will include a disc which walks you through the process of backing up your files and then easily replaces the old operating system with the new one.

The benefits of performing a clean wipe on your computer cannot be overstated. Trying to pile one system on top of an old one can slow down you computer, corrupt your files and lead to all kinds of bugs and errors that are not easy to fix. Best to go out with the old and in with the new.

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