Factory resetting any of our electronic devices is never fun. We live in a world powered by the internet, and by our personal data on our phones, tablets, and laptops. Losing that data—or having to start from scratch—can be an inconvenience at best and a major time sink at worst. No one likes to set their devices up from scratch, resigning into accounts with old passwords, remembering which applications were active and installed and which weren’t—all of this can absorb hours and days of your time as you transfer your data over to the reformatted device.
Unfortunately, technology isn’t perfect. From time to time, we all have to put up with the major inconvenience of resetting our devices, either for troubleshooting purposes (the device has become too slow, or is experiencing some form of connectivity issue, etc.), or because we’re upgrading or selling our device and need to remove our personal data. And as far as this kind of troubleshooting goes, the good news is this: it’s rather easy to factory reset a Chromebook. Because most of your files on your Chromebook are stored in the cloud, you won’t have much to backup prior to resetting your laptop. And the same goes for your Chrome apps and extensions: because everything is tied to your Google account, as soon as you’re logged back into your account, you’ll have access to every single app, extension, file, and folder attached to your Google information. Your apps will even install in the background, making setup quick and easy.
But how exactly do you reset the data on your Chromebook? Well, as with most functions on Google’s affordable laptop OS, restoring your Chromebook to its default state is near-effortless—in fact, there’s even a keyboard shortcut for the process. But before we get to that, let’s take care of a couple of data settings first.
Backing Up Your Chromebook
Since most of your files are stored in the cloud using Google Drive, there isn’t much to backup within a Chromebook. That said, most of us keep the occasional local document, photo collection, or anything else on our devices, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to dive into your local storage on your Chromebook to check out what’s stored on the device.
From the desktop of your Chromebook, either tap the small circle icon in the lower-left hand corner of your screen, or the Search button on your Chromebook’s keyboard. This will load the launcher for your Chromebook, where you can load your file browser either from the list of your recent applications or, if you haven’t accessed the file browser in a while, from tapping the “All Apps” icon at the bottom of the launcher and finding the “Files” app.
Once you’ve loaded into Files, you’ll see a traditional file browser that can display your various folders and content library. Along the left side of the browser, you’ll see several different menus, including your Google Drive account and your Downloads folder. By default, these are the main two areas of your Chromebook, though it’s possible you’ve added additional services or folders to your laptop. In our test Chromebook’s case, we only have our Google Drive account and our Downloads folder, which contains several screenshots and a few miscellaneous downloads from Chrome. Not all of the files in our Downloads folder are essential, but the ones we want to keep need to be backed up—otherwise, we’ll lose them for good.
There are two main ways to backup these files:
- Use Google Drive, which is already built into your Chromebook’s file browser. Any file you upload to Google Drive will be able to be accessed on any device your Google account is signed into. This makes it pretty easy to simply drag and drop your files into Google Drive. The upload process will be shown in the lower-left corner of your file browser window.
- If your files are too big for a Google Drive upload—either because it’ll take too long to upload or because your Google Drive account doesn’t feature enough storage—you can also use physical media to backup your files, like a USB flash drive or an external hard drive. Just plug your media into the USB port on your laptop, wait for your drive to appear along the left pane inside Files, and drag and drop your content to your drive. Just like with Google Drive above, the transfer process will be shown in the lower-left corner of the window.
Remember, for photo or video files, you can also use Google Photos to upload your content. Photos uses your Google Drive storage, or can replace your files with slightly-lesser quality versions that won’t count against your storage.
Once you’ve taken your files and storage from your Chromebook and placed them on another drive or storage service, it’s time to reset your Chromebook. And as usual with Google products, there are a couple different ways to go about this.
Reset Your Chromebook with Hotkeys
That’s right—in a very “Google” move, the company behind Chrome OS has included a hotkey shortcut to factory reset your laptop. It’s the first of two ways to reset your Chromebook, and it’s a bit simpler than loading into Chrome’s admittedly-extensive list of settings. It can also be helpful to use this shortcut if you’re having trouble using or accessing your Chromebook’s settings.
Start by signing out of your Chromebook by tapping the system information panel in the lower-right hand corner of your Chromebook’s display. In this panel, you’ll find a bunch of different power options, including the ability to sign out of your device by hitting the “Sign out” button at the top of the panel.
Once you’ve signed out of your account, press and hold Ctrl+Alt+Shift+R. This shortcut will load a display that reads “Reset this Chrome device,” with a helpful explanation of what Chrome calls “powerwashing.” Powerwashing your device is just another way of saying “factory data reset,” so rest assured, this is the menu we’re looking for. Click the “Powerwash” button—or, if prompted, click the “Restart” button, allow your device to reboot, and then click “Powerwash”—to begin the reset process. Google may prompt you to confirm your choice to powerwash the device—if so, simply accept the prompt. After about a minute, your Chromebook will reboot to the standard Chrome OS “Welcome!” display, and you can then re-setup your device. The account you sign in with will become the “owner” of the Chromebook, so if you’re looking to sell your device, simply power off the machine to be used with its new owner.
Reset Your Chromebook from Settings
As we mentioned above, you don’t have to sign out of your device to activate a Chrome OS powerwash. You can also access the factory reset option from inside your settings menu, and it’s just as simple as we detailed above with the hotkey method.
Tap the system information panel in the lower-right hand corner of your Chromebook’s display, just as we did above, but instead of signing out, tap the settings gear icon to load into Chrome OS’s settings menu. Most of the settings are hidden behind Google’s “Advanced” label at the bottom of the settings, so go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of their menu.
Click “Advanced,” and you’ll see the settings menu extend. At the very bottom of the settings list, you’ll find two reset options:
- Reset: This will restore your settings to their default state, but won’t wipe or clear your Chromebook’s storage drive and accounts.
- Powerwash: This will remove all of your accounts, extensions, and apps from your Chromebook, restoring it to its original, out-of-the-box state.
As you can imagine, we’re looking for the “Powerwash” setting. Tapping on that menu will load a menu asking you to first reboot your Chromebook, just as we saw above with the hotkey method. Following a reboot of your device, you’ll be returned to the menu to powerwash your device. Tap “Powerwash,” confirm your selection with Google, and that’s it—just as we saw above, your machine will reboot after about a minute and you’ll be greeted by Chrome’s “Welcome!” display.
Overall, factory resetting a Chromebook is one of the easiest devices to clear and re-setup. Because Google’s operating system is so entwined with cloud services, backing up the files on your device—no matter how few or how many—only take a minute or two of your time, something that on a PC would take a much longer span of time. There’s no need to backup or transfer applications or extensions, as everything reloads when you first boot the machine and sign-in. And even the factory reset takes less time than with an iOS or Android device. It’s not often a reset is so painless on one of our electronic devices, but here we are—with a near-instant reset that, if you’re experiencing problems with using your Chromebook day-to-day, can solve almost any issue.