Safe Mode has been a feature of Windows since the days of Windows 95, but it remains just as important as ever.
If you’re having any serious problems, accessing the recovery tools in Safe Mode is one of the most common solutions.
Prior to the launch of Windows 8 in 2012, Safe Mode could easily be triggered by hitting the F8 key as your computer booted up. But since then, it’s been a little more complicated.
In this article, we’ll run through how to access Safe Mode on both Windows 10 and Windows 11. The method varies depending on how usable your device is at the moment.
What is Safe Mode?
Safe Mode is an area of Windows which contains only a limited set of files and drivers. It doesn’t look quite like the usual desktop, but that’s intentional.
With no programs running or connections established, Safe Mode is unlikely to cause problems with your computer to get any worse. If things are working properly here, you know that default settings and basic drivers aren’t the cause.
All your usual files and settings are unaffected by entering Safe Mode, unless you specifically choose to delete them. There are also some useful tools which may help fix any issues you’re having.
How to start Windows in Safe Mode from Settings
If you’re able to boot into Windows like normal, it’s easy to access Safe Mode:
Open SettingsOn Windows 10, head to Update & Security > Recovery > Advanced startup. On Windows 11, it’s simply System > RecoveryClick the ‘Restart now’ button, then confirm if required
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Once your device reboots, you’ll see the following options. Select ‘Troubleshoot’
From the following screens, choose Advanced options > Startup settingsClick ‘Restart’ and your device will reboot once moreYou should now see nine options on the screen. Hit the ‘4’ or ‘F4’ key to enable Safe ModeEnter your login PIN or password if prompted
How to start Windows in Safe Mode from sign-in screen
If you can’t get past the sign-in screen, there’s still a way to get into Safe Mode:
Press the Shift key and continue holding itAt the same time, click the power icon (looks like a vertical line extending from a small circle) and choose ‘Restart’Your device should restart on the ‘Choose an option’ screen. Choose Advanced options > Startup settingsClick ‘Restart’ and your device will reboot once more
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You should now see nine options on the screen. Hit the 4/F4 key to enable Safe Mode without internet connectivity, or 5/F5 if you also want to be connectedEnter your login PIN or password if prompted
How to start Windows in Safe Mode from blank screen
But what if your device is totally unresponsive? The good news is that there’s still a way to use physical buttons to trigger Safe Mode. However, it requires a few more steps than the usual method:
Hold down the power button for 10 seconds, or until your device has completely turned offPress the power button once to begin the boot processAs soon as you see signs of life, hold down the power button for 10 seconds againRepeat steps 2-3 two more timesPress the power button once again, but leave it to complete the boot process this timeYour device should now load the Automatic Repair screen. Choose Advanced OptionsSelect ‘Startup settings’, then ‘Restart’Once rebooted, you should see nine options on the screen. Hit the ‘5’ or ‘F5’ key to enable Safe Mode with NetworkingEnter your login PIN or password if prompted
How to get out of Safe Mode in Windows
To exit Safe Mode in Windows, there are a few steps you’ll need to take. It’s exactly the same on Windows 10 and Windows 11:
Open the System Configuration app. If it doesn’t show up when searching, use Windows Key + R (to bring up the ‘Run’ window), then type ‘msconfig’ and hit enterSelect the ‘Boot’ tab at the top of the windowUntick the box marked ‘Safe boot’Click ‘Apply’, then ‘OK’ to confirm
When prompted, restart your device. You’ll now be out of Safe Mode
For more tutorials like this, see our list of Windows How Tos. You may also be interested in our full guide to Windows 11.