Add THIS to Your Anti-Malware Arsenal

Category: Anti-Virus

No anti-malware program eradicates every bit of every infection. If problems persist after a full scan with your standard malware killer, you can try a specialized program that digs deeply into the dark corners of your system where advanced malware hides. Read on to learn about this tool that you should have in your internet security toolbox...

What is AdwCleaner?

AdwCleaner is one such specialty program. It does a superior job of rooting out rootkits, toolbars, PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), and browser hijackers. It finds malware traces left in the registry, temp files, and browser settings that can somtimes resurrect these pests when a machine is rebooted. Best of all, it’s free and very easy to use.

AdwCleaner is maintained by a French firm called Xplode. It’s best to download AdwCleaner directly from its support site where you’ll also find news and FAQs about AdwCleaner. But before you do, I recommend that you make a System Restore point, just in case you need to undo any of the changes AdwCleaner makes. (Click Start, then type create a restore point to begin the process.)

AdwCleaner Anti-Malware tool

There is no installation process; the file you download is the executable AdwCleaner program. Just run it, click “Scan” and in a few minutes AdwCleaner displays a report of malware (or traces) that it found.

The display is divided into tabs that show items found in various places where malware likes to hide: running services, folders, files, shortcuts, scheduled tasks, the registry, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.

When the scan is complete, AdwCleaner presents a tabbed report of anything that was found, and waits for you to click the “Clean” button. If you're not techy, you might just want to whack that button and be done with it. If you later find that something needs to be restored, click the Tools button on the AdwCleaner main menu and you’ll find the “Quarantine Manager.” It shows all of the files that AdwCleaner has removed and gives you the option to restore any of them if you later find that’s necessary.

Cleaning Up After Yourself

See A PUP By Any Other Name is Still a Dog to learn more about Potentially Unwanted Programs, and how to avoid them.

Note that I said "files" in that last sentence. Other things that AdwCleaner removes, such as registry keys and system services can't be restored using the Quarantine Manager. That's why I recommended making a System Restore point, so you can restore everything to the point prior to running AdwCleaner. It's not likely that you'll need to do so, but better safe than sorry, right?

I recommend at least looking at the items that were found, because there might be something you want to keep. Let's look at the tabs in the AdwCleaner report:

Services Tab: Items listed here are malicious services that get loaded when you start up your computer. If something is shown here, in all likelihood it's bad. Leave these items checked to disable and then delete the service.

Folders Tab: Here you'll find a list of folders that AdwCleaner thinks are harboring malware. Uncheck any folders you want to keep, or the folder and their contents will be deleted. In my test AdwCleaner flagged a folder called "C:\Util" in which I've collected a bunch of utility programs. I know for sure that none are harmful, so I unchecked that one. It also flagged "C:\Program Files\NCH Software" which has an mp3converter program I downloaded.

Files Tab: This is supposed to be a list of malicious files. In my test, it flagged a handful of browser cookies, which I didn't care about, so I let them checked for delettion.

Shortcuts Tab: These are modified or hidden links. I'm not even sure what that means, but I didn't have any. If any are found and left checked, AdwCleaner will restore the links to their previous state before being infected.

Registry Tab: This is a list of items (keys) detected in your Windows Registry. Depending on what was found, ADwCleaner will delete the key, the value or the data, or restore the key.

Internet Explorer / Firefox / Chrome Tabs: These tabs show a list of configuration files, profiles, preferences files and extensions flagged for removal.

Clean, Rinse and Reboot

With a bit of poking around, and some Googling, you'll decide which items to uncheck, if any. Remember, (most of) the changes that AdwCleaner makes to your system are reversible with the “Quarantine Manager” mentioned above.

When “Clean” is clicked, AdwCleaner warns you that it will close all running programs and advises you to save any work before clicking “OK” to start the cleaning process. Your computer will automatically be rebooted when cleaning is finished. There is no option to “reboot later,” which is a good thing for the forgetful. AdwCleaner says that after your computer is restarted, a report of everything that was done will be displayed. That didn't happen when I ran it.

I ran AdwCleaner on my PC after running malware scans with Avast, Advanced System Care Pro, and MalwareBytes Anti-Malware. As I mentioned, AdwCleaner flagged one folder for deletion that I did want to keep. It also found several traces of PUPs that all of those excellent programs (might have) missed.

I didn't dig deep enough to determine if any of those traces were just harmless remains of previously-removed malware, or the real thing. Although I suspect the former, I was still glad to have them found and zapped. My PC is running smoothly, and that’s all I need to know.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Add THIS to Your Anti-Malware Arsenal"

(See all 33 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Lloyd Collins
22 Jan 2015

I ran the program. and it found a couple of item in the Registry I could tell was bad. It found two programs I use regularly, Coupon Printer from Coupon dot com, and YouTube Downloader. I have used both for years with no ill effect.

Another thing happened AFTER I ran the program, and restarted my PC, then got online. A box popped up saying an unknown program wants to change my search engine to Bing. I never had that before running this program. I ran a full Virus scan this morning, and reported no problems.

Posted by:

John Doyle
22 Jan 2015

Is AdwCleaner compatible with Windows Security Essentials? Can they both coexist on Windows 7?
--Unable to Search and find an answer to this on

EDITOR'S NOTE: As far as I know, yes.

Posted by:

22 Jan 2015

At your suggestion, I tried AdwCleaner once and uninstalled it. 1) It was suppose to create a restore point but did not 2) I unchecked items that I did not want deleted and it deleted them 3) it STOPPED Avast and Windows Defender 4) the 1st 3 are enough

EDITOR'S NOTE: AdwCleaner does not create a restore point. That's why I advised reader to do this BEFORE installing it. Also, when you do the CLEAN, it will stop ALL programs first, and then reboot.

Posted by:

Gene De Lorenzo
22 Jan 2015

I tried this program for a week, but it insisted on deleting a profile file for Mozilla's Firefox (completely up to date), rendering my browser inaccessible. I made several attempts at removing and reinstalling the program to no avail, it kept removing that profile file. All of the other items that AdwCleaner found had a checkbox to prevent the item from being deleted, except that one. I could not get AdwCleaner to leave it alone. One of your other readers (Danny G) mentioned that he had the same problem with the same Firefox profile file, so I assume that mine is not an isolated incident. That makes AdwCleaner a NoGO for me.

Posted by:

Paul Babiarz
22 Jan 2015

I read your article yesterday (Thursday evening)
and decided to download AdwCleaner. I have few problems with my computer and MBam and Avast normally provide adequate protection. I chose this program because my other half continually has problems with her computers. If it worked I'd try it on hers. Unfortunately after creating a system restore point then downloading and running the program it found many problems, mostly in the registry. Before I go further, I should explain, I got to the download by clicking your link. When I got to the page a note had been added that said "this is bad (indicating the download button) click her and pointed to a different button. I smelled a rat. I should have just clicked off the page but I tried to guess which link would get be a working download, oh, and I had a restore point.
After I clicked clean, the problems started. That was 4-5 hours ago and right now I'm writing this in safe mode with networking. Oh, and the restore point, it was erased along with all other restore points that may have been on the computer. It's probably going to the shop tomorrow (later today).

Posted by:

22 Jan 2015

You say, "My PC is running smoothly, and that’s all I need to know." Wasn't it running "smoothly" before AdwCleaner was used? Or did AdwCleaner make your PC run "smoothly"? Considering you ran Avast, Advanced System Care Pro, and MalwareBytes Anti-Malware, I'm sure your PC was working fine. Your statement is a bit missleading.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I did mention that AdwCleaner found some traces of malware that the others missed...

Posted by:

22 Jan 2015

I think you can go into over kill with many programs, how many do you actually need before the paranoia sets in. I use MBAM, SupereAntiSpyware, among other things and I have never had a problem. I went to the web site of AdwCleaner and I am not at all convinced it is good. too many people having too many problems with it. I myself as I said, think you can go into shall we say, too much mode. No matter what you do and how many of these programs you have, nothing and I mean nothing will make you completely safe, it is the way it is these days. You could have 15 scanners on your computer and still something could be found. I think I am happy with what I have now and to add more would simply be too much, you can waste a lot of time in fear if you wish scanning your computers all days long, but that is over kill. Just my opinion of course, everyone has their own way. Being a computer tech myself I understand a lot of these programs and some make no sense at all. Have a great day last thing, playing with your registry without understanding what your really doing is just asking for trouble, do not do it, cleaning a registry will not make your computer faster or really help you much unless you do have a verifiable virus or malware. Seek help with registry repair. I bet I have said that a thousand times and people still play with it and get into trouble.....

Posted by:

22 Jan 2015

Another good place to download AdwCleaner is Bleeping Computer, just be sure you click the right 'download' link. (Bleeping pays the bills with advertizing just like Bob does!)
Since I service computers, about once a month I download from Bleeping: AdwCleaner, JRT, TDSSKiller, Combofix and Rkill. These five are all frequently updated and usually are the top 5 downloads from Bleeping.
All but Combofix are ok for normal users; Combofix is ... well ... 'techie.'

Posted by:

22 Jan 2015

You caution to create a restore point before you use it. Considering how unreliable System Restore is on all 3 of my Win 7 computers there's no security in that!

Any suggestions?

Posted by:

22 Jan 2015

Admins in PC Tech in Paltalk use ADW many times a day when users with issues that other programs will not solve seek assistance. Sometimes too, it is JRT that helps. Both are available from Bleeping computer. These are just different tools in the toolbox that users may want to have available to assist in problem solutions. I have about 15 items "just in case".

Under most circumstances, Bit Defender Free (BDF) and MBAM Premium (which was offered for free in Feb 2014) keep the system functioning just fine.

Posted by:

Don Gilcrease
23 Jan 2015

It seemed to work well, except for the two Chrome extensions it mistook for malware. Those are:

Ad Blocker for Gmail and Speed Dial 2

It took a bit to figure out what may have gone awry, but it put the files back when I told it to.

Posted by:

23 Jan 2015

I have been using it with a lot of success.

Posted by:

23 Jan 2015

Alot of people say there's no use for Awdcleaner. I say hogwash. It works on my Wins7 computers. After a year of occasionally using it, I agree with Bob. Someone here recommended it in a post and my mouse was having major problems. And webpages wouldn't scroll. Navigation sucked. Avast, AVG, Malwarebytes, Spybot S&D wouldn't fix the problems. Awdcleaner fixed the problems everytime. And it's rare that I visit any adult sites so I've ruled that out as a cause. In closing I vote for Awdcleaner as being an essential program.

Posted by:

23 Jan 2015

I was at the point of wanting to reinstall windows because of an excessively slow computer. Norton and MBAM found no problems, but after running AdwCleaner, my computer and my stress level are back to normal. Thank you.

Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
23 Jan 2015

Hi, Bob,

You wrote, "There is no installation process; the file you download is the executable AdwCleaner program." That may be true. I ran AdwCleaner under Revo Uninstaller, and afterward it found nothing to install. However, the AdwCleaner download page makes my scratch my head. It contains this supposedly reassuring comment, "It can be easily uninstalled using the mode 'Uninstall.'" I don't know how to access the "mode 'Uninstall,'" and I don't know why it should be necessary if there is no installation process.

The program found a few search queries in Chrome, which I allowed the program to clean up.

I had the same experience you did, in that I was not given a report after reboot. I had run the program from my standard user account. There was no report waiting for me there, nor was there in my admin user account.

(I know when I restore from a restore point, the report appears only in my admin user account, regardless of from where I did the restore.)

Perhaps if I had run the program from my admin user account, I would have seen a report. I guess I don't really care.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Start AdwCleaner. One of the options on the main screen is an UNINSTALL button. One click and it's gone.

Posted by:

23 Jan 2015

CAUTION:Installed and ran on up to date Win 7 cpu. After it did its thing and "cleaned" my machine all I had to do was do an image restore to get my cpu back in my world. Restore points just yielded a black screen and a working mouse (in searching I found this problem was not that unusual with AdwCleaner, should have done my homework- my bad). Appeared nothing in startup file initiated. At least I was not bored with nothing to do today.

Posted by:

Ryan James
27 Jan 2015

I am so glad I followed the advice to do a system restore first.

I ran this program. I unchecked what I did not want it to remove, but the registry keys had me clueless. I just let it do its thing.

When it finished, I could not connect to the Internet and all of my Symbaloo bookmarks were gone.

After a system restore, it all came back.

Posted by:

05 Feb 2015

Sure glad I re-read your info!! Right beside your colume was an ad for a different Malware program. I almost clicked it but instead clicked your underlined words & Viola got the right Program.
Thanks for all you do for those of us with limited computer knowledge!!

Posted by:

Joyce Conklin
11 Feb 2015

I made a Restore point, downloaded AdwCleaner and ran it -- still did NOT find which makes my new tabs in Firefox come up with Bigh (ugh!) I have run AVG Antivirus Free, and Malwarebytes Anti-malware, and neither of them find the bad stuff. Where do I go now to get rid of it?

Posted by:

31 May 2016

I strongly believe you owe all of us a clear explanation of the different malfunctions this software can generate in our PC's. Maybe you need to write another article on this utility. I'm surprised you would even recommend it. I was going to try it but after reading all the comments i will stay away from it.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Add THIS to Your Anti-Malware Arsenal (Posted: 21 Jan 2015)
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